Media | Oops

March 20, 2005

Corrections 3/14-3/20

The reaction that wasn't, revisiting Nixon's "I'm not a crook" line, the travails of Lestine Lewis, 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.

We Spilled Whiskey on Our Notepad

Washington Post, March 15: A March 13 Style article on the annual Gridiron Dinner incorrectly described Gridiron President Dick Ryan as the Detroit News's Washington bureau chief; he is the newspaper's senior Washington correspondent. In some editions, the article incorrectly reported that a satirical version of "Sweet Home Alabama" was performed at the dinner and described reaction to it. Such a skit was written, but it was dropped before the final performance. Also, a photo caption identified attendee Mark Shields as Mark Russell.

[The key bit here is the part about describing reaction to a skit that never happened. This correction buries that amid two relatively minor points, and is very vague. has more details, claiming the original version of the story described a planned skit targeting Armstrong Williams, subject of the Bush administration payola scandal. The Post's phony description of the crowd's reaction: "It was really pretty darned funny, we are told, but maybe there was a blue-state barkeep working the room."]

Poor Ms. Lewis

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 16: The first name of Lestine Lewis was misspelled in a correction Tuesday about a Monday Living section story on Slinky toys.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 15: Listine Lewis was incorrectly referred to as a man in Monday's Living section story about Slinky toys.

Wrong Answer, Wrong Questioner

Chicago Tribune, March 17: An obituary Tuesday of Dick Smyser, retired editor of the Oak Ridger newspaper in Tennessee, credited him with posing the question that led to President Richard Nixon's "I'm not a crook" remark. Nixon made the statement at the end of a long answer to a question by Smyser about Watergate. But Nixon was referring to a previous question by Joseph Ungaro of The Providence Evening Bulletin, who had asked about Nixon's income taxes. The same story erroneously reported the year Smyser retired. It was 1993, not 1983.

[Poor Smyser had this erroneous info lead his obituary in newspapers nationwide, though surely he did much more in his 81 years. Here's a transcript of the "I'm not a crook" press conference.]

Credit Where Credit Is Due

New York Times, March 17: An article on Monday about the unclaimed ashes of mental patients who died at Oregon State Hospital omitted a reference to the news organization that first brought their existence to light. It was The Oregonian, in Portland, last October. The Times learned of the remains recently through an online fund-raising solicitation from the Mental Health Association of Portland, which is seeking to create a memorial for them.

Slate, March 15: In a March 15 "Today's Papers," Sam Schechner originally and incorrectly credited the WSJ for scooping a story about the Bush administration's decision to sell F-16 fighters to Pakistan. In fact, the Dallas Morning News broke the story on March 12.

Los Angeles Times, March 15: An article in Friday's California section about the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center administering the wrong kind of penicillin to more than 650 people who had syphilis or may have been exposed to it failed to report that personnel from the center led the effort to re-contact those affected. Corrective efforts were launched when the center notified county health officials that a patient had discovered the erroneous treatment.

Washington Post, March 18:
A March 17 letter to the editor said that a March 10 letter misquoted the First Amendment by saying that it forbids Congress from enacting any "law respecting a federal establishment of religion." The quotation marks around the phrase in the March 10 letter were incorrectly added in the editing process and not by the writer, Michael P. Cassidy of Arlington.

This Policy Stuff Is Complicated

Washington Times, March 16: An article in Sunday's editions incorrectly identified the organizer of a conference call with reporters in which Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, discussed Social Security. The call was organized by the House Democratic leadership.

Los Angeles Times, Michael Kinsley's column on Friday's Commentary page incorrectly reported that the total market value of publicly traded stocks is about $40 billion. The correct figure is $40 trillion.

[The second weekly roundup of ubiquitous Social Security gaffes. Kinsley's otherwise fine column, incidentally, was headlined "Social Security Fictions."]

Gay-Marriage Polls

Boston Globe, March 20: Because of an editing error, a story in last Sunday's Globe about a poll measuring support for gay marriage incorrectly reported the findings among Catholics in Massachusetts. The poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that Catholics supported allowing gay marriage to be legalized by a margin of 49-44 percent.

[The original story reported Catholics opposed legalizing gay marriage by the 49-44 margin. The proportion of Catholics opposing legalization of gay marriage has swung wildly in this poll; in the Globe's February 22 story about its poll, it reported that opposition among Catholics had soared from 47% to 66%. Now the percentage is back down to 44%.]

Foggy Clarification

San Francisco Chronicle, March 20: Debra J. Saunders' March 6 column on Border Patrol funding may have left readers with the misimpression that Rep. Christopher Cox, R- Newport Beach, supports funding cuts proposed by the Bush administration. He does not.

[This clarification needs a correction. It applies to Saunders's March 3 column, linked above, not her March 6 column, which was about the killing of an Italian intelligence agent by American troops at an Iraqi checkpoint.

As for Cox's position, here's how it was reported in the initial column, after Saunders expressed her opposition to the funding cuts: "Republican Rep. Christopher Cox of Newport Beach, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told me I'm wrong. That is 'an easy thing for talk-radio' folks to say, Cox noted on the phone, but Bush is looking at the bottom line and at what works. The cost of expanding training facilities is much higher than anticipated and the administration thinks it can be more effective by spending on new technologies that can enhance border surveillance, Cox explained." But he opposes the funding cuts? This clarification needs more clarity.]

Cursing To Connie

Detroit Free Press, March 20: A Tuesday clarification about a foul-language flub involving TV journalists Emery King and Connie Chung was based on an incorrect Web transcript. Foul language was not spoken. King, who did not know he was on the air when asked by Chung for an update, actually said, "Hey Connie, how should I know?"

Detroit Free Press, March 15: An article Saturday about Emery King, former WDIV-TV (Channel 4) anchor, characterized as a foul language flub his response to an on-air question by Connie Chung while he was a White House correspondent. What King said, in answering Chung's question "What's the situation there?" was "How the hell should I know, Connie?"

And A Dollar Short

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 18: A Sunday @Issue section report said the GBI had not responded to a Georgia Open Records Act request for crime data reported by the city of Holly Springs. The GBI's response, with the data the newspaper had sought, arrived in the mail on Monday, the day after publication.

[The original article was about responsiveness to records requests, not the crime data itself, but nonetheless, this clarification prompts the question, just what did the crime data show?]

It's Not Cancer, But Pinocchitis

Portsmouth Herald, March 15: The joke's on us ... Cancel her reservation at the crematory; Jane Kelley says reports of her imminent death have been greatly exaggerated in the Herald. "I have two titanium knees, one titanium hip, half a thyroid, a mastect-omy, pacemaker and two leaky heart valves—other than that, I feel pretty good," Kelley said Monday night. On Sunday, Kelley threw herself a prefuneral party, in her words, "a going away party." [etc.]

[The article about the party reported that Kelley had "terminal cancer of the nose."]

Liberal Media's Wishful Thinking?

New York Times, March 19: An article on Thursday about the vote of confidence President Bush gave Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, during a news conference misstated the Senate post held by Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, who criticized Mr. Bush for backing changes in the Senate's filibuster rules, one of several issues the president discussed. Mr. Reid is the minority leader. (The majority leader is Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee.)

Duly Noted

Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 17: Lore tat iriustie vel utat ad exero eros alit at wismolum deliquipisl irilissenim ea facipit, velis nonsequ psuscilisi blam.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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