Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Media | Oops

May 1, 2005

Corrections 4/25-5/1

Mob bosses, false firsts, the truth about toothing, 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.

The Editors Responsible Have Been Wacked

Chicago Tribune, April 27-28: A graphic explaining the alleged infrastructure of the Chicago Outfit mob on Page 18 of Tuesday's main news section incorrectly used a picture of businessman Frank Calabrese instead of mobster Frank Calabrese Sr. A story explaining the mistake appears on Page 1 of today's Metro section.
A picture caption on Page 1 Wednesday incorrectly identified a man on a bicycle as the reputed mob boss Joey "the Clown" Lombardo. In fact, the man's name is Stanley Swieton and he has no ties to organized crime. A story explaining the mistake is on Page 1 of today's Metro section.
A graphic on mob murder victims in the main news section Tuesday incorrectly identified as Nicholas D'Andrea a photo of his brother, Mario D'Andrea.
On the same day the Calabrese error was corrected and got page-one treatment, Calabrese the businessman (who has no relation to the mobster) filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper. Meanwhile the Chicago Sun-Times poked fun at its rival with an article about the Lombardo mistake: "We all make mistakes in the newspaper business, but this was a doozy." The Trib ran its own story, claiming that Lombardo's lawyer told the paper the photo was of his client, but then changing his story the next day.
Commenting on the whole mob mess at poynter.org, Rick Haglund wrote, I can't decide which is worse for the image of journalism: Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom making up a story about two former Michigan State basketball players being at a game they said they would attend but didn't, or the Chicago Tribune running the photos of average folks and wrongly labeling them as known mobsters, two days in a row.

The One and Only

Los Angeles Times, April 30: An article in Wednesday's California section about the new president of United Teachers Los Angeles said A.J. Duffy was the first to move from the classroom to the top union job. In fact, he is the fourth. Bob Unruhe, Hank Springer and Wayne Johnson were classroom teachers immediately before they took the post.
The error wasn't just some throwaway biographical detail, but a major part of the article, which stated, "He'll be the first teacher to move directly from the classroom to the head of the union that represents Los Angeles' 46,000 teachers. That, some say, may give Duffy more rank-and-file credentials than previous union leaders, who had left the classroom long ago."

Los Angeles Times, April 28: An article in Monday's California section about the L.A. Times Festival of Books said former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In fact, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick held the office from 1981 to 1985.

Los Angeles Times, April 29: An article in Section A on April 4 about the conflict in Congress over judicial filibusters quoted Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) as saying that the filibusters "are the first filibusters in history over judicial nominees." Republicans filibustered the 1968 nomination of Abe Fortas to be the Supreme Court chief justice, but party leaders now dispute that the action was a "true filibuster." A vote to end debate and send the nomination to the Senate floor failed to win even a simple majority, indicating the Fortas confirmation was doomed. President Johnson then withdrew the nomination.

Los Angeles Times, April 28: An article in Tuesday's Calendar section about the Pacific Symphony's American Composers Festival 2005 said the festival would present the West Coast premiere of Percy Grainger's orchestration of Ravel's "La Vallee des Cloches." In fact, the work was played in 1979 at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz.

Boston Globe, April 28: Because of a reporting error, the Downtown column in yesterday's Business section about the future of Boston's Hynes Convention Center incorrectly stated that Boston is the only US city that operates two public convention centers. Several other cities also have more than one public convention facility.

NPR, April 29: A version of this story incorrectly said this is the first time since 1966 that a U.S. service member has been sentenced to death. It was the first time since 1996.

Mystifying Retraction

Christian Science Monitor, April 28: This story has been removed from the archive after the editors determined that the reporting did not meet Monitor standards.
The link is to Google's cache of the article. On first glance, it's not clear why editors retracted the story, and their terse note doesn't help anyone who reads the article to understand why they should disregard it.

UPDATE: (May 5) According to the Boston Herald, the issue here was plagiarism: The author of the Monitor piece, Jonathan P. Decker, allegedly included passages very similar to portions of an April article in The Street by Gregg Greenberg. (Gelf reached Decker by email after this was published, but he declined to comment.)

