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July 7, 2005

Corrections 6/27-7/3

An Otis Day impostor, Gray Davis's mangled quote, Blue Man Group's labor woes, 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.

Correction Extras

•The Sacramento Bee published results of its probe into columnist Griego Erwin after she resigned for failing to verify the identity of some of her sources. The paper "found 43 cases in which individuals named by the writer could not be authenticated as real people." The paper's public editor later wrote, "Editors who handled her copy over the years were simply not rigorous enough or demanding enough or skeptical enough. They were too soft and too accommodating."

•In an earlier Oops column, Gelf pointed out this entertaining Dallas Morning News correction: "In Wednesday's Metro section, Norma Adams-Wade's column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite." The Hartford Courant's Denis Horgan uses that real correction as inspiration for other imagined ones, such as, "The condition afflicting John-Henry-Harry Garner-Wallace-Truman was incorrectly listed as hyperventilation in an essay in Tuesday's Op-Ed page. He suffers from hyphenation."

•The Columbus Free Press ran an interesting article about Robert Koehler and controversy over a recent column he wrote about allegations the 2004 presidential election was stolen. Problem is, there's no comment from his employer, the Tribune Co. A Tribune Media Services editor responded to what she termed several inaccuracies in the article on the Romenesko journalism message board.

Shout!

Tampa Tribune, June 29: A man who claimed to be Otis Day of "Animal House" fame was quoted in a story about Ybor City in Sunday's Tribune. "Animal House" actor Otis Day, whose real name is DeWayne Jessie, was not in Tampa the night he supposedly was quoted there, his agent said. He was in Spain.
The article in question was about Ybor City shutterbug Rick White, who photographs partygoers for his website, YborEye.com. Here's the excerpt in which the phantom Day appeared; for an impostor, he was surprisingly tame: "Next is Otis Day, of 'Animal House' fame, in smooth flat- front pants and a dress shirt unbuttoned to his belly. 'Say cheese,' Rick says. 'What kind?' says Otis. 'Cheddar? Sharp? What?' Otis knows Ybor well. He's doing a show across the street on July 8 and 9. 'It's about the same thing as it always was,' he says. 'Just a place.' " You can look for a Day look-alike at this YborEye page.
The Tribune probably was taken in by a repeat offender: In October 2003, St. Petersburg Times columnist Ernest Hooper was taken in by a would-be Day in Ybor City: "No one could tell me why Day was at the Cuban Club, but he did end up singing a few songs, including Otis Redding's (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay, the Temptations' My Girl and, of course, Shout." Later that month, a chastened Hooper wrote two columns about getting fooled. In the first one, Hooper wrote, "we believe the same man—whoever he is—also has joined a local band for several jam sessions at the Rare Olive in Ybor City. Jonathan Milton, a Times editorial assistant and sax man for the Birdstreet Players, said his group also thought they had the real Otis. The impersonator is exceptionally good, and he apparently doesn't receive compensation for his performances, except for a few free drinks from well-wishers." In the second, a local rocker tells Hooper that the unnamed impostor got his start innocently, when drunk partiers insisted he was the real thing. Hooper wrote, "I don't think I would endorse someone pretending to be Ernest Hooper—not that anyone would—but overall, Otis, my man, your act seems pretty harmless. I ain't mad at ya."
Judging from his recent movie career (IMDB), the real Day has plenty of time to appear in Ybor City.

This Page Is for Sale

Miami Herald, July 3: The material on page 4-5H in today's Home & Design section is a paid advertisement. It should have been labeled as advertising.

A 577-Word Apology

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 19: Stories that ran in the newspaper May 1 and April 18 about Joyce Meyer Ministries contained errors. After receiving a complaint from the ministry about factual issues in these stories, we examined a transcript from a press conference held by the ministry, records cited in the stories and the reporter's notes. We discovered references that need to be corrected or clarified. These two articles did not meet our standards for fairness and accuracy. [etc.]
The Missourians Fired Up blog comments, "The apology, which reads like it was written by an attorney for Joyce Meyer, and probably was after bullying by said attorneys, does not attempt to independently verify anything, instead it merely parrots the rhetoric put out by Meyer's spokesperson. By doing so, they discredit themselves far more than any minor errors contained in the original stories." Then the blog breaks down the correction paragraph by paragraph.

