Media | Oops

April 11, 2005

Corrections 4/4-4/11

Colorblind reporters, Bo Jackson, pope problems, and other enlightening and entertaining media corrections.

Carl Bialik

Detroit Free Press, April 7: Mitch Albom's column in the Sunday section said NBA players Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson attended Saturday's Michigan State-North Carolina NCAA tournament basketball game. They did not. Albom did interview the players Thursday night and Friday morning. They described travel plans and the intention to sit together at the game. Their plans changed because of scheduling conflicts. The Free Press should not have reported the players were at the game. We do not present as fact events that have not occurred. Albom's column appeared in a section printed before the game. The Free Press apologizes for misleading readers. Albom addresses the error in his column.

Here's what happened, according to several reports: Albom wrote the offending column Friday for Sunday publication. Cleaves and Richardson, the two former Michigan State players, had told him they'd be at the game Saturday night. But they ended up not making it, thereby turning a feel-good Sunday column about two players who love their alma mater into a lie.

Albom's column began like this: "In the audience Saturday at the Final Four, among the 46,000 hoop junkies, sales executives, movie producers, parents, contest winners, beer guzzlers, hip-hop stars and lucky locals who knew somebody who knew somebody, there were two former stars for Michigan State, Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson. They sat in the stands, in their MSU clothing, and rooted on their alma mater."

The Free Press ran the correction and Albom wrote an extensive, if half-hearted, apology column. (Sample false contrition: "While it was hardly the thrust of the column—which was about nostalgia and college athletes—it was wrong just the same. ... Perhaps, it seems a small detail to you—the players still love their teams, they are still nostalgic, they simply decided not to go after the column had been filed—but details are the backbone of journalism, and planning to be somewhere is not the same as being there.")

None of this headed off a storm of criticism engulfing Albom and the Free Press, which on Friday said it was conducting an investigation of Albom's work. Editor & Publisher, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

Albom was clearly wrong to write prediction as fact, and the Free Press was wrong to print it. It's unclear if the paper pressured him to write the column such that it appeared to be timely, or if Albom used his influence to push the column through, as many of his critics seem to assume. Certainly, this isn't the first instance of a newspaper crossing its fingers and running something that was to occur between when it was written and when it was published. (Magazines, with their longer lead times, run an even greater risk of being caught in such errors.)

In a prior Oops column, Gelf noted a blatant Washington Post goof in which a reporter attending a dinner claimed to have witnessed a skit, and reaction, that never happened. As David Orlin wrote on the journalism discussion board Romenesko, "I guess if the dinner is off-the-record, it's okay to just make it up, because I don't remember the Post doing any breast-beating over that incident."

Much of the Albom piling-on appears to be motivated by resentment of his fame and tendency toward self-aggrandizement (Romenesko correspondents earlier flamed him for a self-serving column in which he thanked Detroit; now several posts tweak fun at his sentimental books).

In an excellent Romenesko post, Deborah Wilker points to the larger questions here: "Why is it that newspapers still haven't figured out how to be the truly live enterprise they pass themselves off to be? ... How is it that dailies became so out of touch—so full of themselves—that they assumed customers would just keep lining up for a product that becomes less relevant every day?"

There were much worst journalistic sins than Albom's in the past week, such as the following three:

Pressure Points

New York Times, April 7: An article yesterday about the Arab Human Development report of the United Nations Development Program asserted that its release had been delayed by Bush administration pressure on the agency to change language critical of the United States and Israel. The assertion was based on unattributed statements from several speakers and interviewees connected with the committee that wrote the report, who spoke during and after a news conference in Amman, Jordan, about its release.

The Times did not seek comment on this assertion from either the Bush administration or the United Nations, which have previously denied that such pressure was exerted. The Times should have sought their comment or reported the previous denials.

Because of an editing error, the article also misstated the extent to which this report differed from two previous ones. They, too, included language that objected to American and Israeli policies, and did not focus almost exclusively on problems within the Arab world.

Bo Don't Know 'Roids

Inland Valley (Calif.) Daily Bulletin, April 9: A March 24 story we ran contained a quote stating that past "anabolic" use by retired sports star Bo Jackson caused the loss of his hip. Jackson has stated publicly he has never used steroids. We retract the quote and the further statement that the speaker personally witnessed this damage to his life. We apologize to Mr. Jackson, without reservation.