Greenberg: "Hedge funds were once reserved for well-heeled types looking for help in passing their wealth on to the next generation. Staggeringly high minimum requirements and exotic-sounding investment strategies kept retail investors on the outside looking in. That has changed over the past few years, though. The mutual fund industry has gradually been rolling out new offerings that use intricate hedge fund strategies—more on these below—yet are tailored to meet the needs of the savvier retail set."

Decker: "On Wall Street, hedge funds traditionally have been the investment equivalent of a Mercedes or a Bentley—an option for well-heeled investors looking for alternative investments wherein they could safely pass their wealth to the next generation. Staggeringly high minimum requirements and often-complex investment strategies kept out the average investor. But over the past five years, much has changed. The mutual-fund industry gradually has been rolling out new offerings that it considers to be the perfect alternative solution—"hedged mutual funds"—that use sophisticated hedging strategies, but are tailored to meet the needs of ordinary investors."

Greenberg: "Another major difference lies in fees. Hedge funds typically charge a hefty asset management fee of 1% to 2% of the assets, plus a 'performance fee' of 20% of a hedge fund's profit. A performance fee could motivate a hedge fund manager to take greater risks in the hope of generating larger returns. On the contrary, mutual fund investors don't have to forfeit a portion of their gains even to the most successful manager. Meanwhile the average domestic equity mutual fund carries an expense ratio in the 1% to 3% range."

Decker: "The final major difference between the two is fees. Hedge funds usually charge a management fee of 1 percent to 2 percent of the assets, plus a 'performance fee' of 20 percent of a hedge fund's profit. A performance fee could motivate a hedge-fund manager to take greater risks in hopes of generating larger returns. By contrast, mutual-fund investors don't have to forfeit a portion of their gains even to the most successful manager, and the average hedged mutual fund carries an expense ratio in the 1 to 3 percent range."

Gelf has also found similarlities with a couple of other pieces. Decker wrote in the Monitor, "Shorting, however, can be risky. When you own a stock, you can lose your entire investment if its price drops to zero. When you short a stock, you can lose your entire investment and then some because the price theoretically can rise forever." In July 2000, Ian McDonald wrote on The Street, "Shorting, for instance, can be a risky tactic. When you own a stock, you can lose your entire investment if its price drops to zero. But when you short a stock, you can lose your entire investment and then some because the price can theoretically rise forever."

And Decker wrote, "Market-neutral funds employ still another variation on the long/short approach. These funds try to keep their long and short bets evenly apportioned. The idea is to remove the performance of the overall market from the equation and allow the fund managers' skill in picking winners (which they want to own) and losers (which they want to sell short) to produce superior results." On Kiplinger.com in March, David Landis wrote, "Market-neutral funds employ still another variation on the long-short approach. These funds try to keep their long and short bets evenly apportioned. The idea is to remove the performance of the overall market from the equation and allow the fund managers' skill in picking winners (which they want to own) and losers (which they want to sell short) to produce superior returns."

Marines Desert to Avoid Haircut

It's apparently not online, but Harper's Magazine ran an editor's note apologizing for using a photo of nondeserting Marines on its cover to illustrate a story about deserting Marines, according to this post on poynter.org. The magazine was busted in March by the St. Petersburg Times, which noted, "Marine recruits so new that their hair hasn't been cut don't sound like the best models for a story about soldiers going AWOL—particularly since none in the group is a deserter."

False Toothing

Wired, March 22: This story is a hoax. Dozens of news organizations, including Wired News, were duped by pranksters claiming to be practitioners of "toothing," in which strangers in the U.K. were meeting up on commuter trains for clandestine sexual encounters. The liaisons were supposedly organized through messages broadcast via Bluetooth phones and handhelds. However, one of those involved now says the story was an elaborate hoax. After first creating an online forum, the pranksters persuaded friends to fill the site with scores of salacious, but fictitious, stories. It was from the contributors to this forum that Wired News found and interviewed—by email—the subjects of the story.
Regret the Error points out that many other publications were duped but left the error uncorrected.