Error Propagation

Chicago Tribune, June 30: A June 23 editorial and June 26 Perspective article [syndicated in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel] mistakenly attributed to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) the opinion that the Kyoto Protocol on global warming "would deal a powerful blow on the whole humanity similar to the one humanity experienced when Nazism and communism flourished." Inhofe was quoting a statement by Andrei Illarionov, a former economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Inhofe's quote—without the Illarionov context—has shown up frequently online and in news stories, including in this recent Washington Post article. No question, the media isn't always sufficiently rigorous about checking out partisan materials—the out-of-context Kyoto quote surfaced in a compilation distributed by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's office. But Inhofe deserves some of the blame for repeating the quote. The Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works' website ran a response to Reid's office, which concluded, "Note to Democrats: the manipulation of quotes for political points can never take the place of ceasing obstruction on the Senate floor and providing workable solutions to problems at home with meaningful results for the American taxpayer." Here's a transcript of Illarionov's speech last July.

Los Angeles Times, July 1: A Los Angeles Times Magazine article Sunday about the increasing number of elderly prisoners in California prisons incorrectly stated that former Gov. Gray Davis said that murderers would leave prison during his term only "in a pine box." Although others have characterized his policy in this way, Davis did not actually make this remark. In addition, the article incorrectly stated that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "is on exactly the same page" as Davis when it comes to releasing murderers. The governor, in fact, has granted parole to 84 convicted murderers whose sentences made them eligible for release, whereas Davis allowed five to be paroled. Also, the article incorrectly referred to the location of the California Institution for Women. It is in Chino, not Corona.
The original article stated, "In California, a life sentence almost always means just that, even if the Board of Prison Terms recommends parole. Former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, stated that murderers would leave prison during his term only 'in a pine box.' Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger is on exactly the same page."
Perhaps this explains the writer's confusion: In a similar L.A. Times article from 1999, a former district attorney said, "What we have is a system that has turned an absolutely blind eye to trying to fairly evaluate cases. They're just saying, well, anybody in for a life term, your parole will be in a pine box." In a Times article the following March, the legislative director of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Rowan Klein, said the group opposed James W. Nielsen's confirmation as chairman of the state Board of Prison Terms because Nielsen appears to agree with Davis that "all murderers should be paroled in a pine box." By July 2000, Klein told the Times, "We all know the governor has said the only way he'll let anyone out is in a pine box." An inmate referred in a 2002 Times column to "the governor's policy of 'The Only Way You Will Parole Is in a Pine Box.' " The next year, the Sacramento Bee reported that Davis "once said the only way a murderer was getting out of prison was in a pine box." And on the very day the Times ran its recent correction, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial—decrying California's policy toward elderly prisoners, and apparently inspired by the Times magazine story—stated, "For Gray Davis, the answer was clear: He once said the only way a convicted murderer would leave prison would be in a pine box."

Orlando Sentinel, July 1: Because of erroneous information supplied to the Sentinel, an article on Page A3 on June 13 about the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, described Florida Sen. Mel Martinez's comments about that issue incorrectly. Martinez said June 10 that the Bush administration should consider closing the base, which he said had become an "icon for bad news."
The "erroneous information," supplied from the Los Angeles Times, reported that Martinez "became the first prominent Republican to urge the facility's closing," when in fact he was urging the administration to consider closing it. (You can see the original article syndicated at the Times Union of Albany, New York.) The correction entirely obscures the semantic distinction. The L.A. Times ran its own correction on June 26. But the Times Union, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MichaelMoore.com and other sites have left the original article uncorrected.

New York Times, June 28: A front-page article on June 21 about evangelical Christians in New York City referred imprecisely to Tony Carnes, a sociologist and a writer for the magazine Christianity Today. (The error also appeared in articles on Dec. 13, 2004, and Nov. 5 and 14, 2004.) He is the director of a social sciences seminar at Columbia University; he is not on the faculty.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 29: In Datebook's Entertainment Report on June 20, the Associated Press erroneously reported that Alan Cumming had joked that Janet Jackson "was never one for controversy" at an awards ceremony honoring the singer. The comic, who was introducing Jackson, made no reference to the singer and controversy.
This error spread everywhere from Arizona to India, as seen on Google News; the correction appeared in a fraction of these publications. No word on how the AP managed to completely bungle this report: Cumming's cheeky intro and Jackson's lack of humor about it were the crux of the piece.

Was It All a Dream?

Guardian, June 30: In Wimbledon Diary, page 35, June 23, we incorrectly reported that Brian Lara had been thrown out of the press box on Court two at Wimbledon. Mr Lara and his longstanding partner were not thrown out and left before the end of the match when their transport arrived. We apologise for any embarrassment and upset caused to Mr Lara and his partner.
As with the Cumming correction, Gelf is left scratching its head: How does a reporter get the story so thoroughly wrong?

