Media | Oops

May 26, 2005

Corrections 5/16-5/22

Koreans desecrated and abused, a costly mistake, conflict of interest at Princeton, 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.

What's That Magazine Again? Not Time, But ...

Newsweek, May 30 issue: We have unequivocally retracted our story. In the light of the Pentagon's denials and our source's changing position on the allegation, the only responsible course was to say that we no longer stand by our story. [etc.]

Newsweek's retraction of its report that Guantanamo Bay military interrogators flushed a Koran down the toilet has been exhaustively covered, in Gelf and elsewhere (see Romenesko for tons of news links). One note we can add: The lesson here isn't that we should silence those who would only blow the whistle on people in power if granted anonymity, which would result if the media took the advice of pundits rushing to proclaim that anonymous sources are evil. (Matt Taibbi makes a similar point in New York Press.) Consider, for instance, this New York Observer article about Newsweek's reaction to the fury about its report. The story cited "a Newsweek staffer," "one person who was in the room," a staffer "who wasn't present at the meeting but had been briefed on the package," among other unnamed sources, in telling a story worth telling, albeit about a subject much less important than the one botched in Newsweek's own report.

Besides for ironic use of anonymous sources, coverage of the Newsweek story has, inevitably, spawned its own corrections. It's deadline journalism; mistakes happen. Here are two:

Chicago Tribune, May 18: A Page 1 caption Tuesday should have said that a Muslim cleric was protesting the reported desecration of a Koran. Because of a typographical error, the word "Korean" appeared instead of "Koran."

Reuters, May 16: Please read in second paragraph "had uncovered Koran abuse" instead of "had uncovered Korean abuse."

Read Your Own Damn Paper

Detroit Free Press, May 21: An editorial Friday incorrectly described the actions of parents in the Grosse Pointe School District who want the district to make sure that all students enrolled in the district are residents. The parents submitted petitions to the school board with nearly 3,000 signatures asking the district to adopt a policy of verification of residency. They did not provide a list of names of students. For more on this, see today's editorial and letters from readers.

The apologetic editorial noted, "We published an editorial commentary with a flawed premise because of a careless misreading of information in our own newspaper. A parents' group did not, as we said, give school officials a list of 3,000 student names to be investigated for residency. In fact, the group turned in about 3,000 petition signatures asking the district to adopt a stronger policy to verify the residency of students."

Boston Globe, May 22: Because of a reporting error, an article in yesterday's City & Region section about a dispute between Governor Mitt Romney and the state Senate incorrectly characterized a Globe editorial earlier in the week. The editorial did not criticize the Legislature for failing to consider Romney's proposal to roll back the state income tax.

In fact, the editorial stated, "With state tax revenue last month up 11.2 percent over April 2004, a prudent government would be making sure the rainy day fund is amply funded."

The Perils of Advance Publishing.

Chicago Tribune, May 19: A review of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" on Page 1 of today's preprinted Tempo section refers to a performance by actor Frank Gorshin. The review was written before news of Gorshin's death was made public Wednesday.

Luckily it wasn't a pan. Here's what the review had to say about Gorshin, the veteran actor and impressionist who died last Tuesday at age 72: "[Quentin] Tarantino, a master of postmodern allusions and in-jokes, includes one delicious scene in which Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin play themselves, hamming it up at a Vegas nightclub. Gorshin suggests Curtis wear a dress, to which, he retorts, 'Who do you think I am? Jack Lemmon?' Mimic Gorshin throws in a few imitations, including the prerequisite Ed Sullivan: Pure Tarantino, ever the poet laureate of pop cultural pulp."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 19: Call it the curse of Get Out. The Killers, the band featured on today's cover, have cancelled their concert, which was scheduled for Monday at the Pageant. The band announced a re-routing of their itinerary after today's Get Out had already been printed. (Three weeks ago, Get Out cover boy Elvis Costello also cancelled his concert after Get Out was published.) Will the Get Out jinx continue next week? Not likely. Next week's cover subject, William Shakespeare, has been dead for several centuries.

Boston Globe, May 17: The Go! column in yesterday's Living/Arts section said a local band, the Bags, was to perform on a bill with Gang of Four and Radio 4 at Avalon last night. The Bags were unable to appear because of a scheduling conflict, according to the band's website.

It's not only Mitch Albom who gets tripped up by sections printed in advance. The Post-Dispatch wins in the band-correction humor contest. And speaking of humorous corrections...