How To Hoax Newspapers

Contra Costa Times, April 24:Batswala Dala, France Amoore and Tom Shane all have published letters to the editor in Bay Area newspapers. Trouble is, none of the men exist. Under dozens of pseudonyms, Kyle Vallone has orchestrated the publication of scores of letters to the Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Tri-Valley Herald during the last decade. A Times investigation found that the San Ramon man submitted more than 100 letters under fictitious identities to the three newspapers. Vallone estimated that he has had a hand in 200 bogus letters published in Northern California newspapers. [etc.]
The Times deserves credit for coming clean with a full investigation. Editor & Publisher has the story behind the exposé. The Chronicle tells E&P it will conduct its own investigation.

If a Tree Fails to Fall After the Paper Has Gone to Press...

Orlando Sentinel, April 27: An article on the front of Tuesday's Sports section reported incorrectly that a meeting occurred Monday night between Orlando Magic General Manager John Weisbrod and interim coach Chris Jent about the team's search for a new coach. In fact, the meeting did not occur until Tuesday morning. The reporter wrote the article after being told by Jent that the meeting would occur Monday evening but failed to check back to determine that the meeting had happened. In fact, the meeting had been postponed because of a scheduling conflict.
The original article began: "The Orlando Magic formally tipped off their coaching search Monday, and they began in the home office: The Magic interviewed interim Coach Chris Jent. The club said Jent would be the first candidate interviewed, and he and Magic General Manager John Weisbrod met at an off-site location Monday night." As Regret the Error pointed out, the error is similar to ones by Mitch Albom and a Boston Globe freelancer (mentioned in Gelf here and here), in that all of these articles involved events referred to in the past tense before they happened. In all of these cases, there was no real need to fictionalize. "Scheduled to" would have sufficed.

The Strike-Three Photo Was Unprintable

Los Angeles Times, April 27: A photo caption on the cover of Tuesday's Sports section described the Dodgers' Olmedo Saenz as reacting after his half-swing was ruled strike three in the eighth inning. The photo showed Saenz reacting after hitting a foul ball for strike two.

But Editors Sometimes Do

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 28: In some editions Wednesday, the last line of a front page story about Atlanta Falcons player Eric Beverly and his wife Danielle was dropped. The last line should have read: Love never fails.
The article originally cut off here: "What is there is meaningful. On a scrap of paper on the refrigerator door are scrawled words from I Corinthians, chapter 13: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." And in the same vein (and, who knows, perhaps the same editor was in charge)...

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 26: A story on the Senoia sewer project was incomplete in Monday's Horizon section. The final paragraph should have read: [George] Amey said he does plan to take advantage of the sewer and install a toilet. Just not today.
It seems that this is how the original article ended: "If anyone should be thrilled about sewer, it's George Amey, who still uses an outhouse. But the 69-year-old retired textile worker is nonchalant about the prospect of an indoor toilet. Sitting outside on an old Zenith television and watching horses graze across the road, Amey said the outhouse works for him. 'I'm from the old school,' he mused. The narrow metal shed stands behind his dilapidated house, where lawn mowers, exercise bikes and vehicles litter the yard."

Reilly Says This Correction Is Confusing

Boston Globe, April 27: In a column on April 17, Eileen McNamara reported incorrectly that Attorney General Thomas Reilly had assigned a prosecutor from Plymouth County to join the investigation into the murder of Christa Worthington. Reilly says the prosecutor joined the team after the attorney general met with the Worthington family to discuss their unhappiness with Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe's handling of the case. Reilly says he and O'Keefe then met and agreed that the investigation could use ''another set of eyes." Reilly says he did not make the appointment; O'Keefe did. Reilly says it was O'Keefe's idea.

Liberal Media

Orange County Register, April 26: We strive to make our headlines accurate, fair and error-free. Two recent headlines fell short. A headline in the News section of the April 22 edition of the Register said "Bush crash kills 30 Vietnamese vets." It should have said "Bus crash kills 30 Vietnamese vets." A headline in the Life, etc., section of the April 18 edition said "Ex-astonaut shares the right stuff with planetarium." We left out the "r" in astronaut.

