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Media | Oops

April 3, 2005

Corrections 3/28-4/3

Second-hand sourcing, four-pound burgers, $11.5 million dinners, 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 in italics is Gelf's; everything else is a direct quote from the publication.

He Said He Said

Wired News: This story was modified to remove statements attributed to Cord Malkmus. The statements were supplied to reporter Jason Walsh by JobDumping.de founder Fabian Loew. Malkmus did not speak with Walsh. This story was modified to clarify the source of statements made by Dirk Niebel.

Malkmus was a crucial figure in the original version (Google cache) of the article: "Typical of the site's users is Cord Malkmus, 30, from Hamburg. Malkmus started using the site in December 2004 to find work in the catering industry, from waiting on tables to 'gastronomy marketing.' 'Of course I would like to earn more money, but the decision I have to make is whether I have work or not,' he said. 'I can decide myself how much money I am willing to work for. I am not in a position to work for very little money, but I trade with people to get the best price for work.' Fear of not working remains Malkmus' motivation for using JobDumping. 'Have a look in the newspapers, and you will see that unemployment is the main theme in Germany at the moment,' he said."

As for Niebel, Walsh made it sound like he'd interviewed him directly: "But Dirk Niebel, of Germany's liberal Freie Demokratische Partei, or FDP, said the site has the feel of a slave market, and argued that quality work is not possible without job security. Niebel also said the 3-euro-per-hour minimum wage specified by JobDumping is immoral and that workers would effectively pay no tax, thus making no contribution to society." But these quotes actually came from the Berliner-Zeitung newspaper.

But We Spelled Chico Right

Los Angeles Times, March 31: An article in Tuesday's California section about hazing at Cal State Chico mistakenly said that a pledge to a fraternity at nearby Butte Community College died of alcohol poisoning. He did not die but was hospitalized. The article also said Chico has a population of 35,000; according to the city, the population is 71,317. In addition, University President Paul Zingg was quoted saying the school would shut down its Greek system if problems with hazing did not abate. Zingg made his comments to a group of 850 students and others, and his remarks were quoted in the local media. He did not speak with The Times. Also, although the article characterized the school as being well-known for its basketball program, its winning baseball program may be best known outside campus.

The Chico Enterprise-Record ripped the Times story to shreds: "A Tuesday L.A. Times article that appears replete with errors, omissions and unnamed sources has left Chico State University officials cringing." Then Slate's Jack Shafer added his worthy point: that L.A. Times media columnist David Shaw was way off-base in claiming, without substantiation, that bloggers are sloppy while mainstream newspapers like his own are more deserving of legal protections.

Something Smells...

Los Angeles Times, April 1: A March 25 correction about a fish report item in the March 22 Outdoors section said yellowfin tuna should have been labeled yellowtail tuna. Yellowtails are not tuna.

The Fish Report in question was the subject of a notable correction included in Gelf's roundup last week.

The Ellipsis Replaces 'Allegedly'

San Francisco Chronicle, March 27: A March 11 story about a lawsuit filed against the Catholic Church in Oakland, alleging the diocese allowed two brothers to be molested by a priest the church knew to be a child molester, mischaracterized comments made by the judge in the case.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Harry Sheppard did not "rip" the actions of the church, as stated in the headline.

The story also mischaracterized Judge Sheppard's comments when it stated: "Calling the Catholic Church's conduct 'outrageous, oppressive and malicious,' an East Bay judge ruled Thursday that two alleged sexual abuse victims may seek punitive damages against the Diocese of Oakland." The judge's full remark was: "The conduct of the church as alleged text: and I'm not saying what's going to be proven, because I don't know what's going to be proven text: but as alleged, the conduct is outrageous, oppressive and malicious as alleged, and it was done with a conscious disregard for persons that they were entrusted to protect, being children."

