March 7, 2005

Corrections 2/28-3/6

The college freshman who wasn't, the solar system gets some unexpected company, and other enlightening and entertaining media corrections.

Carl Bialik

Every week, Gelf combs through media 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.

The text inside brackets is Gelf's; everything else is a direct quote from the publication.

What's In a Title?

Washington Post, March 2: A Feb. 9 article incorrectly referred to Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the organization's director of abortion-opposition activities. Doerflinger's title is deputy director of pro-life activities.

[You can trace this erroneous title back through prior coverage, from which perhaps it was copy-and-pasted: UPI, a year ago; and then the Washington Post, last July 25. Then again, big deal: The false title seems to fit well. Newsday, in 1989: "Richard Doerflinger, pro-life coordinator for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said the movement is not relying on the court case to resolve the fight. He said his group continues to explore new ways to stop abortion and predicts abortion on demand will end within five years." New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2002: " 'I don't think incremental steps toward the protection of life imply acceptance of the abortions you've been unable to prevent,' said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the Catholic bishops' office. 'It simply means you can't do all of the good at one time.' "]

But I'm Taking AP Classes ...

Wall Street Journal, March 2: Natalie Eickmeyer is a senior in high school. A page-one article last Wednesday about college students playing games at Wal-Mart incorrectly identified her as a college freshman based on information Ms. Eickmeyer confirmed to a reporter.

[True, this was just a quirky feature story, but Eickmeyer was the lead anecdote, and at least one of the reporters was supposedly on the scene. Consider the you-are-there lead: "FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- On a snowy Monday night recently, Northern Arizona University freshman Natalie Eickmeyer finished her studying and decided to go out and have some fun. So at 10 o'clock, after scouring a dormitory for participants, she and five friends headed to the Wal-Mart discount center. The students had no intention of shopping. They were going to Wal-Mart to play games." Seems like an elaborate hoax by Eickmeyer, though a simple check at Northern Arizona's online student directory might have raised suspicions.]

We Suck, Too

Wired News, March 3: This column was amended to include Wired News in the list of media sites that employ pop-up ads.

[More from the columnist, Adam L. Penenberg: "A stream of reader e-mail has come in, pointing out the irony of a columnist (that's me) criticizing media sites for deploying pop-up ads, only to have his publisher (Wired News) serve up one (for Blockbuster) on this very same column. I hadn't encountered one on Wired.com in the eight months I've been writing this weekly media column, and my editor had assured me the site hadn't used them since even before then. I'd now like to add Wired News to the list of clueless media sites that rely on pop-up ads for additional revenue but who, judging by the reader reaction, may instead be alienating its audience. The 'money side' of the house is investigating the matter. My apologies." It's suprising that someone at such a tech-oriented site wouldn't have noticed the pop-ups earlier.]

Pluto Had Unexpected Company

Arizona Daily Star, March 4: A story Thursday on B5 incorrectly placed 31 newly discovered galaxies at the edge of the solar system. The sentence should have read: "The discovery announced this week of 31 new galaxies in the outermost reaches of the universe has Tucson written all over it."

[The new version of the sentence has clarity written all over it.]

Beeb's Bozo Coverage

BBC, February 28: The BBC has issued a correction over its coverage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Four people were killed and about 30 were injured outside a popular seafront night club on Friday. But dozens of people have contacted the BBC to complain about a related news item on Sunday's Breakfast programme on BBC One. It showed footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning but failed to show any footage of victims' families to balance the report. [etc.]

[FreeRepublic.com: "It was grotesque, outrageous and despicable. And a 'correction' just won't do. It does not begin to address the moral deformity of BBC journalists who, when Israelis are murdered, automatically direct their compassion instead at the family of the bomber. For BBC journalists, Jewish victims, Jewish dead and Jewish grief just don't seem to exist."]

Sounds Like a Calvin Klein Scent

Boston Globe, March 2: Because of a reporting error, stories in the City & Region section Friday and Saturday about Bayview Crematory in New Hampshire gave an out-of-date name for a Salisbury funeral home operated by Derek A. Wallace. The funeral home is now called Simplicity.

[The name reported by the Globe: Oceanside Funeral Home. Here's what the Globe reported about Wallace: "In August 2004, his Massachusetts embalmer and funeral director licenses were revoked for unprofessional conduct and deceptive practices, including one incident in which he allegedly refused to deal with a grieving woman because she had bought a low-priced casket elsewhere."]

Non-Correction Correction I

Chicago Tribune, February 16: Hedge fund operator [Edward] Lampert picked up a controlling share in Kmart for less than $1 billion in bankruptcy court and walked away with $3.8 billion in net operating loss carryforwards, also known as NOLs. Or did he? Kmart's NOLs were wiped out when the company exited Chapter 11, a fact that has been widely overlooked or misunderstood by the media, several Wall Street analysts and an unknown number of investors. [etc.]

