Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Media | Oops

June 1, 2005

Corrections 5/23-5/29

Borrowing run amok; rooting for the home team, whatever its name is; masochistic prison officers; 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.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 29: A review of articles by a recent high school intern, who also worked as a freelance writer, turned up several articles in which material was used without attribution and quotes were improperly attributed. Sun-Sentinel policy requires that staff, interns and freelance contributors attribute or credit material from other sources. There were problems with five of 10 articles that carried her byline and that published between July 21, 2004, and May 18:

Last week, as noted by Oops, the Sun-Sentinel acknowledged the apparent plagiarism in the May 18 article. The Sun-Sentinel would serve its readers better by sharing the articles and exactly what material was lifted from which sources. Since the paper hasn't done so, Gelf will do its best to fill in the gaps.

An article in the Aug. 8 Back to School section about cell phones on Broward County campuses used material from The Associated Press and the Boca Raton News without attribution.

In this cellphone piece as available on Nexis, the Sun-Sentinel wrote, "And schools have only begun to weigh the potential for text messaging, photo swapping, cheating and chatting." The previous September, the Associated Press (via USA Today) reported, "Many schools have only begun to weigh their educational benefits against their potential for text messaging, photo swapping, cheating and chatting." The Sun-Sentinel also wrote, "But the problem is getting worse, thanks to new technology, which allows cell phones to double as digital cameras. It may be fun to snap a candid shot, but teachers are fearful that students may use the phones as high tech cheating devices, by snapping photos of tests." The Boca Raton News reported last June, "And the problem is only getting worse, thanks to new technology which allows cell phones to double as digital cameras. It may be fun to snapping a candid yearbook photo, but students are using the camera phones to take pictures in locker rooms, according to local educators. Students are also using the phones as high tech cheating devices—by snapping photos of tests, said Geoff McKee, principal of Boca Raton High School."

An Aug. 13 article about the World of Reptiles show at Nova Southeastern University in Davie used material from a St. Petersburg Times report without credit. She was the primary writer.

The Sun-Sentinel wrote, "About 80 children recently were treated to a presentation of slithery, slimy and shelled creatures as a part of the 'Read Around Florida' summer youth program in Davie." The St. Petersburg Times wrote, in June 2003, "Donald and nearly 60 other children were treated to a presentation of slithery, slimy and shelled creatures as part of the Florida Library Youth Program." The Sun-Sentinel: "Children sat cross-legged in the youth services area on July 31 to see the World of Reptiles show." The Times: "Kids sat cross-legged in the children's corner to see the show." The Sun-Sentinel: "The presentation included show-and-tell, laughter and a hands-on experience." Times: "The presentation included show-and-tell, stories and, for some, a hands-on experience."

In a March 16 article about a MathCounts competition in Broward County, material from a news release on Clemson University's Web site was used without attribution; also, a quote was attributed to a local engineer who said he did not say it. She was the primary writer.

The Clemson's news release, dated February 3, stated, "MathCounts is a national math coaching and competition program that promotes math achievement through grass-roots involvement." The Sun-Sentinel repeated that verbatim. The release also stated, "The top four students at the state competition will form the state team and will earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Detroit to represent South Carolina at the national finals May 5-8." The Sun-Sentinel reported, "The top four students at the state competition will form the State Team and will earn an all-expense-paid trip to Detroit, Ill., to represent Florida at the national finals May 5-8." The Sun-Sentinel later issued this correction: "An article on Page 1 of the March 16 edition incorrectly identified the location of the MathCounts national finals. The finals will be held in Detroit, Mich."

In the only quote from a local engineer, Jeff Greenfield, past president of the Broward Chapter of the Florida Engineering Society, is quoted as saying, "This is one way to encourage our children to pursue their interest in math and science, since it can recognize their accomplishments at an age when other careers can beckon. The level of student capability is outstanding, and most of these students will go on to excel in math or science careers." The Clemson release contained a similar quote, from Jim Justus, the Piedmont Chapter's MathCounts committee chairman: "The United States is facing a potential shortage of math- and science-based graduates of our universities, and this is one way to encourage our children to pursue that path since it can recognize their accomplishments at an age when other careers may beckon."

