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March 13, 2005

Corrections 3/7-3/13

Faulty photos, Lazarus-like newsmakers, the job that wasn't, 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, You Wanted the Truth?

Orlando Sentinel, March 8: A photograph on Page D12 of Friday's Sports section accompanying an article about BMX cyclist Christopher Hochfelder was digitally altered, which was not disclosed in the credit or caption. The alterations included the addition of a black background behind Hochfelder, the abnormal lightening of his face and the artificial extension of the surface on which his bicycle was standing.

Los Angeles Times, March 13: A photograph on the cover of today's Los Angeles Times Magazine was altered to dampen the images of soccer fans gathered around the central figure in the photo. Manipulating an image in this manner is not consistent with Times photo policy.

[It's not just magazines that print altered (also known as false) photos. Perhaps newspapers even do this more often, but felt some pressure to disclose the practices this week because of some criticism of Newsweek for publishing an altered photo of Martha Stewart. (USA Today)]

Erasing the Past

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 8: Former University of Washington quarterback Taylor Barton has not been hired as a graduate assistant coach with the Huskies. A seattlepi.com story with this filename/URL and a story that appeared on Page D2 of the March 5 P-I Sports section were incorrect.

[The original article has vanished from the P-I website, as per the newspaper's practice of replacing false text. While this has some merit—by preventing any possibility of someone being misled—it also keeps us from knowing just what was originally reported. The false tale migrated to the Oregonian on March 7; oddly, the next day the same reporter interviewed Barton and reported he is "looking for work," with no comment about the previous day's false report.
You can see the first three paragraphs of the original story (which was apparently entirely false) at SportsLine. The whole story was hung on Jay Waldron, a Portland attorney who administers the Taylor Barton Fund. Oddly, the fund's website no longer is valid, at least according to my browser: www.helptaylor.com.]

Like Lazarus

Los Angeles Times, March 10: A Wednesday commentary on the nomination of John R. Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations erroneously used the term "the late Sen. Jesse Helms." It should have said former Sen. Jesse Helms.

Toronto Star, March 10: Contrary to a story in today's What's On, Singer Lena Horne is not dead. The Star regrets the error.

[To the Star's credit, the newspaper brings some humor to its corrections. The above corrective was headlined, "Singer still with us, viva Lena Horne!" Three corrections on March 8 were headlined as follows: "Right name, wrong status"; "Right name, wrong state"; and "Right state, wrong name."]

Primate Problems

Los Angeles Times, March 10: An article in Saturday's Section A about an attack by chimpanzees said that chimps kill much larger animals in the wild. Chimpanzees' main prey are colobus monkeys, which are smaller. They also are known to kill bush pigs, young antelope and baboons, all of which tend to be smaller.

[Chimpanzees are impressive hunters, but primatologist Craig Stanford has found that, in the wild, meat generally makes up less than 3% of their diet. So it would probably be more accurate to state that their main prey are fruits. Regardless, this attack, in which two captive male chimpanzees mutilated a man's face, hands, feet, genitals and buttocks, was not likely motivated by hunger. Gelf has previously written about the irrational behavior of some primates in captivity.]

Second-Hand Sourcing

Chicago Tribune, March 12: A March 6 Metro section story about the Kettering mansion near Lemont contained a quote from Homer Glen resident Denise Rutter describing the construction of the mansion's attic. The story should have mentioned that Rutter was relating information that had been related to her by someone else, not things that she had personally witnessed.

[The text in question: "Rutter said the attic was unusually small, but its walls held a secret." The article then quoted Rutter as saying, "There were actually unmortared limestone walls up there, and there were other little rooms hidden up there in the attic."]

True Friendship

National Post, March 11: John Margo, a Toronto-based artist, whose artworks painted with human blood have been removed from auction on eBay, as reported in yesterday's National Post, has stated that he obtained the blood from friends, not from Canadian Blood Services or any other donor campaign.

[The original article is no longer free online, but the Toronto Star tells the story. A side note: Anyone seeking publicity should consider placing an item up for auction on eBay that is likely to provoke the company to remove the listing, because there's no surer way to get newspapers to take notice.]

This Policy Stuff Is Complicated

Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 9: The Q&A on the News on Page A2 Tuesday did not specify that when Social Security tax receipts are above the level needed to fund current benefits, Treasury bonds are bought with the excess. At that point, the Treasury can spend the money from the bond sale on federal needs beyond Social Security. The Social Security system holds the bonds in trust funds until the money is needed in the future for Social Security benefits. The Social Security system is projected to reach a point in 2018 when it will have to begin drawing down those bonds to pay benefits because tax receipts will not cover the cost of benefits.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 11: An article yesterday about a congressional hearing on the future of Social Security reported incorrectly that Rep. Jim McCrery (R., La.) had said U.S. Comptroller General David Walker was "just dead wrong" about an assertion he had made. McCrery's comment was directed more at Rep. Sander M. Levin (D., Mich.) than at Walker.