The original article—about a recent talk by dietary expert Ellen Coleman on steroids—is no longer online, but Google cached a copy. Here's the key passage: " 'Bo Jackson lost his hip because of anabolic abuse,' she said, citing an example of how she personally witnessed the damage on someone's life." Before the Daily Bulletin ran the retraction, Jackson's lawyer sued the paper. (AP) Coleman signed an affidavit saying she never made the statement.

Digging Deep

Boston Globe, April 9: A Page One story and accompanying headline in yesterday's Globe about blocked fire exits in the Big Dig tunnels incorrectly said that many had been boarded up or blocked because of work to find and plug leaks in the tunnels. That assertion was not attributed to anyone or supported by other reporting, a breach of the Globe's standards. The exits are boarded up because they lead to areas of the Big Dig that are still under construction, according to Big Dig officials. In addition, the story incorrectly said the exits are the main escape route for motorists if a fire starts inside the tunnels. Big Dig officials say the primary evacuation route is for motorists to go back the way they entered the tunnels.

The Associated Press ran a story about the flub, picked up by the Boston Globe's website.

Oops Follow-up

Los Angeles Times reporter Eric Slater, whose error in a Chico State article Gelf covered last week, wrote an email of half-hearted apology, published on A sample: "I have spoken with very few people. Now, at the suggestion of a wise colleague who weathered a difficult and mostly false snowstorm—blown up mostly by colleagues in journalism—I have decided to apologize to you."

Non-correction Correction

Wall Street Journal, April 8: In response to a series of articles about the auto maker, General Motors Corp. has pulled all of its advertising from Tribune Co.'s Los Angeles Times for the foreseeable future, GM said yesterday. At the heart of the issue are "some factual errors and misrepresentations in the editorial coverage," said Ryndee Carney, a GM spokeswoman. "It's not just one story. It's a series of things that have happened over time, and we've made our objections known to the paper, and so we'd like to keep our discussions between us and the paper private."

According to the L.A. Times's own story about GM's move, the straw that broke GM's back was Pulitzer Prize-winning automobile critic Dan Neil's harsh review Wednesday of the Pontiac G6. Neil called for the company to oust its chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner. The L.A. Times, which runs dozens of corrections a week, has not yet backed down; the only correction to Neil's column so far is this one: "A review of the Pontiac G6 in Wednesday's Highway 1 section included a photo of a G6 with a six-speed manual transmission. The G6 that was reviewed was a four-speed automatic.

What next? Kelly O'Keefe, head of marketing consultancy O'Keefe Brands, told MarketWatch that GM erred "It is a remarkably nonsavvy move, and if anything, that supports the contention that they have a management that isn't paying attention. This is only going to raise the awareness of GM's troubles [among] the general public." But on Romenesko, National Geographic Traveler ombudsman Christopher Elliott wrote, "I'm afraid I can predict the ending of the GM ad controversy. The Los Angeles Times will do whatever it takes to get the GM account back. Repeat: whatever it takes. Even if it means reassigning, demoting or firing one of its best columnists. Good luck, Dan. I hope I'm wrong."

The Truth Is Colorblind

Dallas Morning News, April 7: An April 5 column on Travis Vanguard Academy stated that teacher Mary Oliver is white. Ms. Oliver says she is of Hispanic and Asian descent.

The column, "Is trouble at Travis a matter of race?", was predicated on the race of Oliver and a black student who attacked her. Or was that student Indian?

Washington Post, April 6: An article in the March 27 Magazine incorrectly said that there are seven black managers in major league baseball. In fact, seven managers are minorities—four African American and three Hispanic.

Los Angeles Times, April 11: An article in Saturday's Calendar section on actor Ian Somerhalder said he was 31. He is 26. The article also said he has blond hair; he has dark brown hair.

Like Rain on a Wedding Day

Wall Street Journal Online, April 7: An earlier version of this column incorrectly referred to Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Texas Law School, as Bob Leiter. Also, a hypothetical example about an incoming law-school class's test scores gave incorrect numbers. The example should have said that 45 students had a score of 120, not 49 students.

That column, written by me, is called "Numbers Guy."