[The Chicago Tribune notices that a widely reported number about Kmart's financials was flat wrong. The conclusion of the story: "A cover story in BusinessWeek magazine comparing Lampert to [Warren] Buffett a week after the merger announcement cited the company's $3.8 billion in NOLs. So did a Street.com story in November and a Forbes magazine story in December. (The Chicago Tribune mentioned Kmart's NOLs last July). Kmart said it hasn't been calling media outlets and asking for corrections or clarifications. 'If we responded to every single misstatement and inaccurate report, we'd be doing nothing but doing that all day,' [Kmart official Jon] Gieselman said."]

Non-Correction Correction II

BlogHouston, February 25: I noted a couple of days ago that a [Houston] Chronicle editorial contained a couple of misspelled names. Those have been corrected; and in that stealth way we love so well, no hint of the fixes appeared in Corrections. There is a precedent for a misspelled name being mentioned in Corrections, because Drayton McLane merited it once.

If Only It Had Been So

Chicago Tribune, March 1: A picture caption that accompanied a Feb. 8 KidNews story on the Little Rock Nine incorrectly depicted Arkansas National Guardsmen as protecting Elizabeth Eckford and eight other black students at Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School in 1957. In fact, the Arkansas National Guardsmen in the photo were turning her away from the school.

[For more on Eckford and the Little Rock Nine, see this CNN.com profile from last July.]

What Makes a Reporter?

Washington Post, March 2: A Feb. 27 Style article incorrectly said that a reporter asked then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in 2003 for a retrospective view of U.S. relations with Chile. It was a student, James Doubek, who asked the question during a BET Youth Town Hall meeting.

[Perhaps this was wishful thinking on the part of the mainstream media, which should have asked about Chile more often -- or at least that's what the above article suggests.]

No Respect

New York Times, March 5: An article in The Arts last Saturday about "Rock Star," a CBS reality show scheduled for the summer in which a contestant will be chosen to join the rock band INXS, referred incorrectly to UPN, which has announced plans for a similar show. It is a broadcast network, not cable.

The TV Weekend column yesterday, about "The Starlet," referred to the WB network incorrectly. It is a broadcast network, not cable.

The Dog Miscommunicated My Email

New York Times, March 6: An entry on the Residential Sales page on Jan. 23 for a one-bedroom, one-bath co-op at 500A Grand Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that sold for $470,000 included an incorrect description of the building's amenities. And a correction on Jan. 30 attributed the description incompletely. The incorrect information -- that the building has a doorman and an attended elevator -- was provided by Eychner Associates, one of two brokers involved in the sale, not by "the broker." This correction was delayed by a miscommunication at The Times.

[The latest permutation of the Times's non-explanation explanation for delayed corrections. This new trend of Times obscure disclosure was noted by Gelf last week.]

Damn Harvard

Boston Globe, March 5: Because of a reporting error, a story about Harvard University quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in Monday's Sports section mischaracterized the number of Harvard quarterbacks drafted by the NFL. There was one -- Brian Buckley was drafted by the Patriots in 1981.

Associated Press, March 1: In a Feb. 27 story about Harvard President Lawrence Summers' comments on sex differences in intellectual ability, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Richard J. Haier is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is at the University of California, Irvine.

[The media's Harvard troubles, noted by Gelf last week, continue.]

Microsoft Word's PC Autocorrect In Action

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 3: An article about the Academy Awards in Monday's Inquirer misstated the name of a Wayans brothers movie. It was White Chicks, not White Girls.

[How did the Wayans' magnum opus make an article about the Oscars, you might ask? It came in the kicker: "The vast disconnect between the popcorn films popular at the multiplex and those being honored last night was spotlighted in a droll segment pretaped at the Magic Johnson Theaters across town. For these movie fans, the best picture of the year was one the Academy forgot: the Wayans-brothers-in-drag comedy White Girls."]

Nouns, You Say? Poppycock!

Slate, March 4: In a March 2 "Culturebox," Timothy Noah described the words humbug, poppycock, tommyrot, hooey, twaddle, balderdash, claptrap, palaver, hogwash, buncombe (or "bunk"), hokum, drivel, flapdoodle, and bullpucky as adjectives. In fact, they are nouns.

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- Oops
- posted on Mar 07, 05

The Pluto item reminds of a copy editor who captioned an illustration accompanying my story on the Voyager mission as such : the two have reached the outer edge of the galaxy. The sad part is no one in the newsroom (including myself) noticed until an annoyed reader called at 3 p.m.

- Oops
- posted on Mar 08, 05
Tim Fulton

Having just fired off a 'correction' to our local managing editor, I had to vent. How should one deal with a mistake in editorial story composition?
Here in Kentucky, a big story of late is overweight trucks [coal, in particular]. Legislation is under review for allowing more overweights on the roads, and much is being made of the fact the bill is sponsored by a trucking magnate. However, a story of a death directly attributable to such a vehicle was buried with only 3 column-inches.
I can only imagine how the families of those affected must feel, seeing that. Isn't the editor guilty of dereliction of duty?

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