Mexican and Canadian Members Protested

Slate, May 13: The original version of this review incorrectly identified NAMBLA as an acronym for the "National Association of Man Boy Love" as opposed to the correct title, "The North American Man Boy Love Association." This was not intended as a slight to Canada or Mexico. Anything but. I ought to have Googled it, but the fear of S.W.A.T. teams promptly crashing through my office window forced me to take a stab. My thanks to a reader—not a NAMBLA member—for supplying me with the correct name. And my apologies to... On second thought, never mind.

Bad Corrections Can be Costly

Guardian, May 13: A senior British Army officer wrongly linked to the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq was awarded £58,500 in damages yesterday. Colonel Jonathan Campbell James received the award following an incorrect report in the Guardian on September 16 last year, which has, he said, resulted in a "long-term threat" to both his reputation and security. ... The newspaper had, in addition, published an apology for the false allegation. But the judge was critical of the fact that it took three months for the offer of amends to be made and for an apology to be printed.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 20: An article on the front page of South Broward Community News sections on Wednesday about 17 Westminster Academy students delivering gifts and school supplies to school-age children in Haiti contained several paragraphs that appear to have been taken from a story published March 7 in The Miami Herald without credit or attribution. Sun-Sentinel policy clearly prohibits the use of material from other sources without attribution or credit. This is a standard that we require of our staff and freelance contributors. A full review of other stories by the writer, who is a freelancer, is under way.

Regret the Error has dug up the original article (which the Sun-Sentinel removed from its site) and compared it to the original Herald article.

Full Disclosure

New York Times, May 21: An article on May 6 described a demonstration at Princeton University against the proposal by Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and a Princeton graduate and board member, to bar filibusters on judicial nominees. The writer, a freelance contributor who is a Princeton student, did not disclose to The Times that before she was assigned the article, she had participated in the demonstration. The Times does not ordinarily allow its writers to cover events in which they have taken part, and the paper's staff and contributors are not permitted to join rallies or demonstrations on divisive issues. The writer says she was unaware of these policies.

TimesWatch, a site dedicated to "documenting and exposing the liberal political agenda of the New York Times," noticed that freelancer Elizabeth Landau, author of the piece in question, also wrote or contributed to a couple of other articles recently about the protests. Before the editor's note, TimesWatch had cited her Times article for bias. A sample paragraph: "Organizers say the filibuster is nonpartisan, and they insist it is not a personal attack on Dr. Frist. A call to his Senate office asking for a comment was not returned. Democrats, Republicans, independents and libertarians alike have joined the Princeton effort by filibustering, signing up new speakers and maintaining the Webcam in the blue tent."

Washington Times, May 13: Our identification of Ali Safavi, author of Wednesday's Op-Ed piece, "Putting Tehran on notice," did not mention his involvement with a group prominently mentioned in the story, the National Council for the Resistance in Iran.

At the end of the op-ed piece—which credited the National Council with disclosing suspicious activity by Iran's nuclear-enrichment program—Safavi was identified as "president of Near East Policy Research, a consulting and policy-analysis firm in Washington." According to this 2003 CNN article, Safavi has worked as a spokesman for the National Council.

Oh, Yeah, and Also That

Washington Post, May 18: The obituary of Rep. Peter W. Rodino (D-N.J.) that ran May 8 should have mentioned his role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The obit focused almost entirely on Rodino's role in the impeachment of President Nixon, though it did mention, "He supported landmark civil rights legislation in 1957 and was one of the primary sponsors of the Civil Rights Act of 1966." The Newark Star-Ledger, in its very different obit, noted that a friend of Rodino's said Rodino had told him "he did not want his work on the Watergate scandal to be his lasting legacy." The obit (Google cache) said, "His fingerprints can be traced on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he helped guide through complicated approval process. The legislation outlawed discrimination in public places and in the workplace."

Master Diplomat

Virginian-Pilot, May 18: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was incorrectly identified Tuesday on the front page as secretary of state.

Immaculate Conception

Orlando Sentinel, An article on Page A6 Wednesday about former President Clinton's comments in Copenhagen about global warming referred incorrectly to his successor. Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, is the son of Clinton's predecessor, George H. W. Bush.

The article, with an Associated Press byline, stated, "As president, Clinton backed the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but his successor, George W. Bush—the current president's father—withdrew U.S. support for the treaty, saying it was not the best solution.