Number Problems

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6: Data cited by the national Center for Women Policy Studies indicate 15,000 to 100,000 women and girls are trafficked into the United States each year. A story on the front page of Tuesday's Metro section incorrectly described why the women are brought into the country.

The original article greatly stretched the stat, stating, "It's difficult for groups to pin down how many women enter the country as mail-order brides. One estimate is 15,000 to 100,000 women come each year, according to data from the national Center for Woman Policy Studies."

Related by Marriage

Washington Post, April 9: An April 8 Business in Brief item incorrectly said that Kaplan Inc., a unit of The Washington Post Co., is based in Chicago. Kaplan is based in New York.

Public Show

Los Angeles Times, April 10: A description of pitcher Warren Spahn in an April 3 review of "The Old Ball Game" and "Best Baseball Writing 2005" suggested that he sat in the dugout while he talked to reporters and changed clothes after games. In fact, it should have said that he did this in the locker room.

Liberal Media

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 7: An article Wednesday about the unveiling of a portrait of Congressman Dave Obey on Capitol Hill incorrectly stated that Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the House majority leader. She is the House minority leader. The article also incorrectly identified former Wisconsin Congressman Mel Laird as a Democrat. He is a Republican.

Slate, April 11: In the April 5 "Jurisprudence," Dahlia Lithwick mistakenly referred to Rep. Tom DeLay as the House minority leader. He is the House majority leader.

A Memorable Candidacy

Los Angeles Times, April 9: An article in Friday's Calendar section about reaction to the publication of Jane Fonda's autobiography referred to the controversy about John F. Kerry's Vietnam service during the 2000 presidential campaign. Kerry was a candidate in 2004.

The Dog Published This Error

Akron Beacon Journal, A story on mower tune-ups in last Saturday's Your Home section should have instructed readers to change the air filter. Copy editors had corrected the story before publication, but apparently the uncorrected version accidentally got into the paper.

Maybe Somewhere in Between

New York Times, April 11: Because of an editing error, an obituary on March 23 about the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange overstated the death toll in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, for which he later designed a peace park. And an unrelated picture caption on March 11 about a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of an American air raid on Tokyo gave an understated Hiroshima toll in a comparison of the numbers killed in the two actions.

Scholars have reached a loose consensus in recent decades that roughly 140,000 people perished in the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath—not 200,000, as reported in the obituary, or fewer than 100,000, as the caption said.

The obituary also referred incorrectly to Mr. Tange's addition to the Minneapolis Art Museum. It was not his only project in the United States; he designed the American Medical Association headquarters building in Chicago in 1990 and played a role in urban planning designs for Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco and for Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Worth Fewer Than 1,000 Words

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 8: The photo on the Business section front yesterday was inadvertently labeled as a photo illustration. It was a traditional news photo.

Chicago Tribune, April 7: A photo of former White Sox Luke Appling batting was reversed on Page 7 in Monday's Baseball 2005 special section.

Globe and Mail, April 6: A photograph of Pope John Paul II on the front cover of the Saturday commemorative section was inadvertently reversed. The ring seen in the photo is called the Fisherman's Ring and was worn on his right ring finger, not his left.

This last correction is one of a host of pope-related goofs that dominated the corrections boxes this past week. A selection:

Pope Problems

Chicago Tribune, April 9: Monday regular edition and Redeye edition stories in which Chicago-area churchgoers talked about Pope John Paul II, Rev. Donald McGuire was quoted and identified as a retired priest (this sentence as published has been corrected in this text). McGuire, 74, was removed from ministry by the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus in 2003 because of allegations he had abused minors decades earlier. In Wisconsin, McGuire has been ordered to stand trial on two charges of indecent behavior with a child. In light of this information, it was inappropriate to quote McGuire in the story.

Two days before publishing the correction, the Trib's website ran an Associated Press article about the allegations against McGuire. His unfortunate quote, carried in the Pope story: "I thought of him in there in the church. And the thought occurred to me of the joy he had in children. I could really see him at the altar with each communicant, each little person. As Christ said, 'Let the children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.' "

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7: An article in yesterday's Inquirer about criticism of media coverage of Pope John Paul II's death misidentified Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She is director of the Annenberg Center for Public Policy of the University of Pennsylvania.

Newsday, April 5: The word conclave comes from the Latin phrase "with a key." The translation was incorrect in an illustration yesterday describing the papal selection process.