A March 25 article about Broward County high school step teams did not credit material from several sources, including newspapers, college publications and Web sites. The article also attributed previously published quotes from the sources to local step team coaches, a school adviser and step competitors.

The vague language makes it difficult to find all the sources. Here's one example of similarity: A February 2001 article in the Tech News, the student newspaper of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, reported, "To many members of the WPI community, the term 'stepping' remains a foreign concept and doesn't have much significance or recognition. ... At first try, to describe what stepping is can be rather difficult. Some are prone to equate it with the theatrical show "Stomp," while others consider it a branch of military drill or dancing. While these references help initial understanding, step performances have unique qualities on their own right. Basically, a step is a collection of rhythms made by using the hands and feet, and occasionally props such as canes. Responding to chants or calls, a team stomps their feet or claps hands to a base beat along with moving into different formations."

The Sun-Sentinel wrote, "But for many other South Floridians, stepping remains a foreign concept. Stepping can be difficult to describe. Some equate it with theatrical shows, while others consider it a branch of military drill or dancing. While stepping can be similar to these, performances are unique. Basically, a step is a collection of rhythms made by using the hands and feet and, occasionally, props such as canes. Responding to chants or calls, team members stomp their feet or clap their hands to a base beat while moving into different formations."

A May 18 article about 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 March 7, 2005, article in The Miami Herald without attribution, and attributed a quote to a student the writer did not interview. She was the primary writer.

Regret the Error compared the two articles side to side.

Fayetteville Observer, May 27: [Columnist Jim Pettit wrote:] "This has been a hard week. Not the work. The lack of it. If anyone missed my column over the past few days, it wasn't because I was on vacation. I was on suspension. Believe me, there's a big difference. The suspension was fair. I was guilty of carelessness, sloppy rewriting on some press releases that in some cases was hardly rewriting at all. It made some passages appear to be mine when they weren't. There are no excuses. There's no one to blame but me. I built the fire. I'll take the heat. [etc.]"
A week before, the Observer said Pettit had been suspended "for failing to properly attribute material" in five columns. "All of the information published was accurate and provided to us for use but should have been attributed to the original sources: the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Outdoor Wire, BassFan.com and Reuters news service." (Observer via Google cache)

Our Favorite Hometown Squads

New York Times, May 24: "A picture caption yesterday with a report in the Media Talk column of Business Day about the fall lineup at CBS misidentified the baseball playoff series involving the Yankees and Mariano Rivera that helped lift Fox's ratings. It was the 2004 American League Championship Series, not the World Series."

New York Times, May 25: An article on Thursday about the indictment of 36 people accused of being members of a sports gambling ring based in Queens misspelled the surname of the former Mets pitcher whom one of the suspects described as a friend. He is David Cone, not Cohn.

Chicago Tribune, May 25: A picture caption on Page 11 of Monday's Sports section incorrectly stated that White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik failed to catch a fly ball by the Cubs' Neifi Perez in the fifth inning of Sunday's game. In fact Podsednik did catch the ball.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 29: A list accompanying an article about John Rossi's book on the 1964 Phillies that appeared in some editions of last Sunday's Neighbors stated incorrectly that the 1964 baseball All-Star Game was played in Philadelphia. It was played at Shea Stadium in New York.

Orlando Sentinel, May 27: An article on Page A1 of Tuesday's newspaper stated the wrong season in which returning coach Brian Hill led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals. The Magic's only Finals appearance came in 1994-95.

Our Bad

Gelf Magazine, June 1: Gelf initially wrote, "Wired News yanked the suspect quotes while keeping much of the affected 24 articles." In fact, Wired News has only pulled quotes from one source who denies having spoken with Delio. The rest of the quotes, from sources who couldn't be located, have been left in the articles, with this caveat: "Wired News has been unable to confirm some sources for a number of stories written by this author. If you have any information about sources cited in this article, please send an e-mail to sourceinfo[at]wired.com." Wired News then lists the missing sources for each article.

