Did Kennedy want to invade Vietnam? What did Johnson believe about Martin Luther King? Was Nixon a crook? What did Blair make of Bush? All those questions to some extent or another have been answered for posterity by tapes- by recordings taken at the time of Presidents and Prime Ministers, their aides and acolytes and even enemies talking to each other. Tapes therefore have become the stuff of political history- most famously of course in the case of Nixon the stuff both of politics and history. On Andrew Sullivan's blog, someone raises the point that apparantly various statements on the Nixon tapes have been rewritten in official records. I have not listened to the relevant sections of the tape- but I am sure that there will be things in those tapes that over time we come to realise were not what people at the time or closer to the time believed them to be. We are overhearing conversations and one of the points about overheard conversations is that they tend to be misheard- chinese whispers is a game based on mishearing and I am sure that there is a lot of that in history using audio as there is misreading in history using text. To take an example, Eamon Duffy made a very interesting discovery when he suggested that a manuscript whose first editor had read the words 'sent Denys ys camp' actually read 'sent Davids ys camp'- surprising it may seem to readers but the first set of words is innocuous, the second a confession of treason. We should expect over time and as people study the tapes more produced by the powerful for mishearings to be corrected or adjusted and for interpretations to change: the scepticism on Sullivan's blog notwithstanding, audio sources just like written sources are open to interpretation and controversy not only to discover the importance of what they say, but also to discover what they actually do say.