[This inaugurates a new weekly look at Social Security corrections, which are frequent. The second's false assertion about McCrery's statement has spread to many websites, as can be seen from this Google search. Poor David Walker.]

He Plays One on TV

Miami Herald, March 7: A report in some editions of The Herald on March 1 concerning tattoo removal incorrectly identified James Morel as a medical doctor. He is not.

[One possible explanation for the mistake arises from a Jan. 30 L.A. Times column about Morel: "Morel, 34, who wears maroon scrubs that seem to imply he's a doctor..."]


Due to an Editing Error, This Law Is Incorrect

National Post, March 11: The Canadian Criminal Code does not prohibit sexual intercourse between an adult and a child as young as 12 years old, if the adult has reason to believe the child is at least 14. Due to an editing error, incorrect information appeared in yesterday's Post.

Understatement

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 8: A headline with a story on Page One Monday about the salary of Lee Smith, who runs the Oakfield day-care centers, may have left some with the impression that all of her six-figure salary comes from Head Start money. Her salary comes from a mix of federal Head Start and Cuyahoga County programs, plus a small amount from parents who make too much to qualify for public assistance. Her exact salary is no longer a public record now that the nonprofit centers have become a private for-profit company.

[The headline in question, "Head Start funds pay six-figure salary," almost certainly did more than leave some with the false impression described above, since it stated as much.]

Overcompensating

Wall Street Journal, March 10: The word "exports" was dropped from the end of the second paragraph in a page-one article Monday about American companies boosting economic growth. The paragraph should have read: Until now, the economic recovery from the recession of 2000 had been fueled by tax cuts and low interest rates, which kept consumers spending despite the terrorist attacks and two wars. But recent data suggest business is becoming a leading force in the economic expansion, as companies tap their huge cash hoards to hire workers and buy machinery. The weaker dollar, too, is helping, by making U.S. goods cheaper on the world market and spurring exports.

What's The Difference?

WVEC, March 8: In a March 6 story about state Labor Department inspections at a Smithfield Packing Co. pork slaughterhouse, The Associated Press erroneously reported the number of inspections of the Bladen County plant in the last 13 years. The agency said it conducted 21 inspections between 1992 and February 2005, not two.

[The headline of the original story was "State not checking safety at N.C. pork slaughterhouse," and the story itself led with the erroneous stat.]

Maybe Not Such A Big Deal

New York Times, March 12: A report in the Big Deal column on Feb. 6, about the recent sale of a town house at 212 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn, misstated the price for which it sold in 1972. It was about $200,000, not $55,000, according to John R. H. Blum, the seller at that time. The miscalculation occurred when a formula using the current state real estate transfer tax rate was used to determine the sale price for transactions in the 1960's and 1970's, when a lower tax rate was in effect.

The incorrect formula was also used in three previous columns:

A report on Jan. 23 about a condominium in the Galleria, at 117 East 57th Street in Manhattan, misstated the unit's price in 1978. It was $800,000, not $220,000. A report on Jan. 9 about a town house on East 61st Street in Manhattan misstated the price in 1969. It was $215,000, not $59,125. And a report on Aug. 8, 2004, about a building at 173-175 East Broadway in Manhattan, misstated the price in 1974. It was $360,000, not $99,000. The errors came to light in an e-mail message last month; the corrections were delayed for additional reporting and verification.

[All of the corrected articles were part of William Neuman's "Big Deal" series for the Times, which focuses on rich New Yorkers and their houses.]

Thank God for Clarity

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 9: A story in Tuesday's Metro section about residents of Cleveland, Ga., holding a counterprotest to anti-gay protesters from Kansas should have explained why the Kansas demonstrators held a sign that read "Thank God for 9/11." They believe the terrorist attack was a sign of God's wrath.

Is The Mafia Responsible?

Birmingham News, March 10: Former HealthSouth executive Mike Martin testified Tuesday he replayed a phone message for numerous other company executives in 1998. The message was left for him by investment banker Bill McGahan, Martin testified. The News incorrectly reported Wednesday that Martin said the message was left by Ben Lorello, another investment banker. Lorello was not mentioned in Tuesday's testimony, did not leave the phone message and was not described in earlier testimony as having known about the fraud.

[This correction is, in fact, incorrect. Gelf has the intriguing report.]

—David Goldenberg contributed to this article.

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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