The story further mischaracterized Judge Sheppard's comments when it stated: " 'The church knew Father Ponciroli was a serial sexual predator, but it allowed him to supervise and counsel these youngsters,' the judge said. 'They deliberately hid a violating priest for their own benefit.' " In those comments, the judge was paraphrasing the allegations of the plaintiffs, having prefaced the comment by saying that "the gist of (the plaintiffs') complaint is that ..."

In his ruling, the judge did not make any findings of fact, but merely ruled on the sufficiency of the allegations to state a legal claim. Those allegations have yet to be proven.

This correction was flagged by the blog Regret the Error and then explicated in Editor & Publisher. The article has now been changed online, but here is how it first began, according to E&P: "Calling the Catholic Church's conduct 'outrageous, oppressive and malicious,' an East Bay judge ruled Thursday that two alleged sexual abuse victims may seek punitive damages against the Diocese of Oakland."

The $11.5 Million Cafeteria Dinner

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 29: A story on Istanbul, Turkey in Sunday's Travel section included currency conversions based on the Turkish lira used before Jan. 1, 2005. Since that date, a new currency, the Yeni Turkish lira, has been established. One lira in the new currency is equal to 1,000,000 in the old system. The current conversion rate is about 1.3 Yeni Turkish lira to $1. During the transition period, both currencies will be in circulation and old Turkish lira notes will be accepted until the end of the year.

To Turks, the travel writer must have sounded like a high-roller when he wrote, "At ubiquitous cafeteria-style restaurants, you point at grilled chicken and lamb, eggplant, beans, rice, salads and honeyed desserts, and rarely pay more than about 15 million lira."

Intelligence Starts With Good Maps

Los Angeles Times, March 30: An article in Sunday's Section A about U.S. efforts to gather intelligence on Iran said the tri-border area of South America consists of Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. The tri-border area comprises Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

As this InfoPlease map shows, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay would share a border, if Bolivia were a border.

Hey, Root Vegetables Cause Cancer, Too

Miami Herald, March 30: A story in Tuesday's Tropical Life section about the safety of personal-care products misstated the views of Irene Malbin of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. She did not suggest that shampoos and hair dyes might have cancer-causing ingredients.

The original wording was unclear; perhaps the sentence mixed Malbin's views with a factual point from the reporter: "She said, for example, that there were no known cancer-causing ingredients in cosmetics, although they might be present—with no objections from the FDA—in such products as shampoos and hair dyes.

Freudian Slip

Slate, April 1: In the "Supreme Court Dispatch" of March 28, Emily Bazelon mistakenly referred to the "Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996" as the "Anti-Effective Death Penalty Act."

Glad You Cleared That Up

Asian Week, April 1: "Asian American" was misspelled as "Asian-American." AsianWeek does not hyphenate "Asian American."

For the record, Gelf hyphenates "self-righteous."

The Myth Lives On

Christian Science Monitor, March 28: The original version [of this article] mistakenly included a reference to [the first President] Bush that turns out to have been based on a faulty press report.

The Monitor continues to obfuscate in its corrections policy, by removing the incorrect text and any mention of it. So if you saw the false information before and then checked the site again, you wouldn't know what had been corrected. Here's the corrected paragraph (from Nexis): "While in Sri Lanka, actually, their old campaign strengths and weaknesses came out at times. Once, as workers displayed a new water purification system, Clinton, full of curiosity for the most minute details, asked how the system worked, how much it cost to produce a gallon of water, and whether it could also be used in other desiccated third-world countries. Bush looked on, perhaps recalling the ridicule he endured when he expressed surprise at the price scanner at a grocery store." Snopes.com explains how the legend of Bush's amazement at a grocery-store scanner originated from a faulty New York Times report, and lived on thanks to apparent stubbornness from the Times.