The meaning was given erroneously as "without a key."

Priests said prayers for the late Pope John Paul II on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica Saturday night. The basilica was referred to incorrectly in Paul Vitello's column on Sunday.

Chicago Tribune, April 7: A graphic on the back page of Monday's main section incorrectly said Pope John XXIII was buried along with other pontiffs in the grottoes beneath St. Peter's Basilica. His remains were moved into the basilica after his beatification in 2000.

The Los Angeles Times ran the same correction.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 9: Psalm numbers given in an April 8, 2005 story on plans for the papal funeral yesterday were according to the Catholic Latin Bible. The numbers are slightly different in the King James and subsequent English translations.

Baltimore Sun, April 5: An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun referred to the Orthodox Church as "a denomination that split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054." In fact, neither church split from the other. Christianity divided with the schism of 1054. From that emerged the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

Los Angeles Times, April 10: A photo caption in Saturday's Section A misidentified priests who were performing rituals at the coffin of Pope John Paul II. They were members of Eastern Rite churches that belong to Catholicism, not representatives of Eastern Orthodox churches.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 8: Thursday's News Quiz on Page A2 contained an incorrect reference to Pope John Paul II's previous position. It should have read, "Before he became Pope John Paul II, the Rev. Karol Wojtyla was bishop of __[Krakow, Poland]."

Los Angeles Times, April 5: The obituary of Pope John Paul II in Sunday's Section A reported that the state of Israel was established in 1949. It was 1948.

Washington Post, April 8: Pope John Paul II was 20 years old when his father died, not 18, as stated in the April 3 obituary editorial.

Boston Globe, April 10: Because of a reporting error, a Page One story Thursday on Cardinal Bernard F. Law's profile during official services mourning Pope John Paul II gave the incorrect year of Law's graduation from Harvard. He graduated in 1953.

Boston Globe, April 9: Because of a graphic artist's error, the map of Rome that accompanied a story in Thursday's World pages on security for the funeral of Pope John Paul II incorrectly located the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is next to the main train station.

Boston Globe, April 5: Because of editing errors, several facts were incorrect in the special section on Pope John Paul II in Sunday's editions. A timeline included the wrong date for the pope's death; he died on April 2. A photo caption misdated the year of the pope's inauguration; he became leader of the church on Oct. 22, 1978. And Time Magazine, not Life Magazine, carried the headline ''John Paul, Superstar."

New York Times, April 9: A front-page article yesterday about Vatican preparations for the funeral of Pope John Paul II misstated the chief Vatican spokesman's description of what would happen on April 18, when cardinals begin meeting in secret to choose a new pope. The spokesman, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, said they would attend a Mass at 10 a.m. and meet afterward, not vice versa.

Akron Beacon Journal, April 6: A story Sunday misnamed the location of the church where Pope John Paul II—when he was just Karol Jozef Wojtyla—visited with the Rev. Thaddeus Swirski, now pastor of St. Hedwig's in Akron. The future pope visited and swam at Swirski's church in Warmia i Mazury, Poland. A reporter misunderstood the reference.

Orlando Sentinel, April 6: An article on Page A9 Sunday about Central Florida reaction to the death of Pope John Paul II contained a misspelling in the ending credit of the first name of Sentinel staff writer Stephen Hudak.

Orange County Register, April 6: Karol Wojtyla was chosen as archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI in 1963. Because of a reporting error, a caption in the special pope section in the April 3 edition of the Register misstated who appointed Wojtyla and misidentified Pope Paul VI in a photo in the timeline of Pope John Paul II's life. Also in that section, a photo showed Polish President Lech Walesa kissing Pope John Paul II's hand in June 1991 in Warsaw. Because of an error by the Associated Press, the caption misstated the year of that event.

Orange County Register, April 9: The funeral of Pope John Paul II was rebroadcast on the ABC News digital network on Friday, not KABC/7. Because of an editing error, rebroadcast times were incorrectly listed in the News section of the April 7-8 editions of The Register.

Lactose Intolerance

New York Times, April 7: A Sports of The Times column yesterday about Coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who led Baylor University to the N.C.A.A. women's basketball championship, referred incorrectly in some copies to the slogan worn by the mascot on a T-shirt during the game. It was "Got Mulk?"—referring to the coach—not "Got Milk?"


Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 9: 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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