Error Propagation

Baltimore Sun, May 20: In Wednesday's Sun, an article about the Eshkol Academy reported that Rabbi David Lapin, a one-time employee of the school, was targeted by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands over a $1.2 million contract. The information was credited to a New York Times report that was subsequently corrected; the government of the islands did not say it was questioning Lapin but has said it has been unable to determine what work Lapin performed for that fee. Efforts to reach Lapin before the publication of The Sun's article were unsuccessful. Lapin told The Sun yesterday that he charged appropriately for his work.

Slate, May 20: In a May 10 "Medical Examiner," Joshua Foer incorrectly stated that the lap times of Stanford varsity swimmers who were given amphetamines improved by 4 percent. The source of that statistic is a Web page by Dr. Lawrence Diller of the University of California, San Francisco, that misinterprets the findings of a 1959 study. The study found that the speeds of Boston-area college swimmers improved only by a mean of 1.16 percent, a statistically insignificant figure. It also found that collegiate shot-putters were able to throw 4.6 percent farther on amphetamines.

The original Slate article stated, "When scientists administered amphetamines to Stanford's varsity swim team, lap times improved by 4 percent." The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1959 (PubMed). The NCAA has said (page 6 of this 1981 newsletter), "the design of this study has little scientific merit," but didn't elaborate. Perhaps the study has been judged by its conclusions rather than its merits; a Harvard Law School student paper, referring to the same study, said, "One study of particular note because of its scientific legitimacy[15] has concluded that the use of amphetamines produced a small improvement in swimming (.59% to 1.16%), running (1.5%) and weight throwing (3% to 4%), although there has been criticism of this study."

We Ran Out of Anytime Minutes

New York Times, May 22: An article on April 17 about Cherokee Investment Partners and its role in redeveloping several former industrial sites in New Jersey - the first of two parts - included an incorrect estimate of fees that Cherokee received for accepting dredge from the Army Corps of Engineers. From information provided by the corps that it pays $10 to $35 a cubic yard to dispose of the material, the article concluded that Cherokee would receive $40 million to $140 million for four million cubic yards of dredge. A contract shows that the corps has agreed to pay the company $5 a cubic yard.

The second article, on April 24, about the redevelopment of Pennsauken and Petty's Island, the site of a former Citgo petroleum refinery, quoted the island's environmental manager for Citgo, Jack McCrossin. By his account, a lawyer for Citgo said that when the company approached Cherokee to ask about the eagles, the lawyer was told, "If the governor wants Petty's Island developed, it will get developed." A lawyer for Cherokee, Eric Wisler, denies that he or the company made the comment.

In each case, in fairness, The Times should have given Cherokee an opportunity to comment.

World's Most Popular Cricket Team

Los Angeles Times, May 21: An article in Thursday's Section A about the reaction of fans in Manchester, Britain, to the takeover of their local football club by an American businessman said the team had won the "treble" of three championships in 1998. Manchester won the treble in 1999.

New York Times, May 20: A front-page article yesterday about the hostile reaction in England to the sale of the Manchester United soccer team to the American billionaire Malcolm Glazer misstated its final standing in the English Premier League for the 2003-4 season. It was third, not second.

U.S. papers had some trouble getting their facts straight about this huge soccer story.

Crumpets Not Included

New York Times, May 22: An article on May 1 about Mustique, in the Caribbean, referred incorrectly to a meal included in the room rate of the Cotton House, the island's one hotel. It is afternoon tea. (High tea, served chiefly in Britain, is a more substantial early-evening meal.)

New York Times Headquarters are 3,500 Miles From the City of York

New York Times, May 22: The Practical Traveler column on May 8 reported that hotels increasingly appeared to be stretching the truth about their locations to incorporate the names of better-known communities nearby. Noting that this phenomenon was particularly true of new hotels, the column cited two examples and then said: "That's nothing compared to the Westin at Yorktown Center," which is to open in 2007 in Lombard, Ill., and, the column noted, is a two-hour drive from Yorktown, Ill. In fact, the site of the Westin adjoins the Yorktown Center mall. So the resort's name does indeed reflect its location—although it could be confused with Yorktown, Ill.

David Goldenberg contributed to this article.

Spot an interesting correction on television, in a magazine or newspaper, or on a web news site or blog? Or see something that should have been corrected but wasn't? E-mail Gelf with your find.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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