They Both Start With 'C'

Washington Times, March 31: The Washington Times on Tuesday misquoted Maryland Delegate Herb McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican. Mr. McMillan said he thinks U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall had the "greatest impact on civil rights, next to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

Here's the misquote, which makes McMillan sound like he was overstating things a bit: McMillan "said he thinks Justice Marshall had the 'greatest impact on the country next to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.' "

At Least We Get Cheaper Tickets

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1: Because of incorrect information provided by the St. Louis city budget division, a front page story on Tuesday incorrectly stated that the city would receive tax revenue from the sale of Final Four tickets. The NCAA is a nonprofit group, which means there is no ticket tax.

Hurry Up

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 1: An article on the Encore page Thursday about a comparison of Burger King's Enormous Omelet Sandwich to popular foods in Wisconsin incorrectly stated that anyone who could finish a 4-pound hamburger along with the accompanying french fries at Kelly's Bleachers would not have to pay for it. The sandwich is free only if the meal is finished within one hour.

April Fool's

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 2: A People column item published on Page B5 Friday about a revival of the 1970s sitcom "Three's Company" was published in error. The item, posted on KSTP-TV's website, originated as an April Fool's Day hoax by the Skyway News.

The Star Tribune also ran a news story about getting hoaxed: "KSTP, Channel 5, and the Star Tribune fell victim to a phony story that ABC planned to remake 'Three's Company' in the Twin Cities. Printed in the Skyway News' annual April Fool's edition, it was picked up Thursday on KSTP's morning show and then posted on the station's website, which spawned a brief item in Friday's Star Tribune. KSTP news director Chris Berg called the incident 'disappointing and unacceptable,' while 'hilarious and pathetic' were the words chosen by Skyway News editor David Brauer. 'While there's the satisfaction of the jokester,' Brauer said, as a journalist 'you go, 'Oh no.' ' "

Four Months Later...

New York Times, April 3: An article on Nov. 21 about disputed sales of art that had been seized by the Cuban government referred imprecisely to the responsibilities of Alex Apsis, a former employee of the Sotheby's auction house. Mr. Apsis says he handled the consignment of three works by the Cuban impressionist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida at Sotheby's in 1990 but never oversaw all of Sotheby's dealings in Latin American artwork. The Times was informed of the issue in a letter dated Nov. 30, and a correction was prepared then, but delayed by an editing oversight.

The Executive Formerly Known as Rice

New York Times, April 2: Because of an editing error, an article in Business Day on Wednesday about the way Hollywood has handled the soaring cost of filmmaking supplied imprecise attribution for comments about changes in the industry. It was a top studio executive, speaking on condition of anonymity—not Peter Rice, president of Fox Searchlight—who said: "You've got to start out with a plan that says, how many films should we release a year, and work back. In the 90's, all the international markets were still opening up, DVD and video were still growing by leaps and bounds, and the revenue profile was still growing at a very accelerating rate. Now, most of the world's opened up, DVD is flattening—all the markets are maturing."

She Looked Young

Los Angeles Times, April 1: An article in Sunday's Section A said students had criticized UC Berkeley journalism instructor Lowell Bergman for not asking New York Times reporter Judith Miller tougher questions about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. A quote saying that Bergman's questions were "a little softball" was attributed to one of the students. In fact, the comment was made by Kim Zetter, a reporter for the online technology publication Wired News.

This Policy Stuff Is Complicated

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 30: A Monday front page story about Social Security incorrectly described President George Bush's proposal for private Social Security investment accounts. Under his proposal, typical workers eventually could put up to 4 percentage points, or about two-thirds, of the 6.2 percent tax they pay on their Social Security taxable income into private investment accounts.

Oregonian, April 3: A Money column in The Sunday Oregonian last week gave the wrong number for the national debt. Including what the government owes to outside creditors and what it has borrowed from trust funds such as Social Security, the national debt stands at more than $7.7 trillion. To track the debt, visit www.publicdebt.treas.gov

Wall Street Journal, March 28: AARP doesn't oppose changing the formula for calculating Social Security benefits in a way known as progressive indexing that would reduce initial benefits for upper-income workers, but not for lower-income workers, the organization's lobbyist, John Rother, said. Based on an answer Mr. Rother gave to a question at a recent forum, Friday's Washington Wire reported that the seniors' organization opposed progressive indexing. Mr. Rother says he thought that he was answering a different question.