St. Petersburg Times, June 28: Federal prosecutor Jeffrey Del Fuoco is employed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa. A story in last Tuesday's Times incorrectly stated his employment status.
The correction and the story are no longer online, giving no hint as to how bad this goof was. Fortunately, Wayne Garcia of the Weekly Planet of Sarasota, Florida, was watching. As he points out, it's not just Del Fuoco's employment status that was wrong, but how he arrived at said status; the Times story stated flatly, with no attribution, "On Friday, Del Fuoco was fired." A Times editor told Garcia the paper would run a correction because "I think we were technically wrong."

Subject to Interpretation

New York Times, June 30: An article on Tuesday about the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay paraphrased incorrectly from a comment by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, one of several senators who inspected the military detention facility during a weekend trip. He said he felt good about the work of three American guards he met there. He did not say he was pleased with the overall handling of the detainees.
The original article reported, " 'I feel very good' about the detainees' treatment, Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said."

New York Times, June 30: Because of a transcription error, a front-page article yesterday about President Bush's televised speech on Iraq misstated the writer's characterization of Mr. Bush's tone of voice in some copies. It was uncharacteristically somber—not "characteristically."

Los Angeles Times, July 1: A time chart that accompanied an article in Wednesday's Section A about a long-running terrorism case known as that of the L.A. 8 made reference to a "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fundraiser." Whether money raised at the 1986 event went to the Popular Front organization is a matter of dispute and the central issue in the case.

Orlando Sentinel, July 3: Because of incorrect information provided to the Sentinel, an editorial on Page K9 of the June 19 Volusia Sunday section about an upcoming convention of counties in Hawaii left unclear the portion of Commissioner Atlee Mercer's expenses Osceola County was paying. The county is paying for his conference registration and hotel stay. Mercer is paying for his airfare.
The editorial, no longer online, decried Osceola: "The only other county that comes close to Volusia's excess is Osceola, which is sending three people, including commissioners Atlee Mercer and Ken Shipley, as well as County Attorney Jo Thacker. This is surprising, considering that Osceola often cries poor when it comes to the county budget."

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 28: White House adviser Karl Rove said liberals responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with "therapy and understanding for our attackers." A photo caption in Monday's Letters to the Editor and a headline in Friday's News section mischaracterized his comments as being aimed specifically at Democrats.
As Regret the Error pointed out, several papers made similar mistakes.

Verisimilitude

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 1: A publicity photograph accompanying an item on the show "As You Like It" in Thursday's accessAtlanta was electronically manipulated and should not have been printed. The AJC regrets the error.

Family Values

Saginaw News, June 29: Ashlay DeLong, 11, is the daughter of Patti Katter and stepdaughter of Ken Katter of Bridgeport Township and Craig DeLong and stepdaughter of Dana DeLong of Zilwaukee. A Tuesday photo caption did not list all her parents.

Baltimore Sun, June 29: A June 9 article in the Today section about Erik Vassiliev, a young man coping with the aftermath of his brother's death two years ago, mischaracterized an aspect of Vassiliev's relationship with his father, Walter. While Erik Vassiliev says he struggled at times with his relationship with his father after his brother's death, he no longer does.

National Post, June 28:
Arthur Nielsen, MD, the creator of a course called Marriage 101 at Northwestern University, is a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and marital therapist. An article describing the course was published in the fall 2004 issue of Family Relations. Although his idea for the course was influenced by a past marriage breakdown, he has been happily married for more than 24 years. Incorrect information appeared in the National Post of May 28. The Post regrets the errors.
The first paragraph of the original article, no longer online, began, "With his marriage in the tank, the marriages of half of his friends similarly crumbling and an endless flow of clients lining up for marital help at his clinical psychology practice, Art Nielsen had a thought: What if a course could help people build a better marriage?"

Read Your Own Damn Paper

Washington Post, July 2: A July 1 editorial incorrectly described a June 19 Post story, saying it reported that some of the state employees pushed out of their jobs by Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) since he took office were in civil service positions. The workers in question were in mid-level jobs, but they were at-will employees, not civil service employees.
The editorial stated, "As The Post's Lena H. Sun and Matthew Mosk reported recently, some of the shifts and dismissals have not been pretty, and some have affected workers well below the policymaking levels—career employees with outstanding performance reviews in traditionally nonpartisan civil service positions."