But They're Both 'Officials'

New York Times, May 24: An article Monday about the decision by Jeanine F. Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney, not to run for reelection, misidentified the national Republican official who called to urge her to run for statewide office. It was Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, not President Bush. The article also misstated in a quote by Ms. Pirro the number of years she has been a public servant. It is 29 years, not 39.

Many Things Could Happen

Boston Globe, May 27: Because of a reporting and editing error, a Page One story yesterday on a panel's findings in the death of Victoria Snelgrove reported that Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole said two commanders and three officers involved could be fired. O'Toole did not explicitly say officers could be fired, but did say the department is starting an internal disciplinary process. Though not stated by O'Toole, that process, depending on the administrative charges filed, could lead to penalties ranging from verbal warnings to suspensions or firings.

Full Disclosure

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 24: Washington bureau Chief Jon Sawyer, who wrote a Sunday Newswatch story about Germany, traveled there on a journalism fellowship from Atlantik-Bruke, a Berlin-based organization backed by German businesses, trade unions and foundations that promotes increased U.S.-German understanding. A note with that information was inadvertently omitted from the page.
Money well spent? The article detailed for U.S. readers the problems facing Germany, and why they should care: " Yet Germany's profound economic and social problems threaten to overshadow the peace that has followed the war, and the reunification of the nation. America—and the world—could soon feel the effects of impending crises that dwarf their counterparts in the U.S."

How Did That Get in There?

New York Times, May 25: An article in The Arts on May 11 about the new Museum of Biblical Art, at Broadway and 61st Street, misstated the history of a show there, "Coming Home!: Self-Taught Artists, the Bible and the American South," which originated at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis. The curator in Memphis, Carol Crown, said university officials had not prevented her from using biblical quotations on the walls. She said she had used at least two.
The original article, mirrored on Free Republic, stated parenthetically, "At the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, where the show originated in 2004, the organizer was prevented from using biblical quotations on the walls because school officials were concerned that it would violate school rules governing public speech and religion." It's unclear where the writer got that idea; articles about the 2004 exhibition didn't make such a contention.

Corrections in Need of Correcting

Guardian, May 26: We once more misspelled the first name of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as Ellie. This was previously corrected on January 27.
Guardian, May 27: In correcting a misspelling of Elie Wiesel's first name yesterday, we incorrectly, and embarrassingly, spelled his second name as Weisel. Apologies.

New York Times, May 26: An editors' note in this space on Saturday about a demonstration at Princeton University against the proposal by Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, to bar filibusters on judicial nominees referred incorrectly to his status on the university's board. He is a trustee emeritus, not a current member.
Gelf discussed the editor's note, exposing a conflict of interest of the original piece's reporter, in last week's Oops.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 26: An article Wednesday about the prosecution of Jaime Placencia in connection with a human finger prosecutors say was planted in Wendy's chili erroneously reported that Placencia had been charged with swindling a San Jose woman over the sale of a San Jose mobile home. Placencia's ex-wife, Anna Ayala, has been charged in connection with the sale of the mobile home.
May 27: A correction in Thursday's Chronicle contained an error. Jaime Placencia and Anna Ayala, who prosecutors say schemed to plant a finger in Wendy's chili in hopes of receiving a financial settlement, are married.

Toronto Star, May 24: Lt.-Col Pat Stogran's name was spelled incorrectly in today's Star. The former commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan was attending a ceremony at Fort Campbell, Ky., honouring four soldiers of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry killed by friendly fire in April, 2002. The Star regrets the error.
May 25: Col. Pat Stogran was promoted to full Colonel after he returned from Afghanistan. The Star regrets the error.

Newsweek: The Aftermath

New York Times, May 28: A front-page article yesterday reported on an American military inquiry's finding that guards or interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba "mishandled" the Koran in five cases. The headline exceeded the Pentagon's characterization, saying that the investigation revealed "harm" to the Koran. The Pentagon did not give specifics of the mishandling, so it was not known whether a Koran was actually damaged.

