February 21, 2005

Corrections 2/14-2/20

Cellphone trouble, squishy sushi, and other enlightening and entertaining corrections.

Carl Bialik

Every week, Gelf combs through newspaper corrections for the funniest and most enlightening. Sometimes journalism reveals more in its mishaps than in its success. Gelf makes mistakes, too, and when we do, we'll disclose them here.

Poor Reception

New York Times, Feb. 18: An article on Monday about a Senate investigation of Iraq's oil-for-food program misidentified an employee of Saybolt International, a Dutch company hired to monitor Iraq's oil exports, who had been reached by telephone for comment about allegations of accepting bribes from Iraq. The employee reached was Orlando Garcia, manager of the company's operations in Portugal—not Armando Carlos Oliveira, who Senate investigators have said is the focus of their investigation. Reached again by telephone on Tuesday, Mr. Garcia said that because of a poor cellphone connection, he had misunderstood the original questions put to him about his identity. A spokesman for Saybolt said Mr. Oliveira denies the allegations.

[Given the twin problems of language and cellphone reception, this error is understandable and a cautionary tale for journalists. Here's the relevant text of the original article, written by Judith Miller: "Contacted in Portugal by telephone yesterday, Mr. Oliveira, who identified himself as the manager of Saybolt's operations in the country, denied that he had received payments from Iraq or that he had ever worked there." To Miller's credit, though, she'd tried without success to get a comment from Saybolt: "Saybolt did not respond to numerous e-mail and telephone messages left at its Dutch headquarters, with its Washington lawyers, and at an office in Houston."]

How Do You Say 'Yellowtail'?

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 16: In an article on sushi in the Feb. 9 Food section, there were several translation and spelling errors. Omakase was translated as "today's delicious one; I leave it to you," but it literally means "entrusting" and if written on a menu means "putting your trust in the chef." Tiny shrimp from Toyama are shira ebi, not shira evi; sawakani, not sawa gain, are fried tiny crabs; and "Irasshai mase!" not "Irasahi masai!" is the greeting one receives upon arrival.

Steel Cricket Wickets Invade Manhattan

Boston Globe, Feb. 19: Because of reporting errors, Wednesday's Perspectives column incorrectly stated that the rectangular frames that make up "The Gates" public-art project are made of steel. The gates themselves are vinyl. In addition, the column incorrectly located a memorabilia sales stand. It's at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South.

Washington Post, Feb. 14: An article in the Feb. 13 Style section about the orange gates placed in New York's Central Park as part of an art installation should have said the structures resemble giant croquet wickets, not cricket wickets.

[Giant cricket wickets would really block walking paths. (Pictures and descriptions are here.)]

Propagating Error

New York Times, Feb. 17: Because of an editing error, a front-page article on Tuesday about the debate among gay activists and AIDS prevention workers on whether to take steps to try to stop those who knowingly engage in unsafe sex misstated the medical condition of Larry Kramer, the gay rights activist. He is H.I.V.-positive, but does not have AIDS.

[By the time the Times corrected this, two days late, the error had spread far and wide. First it was picked up, via the Times news service, in other papers including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Five days after the article appeared, Kramer's false health report surfaced in this Dallas Morning News editorial: In a scathing screed delivered last November, AIDS patient and ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer roared, "One of these days the miraculous drugs we have to keep us alive are going to stop working ... What are we going to do when they don't work any longer?"]

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 16: A Tuesday RedEye edition and a Metro section article in some editions Tuesday about Maya Marcel-Keyes incorrectly quoted a remark her father, Alan Keyes, made regarding homosexuality during the Republican National Convention (this sentence as published has been corrected in this text). He called homosexuality an act of "selfish hedonism."

[The original version of the article lives on at Kentucky.com, where Keyes calls homosexuality "sexual hedonism."]

Never Forget II

Washington Post, Feb. 17: An article in the Feb. 3 Montgomery Extra about the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz referred to "the killing of Jews in Polish ghettos." The article should have specified that the killing took place in Nazi German ghettos in occupied Poland.

[Last week Gelf noted other instances of Holocaust errors appearing in newspaper articles about the anniversary events.]

Phantom Visit

Newsday, Feb. 15: A Feb. 8 story may have suggested incorrectly that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon entered the Al Aqsa Mosque on Sept. 28, 2000. Sharon visited the Jerusalem holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims on Sept. 28, 2000. The site is also home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, from which Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The visit sparked riots that left dozens of Palestinians and Israeli troops injured and spawned what is being called the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

[Brevity is the soul of error. And it can spark much-longer corrections. The offending sentence: "The only other cease-fire during what militants call the Al-Aqsa Intifada, named for the mosque Sharon visited, was negotiated by Abbas in the summer of 2003." That deserves stronger language than "may have suggested incorrectly."]

Liberal Media I

Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 15: A front-page notice in Friday's Inquirer directed readers to a place online where they could "see more about President Bush's plan to strengthen Social Security." Such a characterization of the plan should have been attributed to the President or to other advocates.

Liberal Media II

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 15: Americans need to understand Social Security is meant to supplement your retirement, not be your sole source of income. In an address to Congress on Jan. 17, 1935, President Roosevelt foresaw the need to move beyond the pay-as-you-go financing of the current Social Security system. "For perhaps 30 years to come funds will have to be provided by the states and the federal government to meet these pensions," FDR said. After that, he explained, it would be necessary to move to what he called "voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age."

In other words, his call for the establishment of Social Security directly anticipated today's reform agenda: "It is proposed that the federal government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans," FDR explained. "What Roosevelt was talking about is the need to update Social Security sometime around 1965 with what today we would call personal accounts," says one top member of the Ways and Means Committee. "By my reckoning we are only about 40 years late in addressing his concerns on how [to] make Social Security solvent." (Editor's Note: Because of an editing error when it was published Thursday, John Kasel's letter to the editor is reprinted today.)

[The original printing of the letter didn't change the meaning in any significant way, but only shortened the letter, at least as far as I can tell. The P-I would have done better not to run the letter at all, since, as Bill Press and others have explained, this depiction of FDR's stance on Social Security is bunk.]

Two Corrections Don't Make a Right

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 16: An article in Saturday's Section A about the resignation of CNN executive Eason Jordan said that in an April 2003 opinion piece in the New York Times, Jordan wrote that he did not allow his network to report all it had learned "during the intense early days of combat in Iraq, for fear that releasing certain confidential information would put lives in jeopardy." Jordan's essay was about his network's coverage in the years and months preceding the war. A correction Tuesday erroneously said his essay referred also to his network's coverage during the early days of the war.

[This episode was chronicled in the blog Patterico's Pontification, which explains how the Times could have avoided the second correction if it had read email to its reader representative.]

Name Game

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 18: The Downtown Vista Hotel became the Doubletree, which then became the Westin Convention Center hotel, not the Omni. It was the Westin William Penn that became the Omni William Penn in 2001. In her Feb. 16, 2005 column about interchangeable company names that people no longer bother trying to keep straight, Sally Kalson mistakenly put the Omni name on the wrong building, unwittingly proving her own point. And, she notes, the confusion will increase soon, because the Downtown Ramada is about to become the Doubletree.

[It's the rare correction that bolsters the corrected article's thesis.]

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