The latest weekly roundup of ubiquitous Social Security gaffes. While there were a few, they were outnumbered by corrections for last week's bigger story:

The Truth About Terri

Los Angeles Times, March 29: An article in Monday's Section A on the Terri Schiavo case identified Larry Klayman as chairman and general counsel of Judicial Watch. Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch, stepped down from those posts in 2003.

Los Angeles Times, March 29: A photo caption accompanying an article in Sunday's Section A about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's family experience with an end-of-life issue misidentified Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo's brother, as Bobby Schiavo.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 25: An article on Page 1A of Wednesday's edition should have identified Michael Schiavo as Terri Schiavo's husband.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28: A headline on A1 in some editions of yesterday's Inquirer incorrectly said hopes were fading for the Schiavo family in the Terri Schiavo case. Hopes were fading for the Schindler family.

Los Angeles Times, March 29: An article in Sunday's Section A detailing the rift between Michael Schiavo and his wife's parents misspelled the last name of novelist Danielle Steel as Steele.

New York Times, April 2: An article in Friday's Section A about how Terri Schiavo's death prompted Americans to talk about life-and-death issues referred to Dr. Michael Grodin, the director of law, medicine and ethics at Boston University, as Dr. Charles Grodin.

Charles Grodin played an obstetrician in Rosemary's Baby, as listed on IMDB.

Christian Science Monitor, March 28: The characterization of the people in the photo has been changed from the original.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 1: A story Thursday said incorrectly Judge Stanley F. Birch of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote a majority opinion in the Schiavo case. The court issued no majority opinion. Birch was speaking only for himself.

New York Times, April 2: An article on Wednesday about the living wills completed by President Bush and Laura Bush for themselves and their families referred incompletely to Mrs. Bush's location when the president signed legislation allowing federal courts to intervene in the struggle over Terri Schiavo. Mrs. Bush did not accompany the president from Texas; she was already in Washington, and was at the White House for the signing.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 29: An item on Page A1 Monday referred readers to the wrong page to read more about the Terri Schiavo case. The story was on Page A3.

New York Times, April 2: An article yesterday about the possibility that the case of Terri Schiavo might lead to laws governing end-of-life decisions reversed the meaning of a comment from Dr. Diane E. Meier, an expert in end-of-life care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who voiced concern that such changes would diminish people's rights to control what is done to them. She said that "we've always said that autonomy and self-determination does trump the infinite value of an individual life"—not "does NOT trump."

Like Rain on Your Wedding Day

Washington Post, March 27: "Today's Horoscope" in some editions of the March 26 Style section inadvertently omitted this horoscope for Cancer: No news is not good news. Get informed, even if you have to ask what feels like impertinent questions in order to do so. A friend's success will genuinely excite you and motivate you to action.

If horoscope readers don't get the news that no news is good news, did the tree fall in the forest?

Chicago Tribune, April 1: In an item in his Commentary column on March 24, Don Wycliff attributed to a WBBM-TV reporter the phrase, "a large quantity of people," referring to a newscast at 10 p.m. March 21. WBBM-Ch.2 senior editor John L. Dodge wrote that he had reviewed the tape of that day's newscast and found that no reporter or anchor used the phrase.

The irony: Wycliff is the public editor, responsible for ensuring the Trib's news integrity. Here's the rant from his column: "I was half-listening to the 10 p.m. news on WBBM-TV Monday when I was jolted to attention by one of those fingernails-across-the-chalkboard experiences. The reporter—I don't recall her name—actually used the phrase 'a large quantity of people.' What's worse, her bosses allowed her to use that phrase. There really is nothing hard about this. If you potentially could count them, then the word you want is "number." Thus, 'a large number of people.' Not 'quantity.' And definitely not 'amount.'

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.







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Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik, a co-founder of Gelf, is a writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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