February 24, 2006

Don't Quote Me on That

A columnist lashes into his subject for selective quoting, but makes a mistake of his own. Is his paper to blame? Plus: An aggrieved cab driver; drunk docs; hog gambling; chicken wings; Enron perfume; and other enlightening and entertaining media corrections.

Carl Bialik

Paul Antonson
Every week, more or less, 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.

When News Becomes Ad Copy

Boston Globe, February 15: Because of a reporting error, Alex Beam's column in the Jan. 11 Living/Arts section erroneously reported that Jason Binn, CEO of Niche Media, had printed an advertising flier that contained a fake Names item from The Boston Globe. In fact, the item was real and appeared in the Globe on Sept. 22, not Sept. 23 as the flier stated.
What the correction doesn't tell you is that Beam's column ripped into Binn and Niche Media for questionable quoting of the Globe in advertising (the sort of selective or misleading blurbing that Gelf spotlights in movie ads each week). He was on point with his criticism of quoting from his Sept. 20 column: "your promotional flier quotes from my article ... selectively. For some reason, you omitted what we call the lead, which referred to your magazine as 'a 352-page doorstop' filled with 'puffy, party-oriented proto-journalism.' "
But Beam overreached when saying the magazine had quoted a fake news item. In fact, the Globe may have been at fault for running, on Sept. 22, the following positive item on Boston Common's launch party: "A party that's anything but common: The Cyclorama was the place to be last night as Boston Common, Jason Binn 's new luxury magazine, celebrated its launch. The glossy mag, which is full to overflowing with ads for items you can't afford, features Steven Tyler on the cover. Still on hiatus from his day job, the Aerosmith singer was the center of attention last night." The paper then changed its mind the next day: "A pretty common party by Binn: In the end, the party put on by publisher Jason Binn to celebrate the launch of his new mag Boston Common wasn't all that. If news anchors are the A-list, there's a problem. (Sure, Steven Tyler was there, but not for long.)" Naturally, the ad material quoted from the earlier item.

Correction Extras

•The Boca Raton News and other media outlets too often report the publicity-seeking exploits of professional wrestling as fact, according to the Long Island Press.

•A videogame enthusiast's suicide was misreported badly by the press, according to Gaming Horizon.

•Dayton Daily News columnist Hal McCoy goofed in his prediction that Jim Beattie would be named the Reds' new general manager: "I was misled by a couple of outside sources, who believed Beattie was the choice. They were wrong and I was submarined. I have never been so happy to be so wrong."

•A German magazine corrects its report about an executive's taste in ties and the paternity of his kids, according to Regret the Error.

Fighting a Rumor, Again and Again

New York Times, February 12: A review on Jan. 15 about "Women Who Make the World Worse: And How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Families, Military, Schools, and Sports," by Kate O'Beirne, repeated a misattribution, contained in the book, of the quotation "All heterosexual intercourse is rape." The quotation, from "Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women's Studies," by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge, is part of those authors' characterization of the views of the late Andrea Dworkin, the feminist writer, and Catharine MacKinnon, the law professor and legal theorist; it is not from MacKinnon's own writings. The review, however, endorsed the quotation as representative of MacKinnon's expressed opinions, calling it "MacKinnon's (decades-old) contention." In fact, while this and similar statements equating heterosexual intercourse and rape have often been atttributed to MacKinnon, she has long and vigorously denied having made such assertions or that they represent her beliefs. MacKinnon's past efforts to correct the record on this matter include a letter, written with Dworkin, published in the Book Review on May 7, 1995. The issue has also been the subject of an article in The Chicago Tribune ("Fighting a Lie That Just Won't Die," by Cindy Richards, May 30, 1999) and of an entry on Snopes.com, a Web site that specializes in investigating Internet rumors. MacKinnon traces the origin of her identification with such statements to attempts by ideological opponents to discredit her.
Props to the New York Times for linking to the Snopes article, which was dated 2000—an indication of how easy it is to find information disputing the quote, as the Snopes article comes up second on a Google search for the quote.