Washington Post, May 23: A quote was incorrectly attributed in a May 22 Outlook article on Newsweek's retraction of its report on the alleged desecration of the Koran as an interrogation tactic at Guantanamo Bay. It was Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman who said, "They cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those who were viciously attacked by those false allegations," not White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
For more on the retracted Newsweek story, see last week's Oops.

The Guardian's Apology

Guardian, May 25: In a report, published on September 16 2004, we said that Colonel Christopher Terrington worked closely with American commanders at Abu Ghraib, the Baghdad prison where Iraqi prisoners were abused and humiliated and that he was embedded within the US unit responsible for extracting information from Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
We stated that he had joined the intelligence chain of command at Abu Ghraib in November 2003 when many of the most serious abuses occurred. We also said that Colonel Terrington had been described as being second in command of intelligence at the prison and was told about abuses there. We reported that Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jordan, a US officer accused in the scandal, had worked for Colonel Terrington.
Regrettably the article was wrong. It was only after Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jordan had transferred to the multinational headquarters in Baghdad that he reported to Colonel Terrington. Colonel Terrington was not in Iraq for the vast majority of the period when the abuse uncovered by the US investigation took place and he was never based at Abu Ghraib, nor was he ever in any position of command or responsibility within the intelligence chain of command at Abu Ghraib. He visited the prison for the first time in January 2004 when he was tasked by his UK chain of command to make administrative arrangements for the arrival of a three-man British team. He became aware, through the US chain of command, that an investigation was under way and immediately told his superiors, but he was not given details of the specific allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison before the investigation was announced.
We apologise to Colonel Terrington and have agreed to pay him damages and his legal costs.
Gelf noted the expensive mistake in last week's Oops. Stephen Glover of the rival Independent wrote, "Almost alone among British newspapers, The Guardian takes its corrections and clarifications very seriously"—or so he thought before hearing about the Terrington error, and belated, half-hearted correction. Glover concludes, "It appears that The Guardian is no more eager than other newspapers—and possibly less so—to admit its substantial faults."

When There's No Victor, Who Writes the History?

Washington Post, May 27: A May 24 graphic incorrectly said that the Soviets easily defeated the Finns in the 1939-1940 Soviet-Finnish war. Finnish troops fought the Soviets to a standstill, and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Finland accepted armistice terms in March 1940 under which it ceded more than 20,000 square miles of territory, but it survived as an independent nation.

Official Recognition From a Newspaper

Wall Street Journal, May 27: The area of Nagorno-Karabakh isn't recognized by the U.S. as an independent country. A map accompanying a Corporate Focus article Wednesday on the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline incorrectly showed Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent entity.
According to a disputed entry on Wikipedia, Nagorno-Karabakh's "sovereign status is not recognized by any country in the world." BBC has more on the disputed territory, situated between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

He Was a Little Less Cool Than We'd Thought

Los Angeles Times, May 27: A May 1 Los Angeles Times Magazine article about film critic David Thomson reported that Thomson's father had sparred with boxing heavyweight champion Max Baer. In fact, he was a sparring partner for British boxer Tom Heeney. The article also said that the third edition of Thomson's "The Biographical Dictionary of Film" was published in 1996. It was published in 1994. And the article reported that Thomson showed personal courage in his friendship with gay documentary filmmaker Kieran Hickey because of anti-gay sentiments in London in the 1960s. In fact, Hickey was not openly gay at the time.

Fun With Photoshop

Los Angeles Times, May 28: In some editions of Monday's California section, a photograph with an article about a controversy in the South Pasadena Unified School District showed parent Jan McFarlane pointing her finger, and the photo was placed next to a picture of Robert Arias, the district superintendent. The caption should have made clear that McFarlane was not pointing at Arias, but at another member of the audience.

The Mystery Deepens

Arizona Daily Star, May 26: An article Wednesday on B1 quoted a U.S. Marshals Service official in Pennsylvania as saying a prison escapee found living in St. David had been working at a Wal-Mart in Tombstone. There is no Wal-Mart in Tombstone.
So where the hell did he work?

Hit Me, Inmates!

Los Angeles Times, May 28: A review of 'The Longest Yard' in Friday's Calendar section referred to the corrections officers in the original film as being masochistic. It should have described them as sadistic.

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.

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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