Retroactive Mentoring

Wall Street Journal, June 29: William D. Ruckelshaus, the former FBI director and deputy attorney general, now says he doesn't dispute the idea that John D. O'Connor, the lawyer who helped identify Watergate informant W. Mark Felt as "Deep Throat" and who worked for Mr. Ruckelshaus as an intern in the Department of Justice, considered Mr. Ruckelshaus as an "early mentor." Mr. Ruckelshaus had earlier told the Journal for a June 2 Marketplace article that he was surprised by Mr. O'Connor's recollection. The Journal should have conveyed Mr. Ruckelshaus's statement to Mr. O'Connor before using it to support the conclusion that Mr. O'Connor overstated the relationship.
The original article used Ruckelshaus's comment as a crucial anecdote: "Mr. O'Connor may occasionally be given to overstatement. In recounting his connection to 'Deep Throat' in the article, he mentions that Mr. Felt had worked with 'my early mentor,' William D. Ruckelshaus, the former FBI director and deputy attorney general. Reached yesterday, Mr. Ruckelshaus said he was surprised to see himself described as Mr. O'Connor's mentor. He said he used to practice law with Mr. O'Connor's father and vaguely recalls meeting him when he was in high school. He said Mr. O'Connor left him a phone message yesterday. 'Maybe he needed some mentoring,' Mr. Ruckelshaus said with a laugh."

The Blue Man Group Declined to Comment

CBC News Online, June 27: In stories published on June 17 and 20, 2005, we wrote that Ontario's Labour Board turned down an application from producers of the Blue Man Group to stop or limit a union-led demonstration at the show's premiere in Toronto. After hearing from both sides, board chair Kevin Whitaker actually adjourned the initial consultation on the matter and received an agreement from the parties to begin a mediation session. At this session, both sides explicitly laid out, in writing, their exact plans for the evening of the premiere. The union coalition reiterated that it would confine its demonstration to the west side of Yonge Street, opposite the theatre where the show would take place, and would not impede or restrict the access of Blue Man audience members or employees. The group specified that it would only distribute leaflets on the east side of Yonge Street beginning one block north and one block south of the theatre. The Blue Man producers said that, in the absence of extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, they would not seek a court injunction restraining the coalition from staging its event.

Air Quotes

Orlando Sentinel, June 28: An article on Page C15 of Sunday's Sports section about the International Racing League's race in Richmond, Va., incorrectly characterized a comment attributed to driver Danica Patrick. The passage should have read: Her whole three-car team was way off the correct setup for D-shaped, 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway—a track the likes of which Patrick had never even seen before this weekend.
The original article employed a bizarre pair of quote marks: "Her whole three-car team was "way off the correct setup" for D-shaped, 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway—a track the likes of which Patrick had never even seen before this weekend."

Great Minds...

Baltimore Sun, June 29: An article Thursday about the Deep Impact spacecraft misstated the leading theory on the formation of comets. They are thought to be made of ice, rock and other materials left over from the formation of the solar system about 4 billion years ago. Also, the spacecraft was not named after the 1998 movie. The creators of the film and the scientists who designed the spacecraft say they came up with the name independently.

No Human Wrote This Correction

Asian Week, June 24: "In the Year of the Hen, Viet-Am Women Rock," June 16, Richie Ross was hired by San Jose City Council candidate Linda Nguyen. In the same piece, the sentence regarding the San Jose Mercury News, which read: "In a sign of the paper's decreasing influence in the area, its recommended candidates came in third and fifth with combined votes less than either of the Nguyens"—was not written by Vu-Duc Vuong.
Asian Week had reported instead that Linda Nguyen's opponent, Madison Nguyen, had hired Ross, a political consultant. It's unclear, though, what the second part of the correction means. Vu-Duc Vuong's byline is on the piece. The correction could be referring to plagiarism, but Gelf couldn't find that phrase elsewhere online nor in news databases. Perhaps instead, an editor inserted the phrase, and Vuong didn't want to burn any bridges at the Merc News.

Making Progress Every Day

San Francisco Chronicle, July 1: A story Thursday about President Bush's rationale for the war in Iraq misquoted P.J. Crowley of the Center for American Progress as saying there "are'' no meaningful ties between Iraq and terrorists. Crowley said there "were" no meaningful ties prior to the war but that al Qaeda had established a meaningful presence in Iraq since the U.S. attack.

President Rummy?

San Francisco Chronicle, June 29: A headline on a story about Iraq in some editions Monday misstated Donald Rumsfeld's position. He is the secretary of defense.
The erroneous headline appears to no longer be online, so Gelf is taking a guess.

Those Were the Days

Boston Globe, June 30: Because of an editing error, a Page One story yesterday about New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin misidentified St. Petersburg as Leningrad.
The next day, Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote, "Good thing Tom Brady wasn't with Kraft at Konstantinovsky Palace near Leningrad."