Proud Moments in Journalism

San Francisco Chronicle, February 7: The Chronicle made an error in the identification of a photograph in Sunday's newspaper in connection with its series on the San Francisco Police Department's use of force. The person in the photograph is not SFPD Sgt. John Haggett. The Chronicle regrets the error.
But not as much as Jack Neeley Jr., the taxi driver whose photo was erroneously used, regretted the error. He said at a news conference that the photo mistakenly labeling him as a police officer with a record of suspensions for using excessive force "put in this situation where I have to watch my back." (Chronicle). As Regret the Error points out, remarkably, none of the Chronicle's reporters or other staffers spotted the error before Neeley contacted the paper.

Radio Pranksters

Philadelphia Daily News, February 2: Dan Gross would like to apologize to Ryan Seacrest and to Daily News readers for an incorrect report in his Thursday column. It was not Seacrest, the host of Fox's "American Idol," who stormed out of an interview with New Jersey 101.5 Wednesday afternoon. It was an imposter. "Jersey Guys" hosts Craig Carton and Ray Rossi were interviewing a Seacrest impersonator when they repeatedly asked whether the TV star were gay. [etc.]
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was among the other newspapers taken in by the hoax, which doesn't seem very funny to Gelf. You can read the fake radio bit at Regret the Error.

Recount, Please

Guardian, February 6: A table accompanying the report headlined Blair refuses to be swayed by death of 100th British soldier (page 1, February 1) gave the figure of "up to 31,800" for Iraqi civilian casualties. This is the minimum figure given by Iraq Body Count. It should have read "at least 31,800".
Oops previously noted the ambiguity around the Iraqi civilian death toll—an ambiguity handled better in this Guardian correction than in one discussed by the prior Oops.

Or Was It Per Microwatt?

Los Angeles Times, February 14: An article in the Jan. 13 Business section about California's new solar energy program cited past and new subsidy amounts "per megawatt" of production capacity; a correction Jan. 14 referred to subsidies "per kilowatt." The numbers cited should have been stated as the subsidies paid "per watt."

That's One Whopperette Per Person

Guardian, February 14: We gave an unlikely figure of 14m tonnes of snackfood consumed during transmission of the Superbowl, which would be almost half a tonne for every American (What we've learned, page 28, February 11). We meant 14m kilograms.
Guardian, February 15: There was a decimal slip in our Super Bowl snack food correction yesterday. The mistaken figure of 14m tonnes would be almost 0.05 tonnes of food for each American and not almost half a tonne.

Trusting Your Sources

New York Times, February 18: An article on Sept. 18 about the California trial of Susan Mae Polk in the murder of her husband, Dr. Frank Felix Polk, a psychologist, described their history together since she became his patient at age 15. The article said she was 16 when they first had sex. That account was based on assertions by Ms. Polk in the couple's divorce proceeding, which were not specifically challenged by Dr. Polk and were supported by statements from people who knew the couple. The account should have been attributed. Further reporting has revealed that it was only after 24 years that Ms. Polk recalled the physical contact, and other friends of Dr. Polk contend in interviews that his wife may have been older when they first had sex.

Los Angeles Times, February 8: An article in last Wednesday's Food section about food to serve while watching the Super Bowl incorrectly described the recipe for Buffalo wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. The article said Anchor Bar fries the chicken wings, pours Frank's RedHot sauce on them and offers bottled blue cheese dressing on the side. In fact, the Buffalo wings there are cooked, then tossed with a proprietary sauce that comes in four flavors; the blue cheese dressing is made in-house. Also, retired football player Mean Joe Greene's last name was misspelled as Green. Additionally, an accompanying article describing Frank's RedHot incorrectly stated that this sauce is the "secret ingredient" behind Anchor Bar's wings, which are not made with it.
The original article's sourcing was a bit dubious: "The published recipes for the original wings called for fried wings slathered with a happily toxic combination of Frank's RedHot Sauce (an old saloon staple), vinegar and butter. But when I called the Anchor Bar last week, the cook on duty said that they didn't do that anymore. Nowadays, Anchor's cooks just fry up the wings, pour Frank's RedHot Sauce on them, and offer bottled blue cheese dressing on the side." Becky Oskin, who emailed the correction to Gelf, noted, "Sort of invalidates the whole story, hmm?"