Better Left Uncorrected

Arizona Daily Star, April 26: Ann Coulter's column, which normally appears Saturdays, was left out of Saturday's paper. The column that should have been published Saturday appears today on B5.
While Gelf is no fan of Coulter's, the Star's motives for delaying her column are questionable—in the column, she accuses the paper of goofing in an article about possible prosecution of the pie-thrower who nailed her in an Arizona appearance.

Planet of the Apes

Arizona Daily Star, April 27: An editorial April 19 about a proposal to enlist a monkey on a police SWAT team left the wrong impression about the intelligence of primates. Humans are the smartest primates, with chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys lower on the scale.
It's not just a Daily Star editorial that goofed: A news article said that Officer Sean Truelove "is spearheading the department's request to purchase and train a capuchin monkey, considered the second-smartest primate after the chimpanzee," perhaps unwittingly proving its own erroneous point.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

New York Times, April 30: An article on March 14 about the unclaimed ashes of mental patients who died at Oregon State Hospital omitted a reference to earlier newspaper reporting on their existence, and a correction in this space on March 17 cited it incompletely. While The Oregonian of Portland reported on the ashes in October 2004, The Statesman-Journal in Salem, Ore., did so in June 2003. The Times was informed of The Statesman-Journal's reporting in an e-mail message last week from a reporter there.
Gelf noticed the original correction in March.

New York Times, April 26: An article in Business Day yesterday about an indication that a former director of the New York Stock Exchange, Kenneth G. Langone, may put together a competing bid for the exchange referred incompletely to first reports of the development. The Wall Street Journal's Web site indeed reported Mr. Langone's possible interest in Archipelago Holdings, a company that the exchange plans to acquire, but Newsweek magazine's site was the first to report that he was interested only in the exchange.
According to Gawker, the Journal's online scoop over the weekend was wrong. That article is no longer up; instead, the Journal merely noted in its Monday story, "Mr. Langone initially left the impression with some that he may bid for Archipelago, too, but Mr. Langone says his plans include only the NYSE."

Reports of the Company's Death Were Greatly Exaggerated

Financial Post, April 26: A story in Saturday's Financial Post may have left the impression that Montreal Woolens of Cambridge, Ont., is no longer in business. In fact, the company remains a thriving concern.
The article, no longer online, said, "The stone buildings of Cambridge, which once housed companies such as Galt Towel, Dominion Woolens, Montreal Woolens and Hancock Textiles, are being made over into chic lofts, condominiums, shops and antique stores. The continuous churn in the economy goes on."

They Even Make House Calls

Akron Beacon Journal, April 30: The number of licensed doctors in Wayne County was 158 in 2003 and 161 in 2004. A graphic in Thursday's Beacon Journal contained incorrect statistics for those two years, making it appear that Wayne County saw a dramatic decrease in doctors. The numbers actually increased slightly from 2001, when 151 licensed doctors lived or practiced in the county.

An Overhyped Sailor

Baltimore Sun, April 30: Because information supplied by a public relations firm confused two persons of the same name, The Sun misstated the background of Annapolis sailor John Bertrand in an article in yesterday's editions. In February, he won the first leg of the nine-stop National Offshore One-Design regatta in St. Petersburg, Fla. He is competing in the Annapolis NOOD regatta this weekend. John Bertrand of Australia won the America's Cup in 1993. He is not competing this weekend.

Have Eight Servings of Buicks a Day

Slate, April 29: In the April 28 "Medical Examiner," Jessie Scanlon incorrectly translated the word "vegetables" as "vehiculos." That word means cars. The correct translation in this context is "verduras."

A Muse in All But Her Name

New York Times, April 29: An article and a picture caption on Tuesday about an artists' study session offered by the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan, with live music and a cash bar, misstated the name of a nude model being sketched. She is Julie Atlas Muz, not Julia Atlas Muse.

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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