Five Is Enough

Sacramento Bee, July 1: The Gannett News fencing graphic that appeared on Thursday's Sports Page C7 contained five errors. Ties are resolved by a coin toss, the scoring areas for épée and foil were reversed, the women compete in foil, epee and saber, electronic overjackets are used in foil and saber only, and green and red lights both indicate valid scores. The corrected graphic appears today on Sports Page C8.

Odd 'Facts'

New York Times, July 3: A chart on June 19 listing odd facts about Brooklyn misstated the number of streets in Williamsburg named for signers of the Declaration of Independence. There are not 4 but 20 or 21, depending on how you count. Keap Street was intended to honor Thomas McKean, a signer, but someone apparently misread his signature.
In last week's Oops, Gelf pointed out that the chart also misstated the number of copies of the novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" in the borough's public library system.

He Certainly Isn't Glenn Close

New York Times, July 2: An article yesterday about the release of documents concerning a researcher hired by the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to monitor commentators for liberal bias misstated the surname of the president and chief executive of National Public Radio, who voiced concern that the relationship between the corporation and NPR's member stations was being damaged irrevocably. He is Kevin Klose, not Kline.

Los Angeles Times, June 29: An article about the monitoring of public broadcasting programs in Tuesday's Section A misspelled the last name of National Public Radio President Kevin Klose as Close.

That Would Have Made Things a Lot Simpler

Wall Street Journal, July 1: Time magazine published an article in 2003 revealing the identity of Valerie Plame as a Central Intelligence Agency operative. A Marketplace article yesterday incorrectly said that Time published an article that named the confidential source who disclosed the identity of Ms. Plame to a Time reporter.

The Irish Republican Army and Ira Gershwin Also Weren't Involved

Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 28: Because of an editor's error, a story on page A15 Sunday about Iran's presidential election incorrectly placed Tehran, the country's capital, in neighboring Iraq. Also, the story incorrectly said that Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had called for Iraq to move ahead with what he called "peaceful nuclear technology." He was referring to his own country, not Iraq.

Geography Lessons

Detroit Free Press, July 2: A Friday Names & Faces item was incorrectly titled "Jackson in Europe." As the item itself said, Michael Jackson was in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, so the title should have said "Jackson in Mideast."

Dallas Morning News, July 1: In a July 1 review of War of the Worlds, the setting for H.G. Wells' novel was incorrect. The book is set in England, not New Jersey.

It's a Bit Less Special Than We Thought

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 28: Recent stories and headlines in The Inquirer incorrectly referred to Sunday's Philadelphia Triathlon in Fairmount Park as the first triathlon ever in Philadelphia. Other triathlons have been held in the city.
As one example, a June 27 article was headlined, "N.J. man wins first Phila. Triathlon."

A Leaf-Shedding Ulcer?

Oregonian, June 28: A story about a manslaughter trial in Saturday's Metro section contained an incorrect quote attributed to Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis. It should have read: "Worse, her body was being eaten away every day by nine decubitus ulcers."
The original article, about a death attributed by district attorney to negligible roommates, quoted Marquis as stating, "Worse, her body was being eaten away every day by nine deciduous ulcers." "Decubitus ulcer" is another term for "bedsore."

My Book Rocks!

Oregonian, June 30: An opinion of Charles S. Prebish, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, was misrepresented in a story in Tuesday's Living section. In a comparison of his book, "Buddhism: A Modern Perspective" and Gary Gach's "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism," he considers both books to be equally good.
The original article reported, " 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism,' he said, has nothing on his book, 'American Buddhism.' "

Every Oregon Resident Visits Daily

Oregonian, July 2: Spirit Mountain Casino officials estimate the casino receives 3.5 million visitors a year. An article in Friday's Metro section incorrectly said the casino receives 3.5 million visitors a day.

The Little-Known Marvin Williams Computer Virus

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 30: In Wednesday's Sports section, the last line was dropped from Mark Bradley's column about the Hawks' selection of Marvin Williams in the NBA draft. The last paragraph should have read: Let's hope Marvin Williams doesn't end up on a roster with nobody to direct all these gifted wings and nobody to hold space on the low block. Let's hope Marvin Williams becomes the focal point of a real team, as opposed to an aggregation of potential. He's a sweetheart of a guy, and he deserves that much.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 1: In some editions of Thursday's Sports section, part of the last paragraph was dropped from an article about the Atlanta Hawks' top draft pick, Marvin Williams. The last paragraph should have read: His second day as a Hawk begins with a 7:30 pick-up at the Omni for stops at two local radio stations. Hopefully, the rest of the ride will be smooth.

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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