Thanks for the Help

Washington Times, February 11: An article in yesterday's editions about Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, failed to identify the source of quotations from Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Internet blogger Markos Moulitsas. The quotations originally appeared Jan. 22 in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Kos, no fan of the Washington Times reporter who borrowed the quotes, blogged about it, as did the Sun-Times reporter whose story was a big help to the Washington Times.

The Agony of Erring

Poynter.org, February 18: An earlier version of this article described Kafka as a "German writer." In fact, Kafka wrote in German but was born in Prague.
The author, Chip Scanlan, wrote a lengthy blog post about coming clean on his error, and said he'd do penance by reading corrections site Regret the Error. One reader of his blog commented, "Chip. What about scale and perspective? It's really not that big a deal."

Some Couldn't Operate a Corkscrew

Guardian, February 13: In our report Random drug and drink tests for addict GPs, page 3, February 10, we said that the British Medical Association last September estimated that "one in 15 doctors could be abusing drugs and alcohol". What the BMA research, in fact, suggested was that at some point in their lifetime one in 15 doctors would have some kind of problem with alcohol or drugs.

Slate's Job Benefits

Slate, February 17: In the Feb. 15 "Musicbox," Jody Rosen originally and incorrectly identified a Queen Latifah CD as The Dana Stevens Album. Dana Stevens is a frequent contributor to Slate. The correct name of the CD is The Dana Owens Album.

The TV Reception Was Better in Pittsburgh

Rocky Mountain News, February 3: Columnist Bill Johnson should have said he saw on television a scene that the column described him seeing in person on the way to his hotel in Pittsburgh. The scene depicted a male Pittsburgh Steelers fan wearing a dress on a street corner, holding a sign, "I bet against the Steelers."
According to Westword, the TV-based reporting was just one of several problems with Johnson's takedown of Pittsburgh ahead of the Steelers-Broncos AFC Championship game.

How To Be Remembered as Decisive

Los Angeles Times, February 14: An article in Section A on Oct. 5 about Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers' views on abortion said that if confirmed, Miers would replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who cast the decisive fifth vote to uphold Roe vs. Wade in 1992. Although O'Connor did vote with the majority, the vote considered decisive at the time was the one cast by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who switched sides and voted to preserve the basic right to abortion.

The Over-Under on Bacon is Five Strips

Virginian-Pilot, February 4: A sentence in a Los Angeles Times story about Willie Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the cover of Friday's Sports section should have read: "Parker's father, Willie Parker Sr., was a hog gambrel before a shoulder injury put him on disability." The phrase "hog gambler" appeared in the sentence.
Just what does a hog gambrel do? According to the Times, "Day after day for 27 years, he lifted the 200- to 300-pound beasts onto hooks for butchering."

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

New York Times, February 11: [Joseph Nocera writes:] Many readers chided me for writing last week that if you send an iPod to Apple to have the battery replaced you lose all your data. They noted, correctly, that so long as your music is stored in iTunes, you can easily download it onto the new iPod Apple sends you. When I wrote that line I was thinking of situations—which happen more often than you'd imagine—where your computer has crashed, and the iPod is the only place your music is stored. But when I pointed this out to a few of my correspondents, their rejoinder was swift: you should always back up the data on your computer. In the modern age, a computer crash is as inevitable as death and taxes.
That's probably not good enough for Dan Kennedy, who blogged that Nocera made another mistake and that the errors are worthy of a look from the Times ombudsman.

What's a Five-Letter Word for Sloppy Newspaper?

Metro New York, February 14: Due to a production error, yesterday's crossword clues and grid did not match. Today, you'll find an all new puzzle. Metro regrets the error.

Listeria, Anyone?

Sacramento Bee, February 18: In Wednesday's Taste section, a Washington Post recipe on Page F7 included an incorrect cooking time for carbonada (braised beef with onions and red wine). The dish should be cooked for 2 1/2 hours, not 10 to 20 minutes.
Wonkette pointed out the potentially fatal error, then added, "A note to the beef industry: That last line was for rhetorical effect. We realize that the odds of catching listeria and dying after eating undercooked beef are very low. Heck, we even enjoy steak tartare every now and then. So please don't sue us! We don't have the legal defense fund that Oprah does."

Action Vs. Urge

Guardian, February 20: The terms paedophile and pederast were used interchangeably in a G2 feature, The last taboo (page 18, February 16). Collins dictionary defines pederasty as homosexual relations between men and boys, while paedophillia is the condition of being sexually attracted to children.

230 Years Later, Still Meddling

Observer, February 12: We were muddled to say in 'A history of free speech' (News, last week) that 'the First Amendment of the US Bill of Rights guarantees four freedoms: of religion, speech, the press and the right to assemble'. The first 10 amendments to the US Constitution are collectively known as the Bill of Rights, and there are five, not four, freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, the fifth being the right 'to petition the government for a redress of grievances'.

Loose Lips Sink Nuclear Peace Talks

Guardian, February 7: In a front-page report, Iran's message to the west: back off or we retaliate, February 2, we said that Iran's foreign minister had threatened immediate retaliation over a move to refer its "nuclear weapons activities" to the United Nations security council. We should have said "nuclear activities", not "nuclear weapons activities". In the same report we said the minister had urged Hamas to continue its policy of armed struggle. A spokesperson at the Iranian embassy in London said that is incorrect and the minister has not urged Hamas to do that.
A headline on page 17, February 4, read: Tehran rejects Russian offer to diffuse nuclear confrontation. That should have been an "offer to defuse". The Guardian stylebook gives, defuse: render harmless; diffuse [when used as a verb], to spread about.

Too Bad; Great Ratio

Salon, February 15: The Feb. 15 story "The Campus Crusade for Guys" orginally included Bryn Mawr among some colleges that have created admission-oriented blogs to attract male applicants. Bryn Mawr does not admit men. In addition, the story erroneously stated that Tom Mortenson's daughter is unmarried. The story has been corrected.

You Can't Spell 'Angry Lawyer' Without 'Law'

Sunday Times of London, February 19: In our article "Studios Snub Jude Law as Scandals Tarnish Name," (News, 30 October 2005) we suggested wrongly that Jude Law's private life was causing cinema goers to shun him and that, as a result, Hollywood was losing interest in him. We also wrongly suggested that Mr Law was struggling to raise money for a film called Dexterity. We accept that all of these suggestions were untrue. A new film in which he stars, Breaking and Entering, will be released this year and he is currently shooting a film for Sony, Holiday in which he stars with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. We apologise to Mr Law for any embarrassment.

Framing the Question

San Francisco Chronicle, February 8: A headline Tuesday on a Two Cents column about cartoons that have caused widespread reaction from Muslims was inaccurate. The Two Cents panel was responding to the question: "Should American publishers run the cartoons?"
The Chronicle's original headline, "Should American publishers run cartoons that upset Muslims?", may have elicted slightly different responses.

Mixed Messages

Austin American-Statesman, February 14: An item in "Under the Dome" on Page B2 of Saturday's American-Statesman inaccurately quoted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Gammage. Gammage, when asked to say something nice of his opponent, Chris Bell, said that Bell "has the right message. It needs to be delivered dynamically."
The American-Statesman originally quoted Gammage as saying, "it needs to be delivered by a better messenger."

Product Placement at the Enron Trial

Los Angeles Times, February 14: An article in Friday's Business section about the trial of two former Enron Corp. executives said attorney Daniel M. Petrocelli wore Chocolat cologne, based on his own account. Petrocelli, who is representing former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey K. Skilling, said Monday that he was mistaken and that the cologne was Tabac.
Eau de Petrocelli wasn't immaterial to the trial; as the Times reported, "During the morning session, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake called the lawyers to the bench for a private conference. The reason was that a juror had complained that she was being overwhelmed by Petrocelli's cologne."

News You Can't Use

Observer, February 19: 'How can I overcome panic attacks?' (Magazine, last week) gave an advice website address as www.nopanic.co.uk. Unfortunately, that site offers help with building work, not too useful for someone with a panic attack. We meant Nomorepanic.co.uk
The correction is also wrong. The site it suggests points to Crystal Enterprise User Launchpad, surely instilling more panic. It helps to put a www in front of the Web address.

He Loves Hymn, He Loves Him Not

Guardian, February 17: Charles Tomlin hasn't revealed his favourite him to us but his favourite hymn is The Bread of Life (Church's last chorister still in fine voice at 90, page 12, yesterday).

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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