Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Oops

August 13, 2005

Playing Defense

A newspaper fires an extremist writer, then blames bloggers; plagiarism as journalism's fig leaf; a fictional hockey career; protecting readers from a comic strip; and other enlightening and entertaining media corrections.

Carl Bialik

Oops
Paul Antonson
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.

Thanks, Bloggers

Guardian, July 23: "At the end of an article headed We rock the boat, page 21 (Comment), July 13, we identified the author Dilpazier Aslam as a Guardian trainee journalist but did not say that he was a member of the political party Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Guardian accepts that Mr Aslam's membership of the party should have been explicitly mentioned. A statement by the Guardian appears elsewhere in the paper, with a fuller account on the Guardian website."

The Guardian said in its statement, "Mr Aslam was asked to resign his membership but has chosen not to. The Guardian respects his right to make that decision but has regretfully concluded that it had no option but to terminate Mr Aslam's contract with the company." In the Guardian's article about his termination, Aslam responds angrily but vaguely: "I am shocked by the manner in which this whole affair has been handled. My treatment throws up issues which will be of grave concern to all journalists. I am currently taking legal advice."
Aslam's column expressed regret at the July 7 bombings but also seemed to be ambivalent about the rage felt by some British Muslims that Aslam said contributed to the bombings. "Second- and third-generation Muslims are without the don't-rock-the-boat attitude that restricted our forefathers," he wrote. "We're much sassier with our opinions, not caring if the boat rocks or not."
In a separate story, the Guardian also explained its recent outreach efforts to the Muslim community. "It has established an annual Muslim Youth Forum, in which young Muslims meet to debate and discuss political, religious, cultural and social issues. Last year's discussions, under the title Being Muslim & British, were fully reported in the paper."
More bizarrely, the Guardian ran an unbylined pieced defensively blaming bloggers for bringing the Aslam story to light—as if it's their fault for exposing his conflict of interest, and not the Guardian's for failing to detect it. The Guardian calls some of the posts "ravings" and "fantasies," and petulantly points out that one of the critics lost out to Aslam for the trainee program. "The story is a demonstration of the way the 'blogosphere' can be used to mount obsessively personalised attacks at high speed," the Guardian writes. Indeed, many of the posts about Aslam were inaccurate (you can see a selection of posts at Technorati), but others were spot-on, and for the Guardian to write about this just after its embarrassment was poor judgment.
Harry's Place documented evidence that it says shows that Hizb'ut Tahrir is a "racist and totalitarian party." One document posted, then removed, from the group's website said, "The American people do not like the Jews nor do the Europeans, because the Jews by their very nature do not like anyone else. Rather they look at other people as wild animals which have to be tamed to serve them. So, how can we imagine it being possible for any Arab or Muslim to like the Jews whose character is such?"
Tony Blair has announced a crackdown on extremist parties, which USA Today says will include Hizb'ut Tahrir. The extreme measures, including deportation of people who foster hatred or even justify or validate violence, could violate civil liberties and free-speech protections.
A week after the Guardian fired Aslam, executive editor Albert Scardino resigned. Sources at the paper told the Times of London that the resignation wasn't related to Aslam.

Correction Extra

•The Reidsville (North Carolina) Review runs a regular feature on its front page called Two Cents Worth that's somewhere between news and advertising. Sponsored by an insurance company, it is produced by the paper's news department and includes photos and comments from area residents. Like the Onion's "What Do You Think?" Only, sadly, it's meant to be real. It turns out, though, that some of the recent photos and quotes were made up, attributed falsely to old college classmates of the reporters. (Editor & Publisher, Greensboro News-Record)

Emma Burgin, one of the people whose names were attached to the phony quotes, wrote about the experience for Knight Ridder, where she is a reporting intern. It's notable that she alerted the paper about the problems a month ago, yet only when it received nationwide media attention did the two reporters get canned. The editor, Jeff Sykes, resigned soon after.

In a revealing interview with Editor & Publisher, Sykes made clear the kind of pressures small newspapers are facing to keep publishing and turn a profit, and how that can lead to features like Two Cents Worth that aren't worth two cents even if the quotes are real. "He lamented the pressures of being the editor of three papers—the daily Reidsville Review and The Eden (N.C.) Daily News, as well as the biweekly Madison (N.C.) Messenger," E&P reported. " 'I want people to know what editors in small markets are feeling: pressures to enhance readership, maintain credibility, and sell papers,' he said. He knew that firing the two reporters would cut him down to only three reporters at the Review."

Marjorie Cortez wrote a column in the Deseret Morning News that intended to denounce the reporters for betraying their readers' trust, but ended up focusing more on how dumb it was to invent local residents in a town with 5,000 people. She also exposed the inanity of features like Two Cents Worth, based on her experience with reporting similar features: "Others were willing but had little knowledge of current events. Some of them required so much coaching that I sometimes felt as if they were parroting my opinions instead of stating their own. These interviews often required 10 times more energy than a routine news story and frequently did not add much to the public understanding of issues."

•Guardian readers' editor Ian Mayes explains what role humor should play in the paper's corrections column. "Humour in the corrections, when it has occurred, has always—well, nearly always—been intrinsic and not an optional extra. In a scale of things which has libel and gross misrepresentation at the serious end, humour has always been confined to relatively minor matters at the other end."

•The blog lindsayism points out an important error missed by the New Yorker's crack fact-checkers: Britney Spears' personal assistant's name is "Felicia", not "Alicia."

•Anonymous blogger Mediacrity complains that the New York Times ripped off its scoop of Jim Romenesko's outsize salary. The New York Times replied in an email that "If you will give your name, we will consider running a correction." Mediacrity refused, saying, "The Times violates an ethical precept, poaching an item from other media. It makes errors. Does it matter whether the victim of the errors is an anonymous blog? So far, the answer is, 'hell yes!' The Times's policy is 'When we screw you, you have to dance to our tune.' " For more on anonymous blogging, see this piece by Giovanni Rodriguez in Gelf.

•Back in April, BBC NewsWatch—sort of an ombudsman for the broadcaster—published an item on complaints that the BBC failed to investigate reports that the US used banned weapons in its attack on Fallujah. Now the verdict is back from the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit: The complaint wasn't upheld. Kudos to the BBC for deciding all this in plain sight, though it's not entirely clear that the US didn't use such weapons; the Beeb relied on Human Rights Watch to check out the claims.

•NewsWatch also contemplated a viewer's claim that BBC's request for camera-phone photos from the public during the London bombings last month was sensationalistic and could have taxed cellphone networks during an emergency. BBC's Editor of Interactivity Vicky Taylor responded, "We would, of course, take into consideration any request from the authorities if they believed our actions were jeopardising emergency efforts, but this was not an issue on July 7. We are of course aware of our editorial responsibility to authenticate any material sent to us and rather than seek 'sensationalist' pictures, our aim in asking for this content is to help us tell the story truthfully and accurately."

•In January, the Sunday Mirror printed an article titled "Kate in cocaine coma," about Kate Moss. Now the Mirror has apologized and paid her libel damages. "The Sunday Mirror claimed that, during a visit to Barcelona in 2001 to appear in a charity fashion show, Moss had taken 'vast quantities' of the drug before collapsing into a coma," the Guardian reported. The paper's lawyer said it accepted the charges were false.

•James Briggs, a 24-year-old editor with the Daily Telegram of Adrian, Mich., was canned after he wrote a column about his decision to buy a foreign car. He told Editor & Publisher he was fired because the column peeved the local auto industry and may have cost the paper ad dollars. The publisher disputed that claim but wouldn't give another reason. "Maybe I'm hitting a late rebellious streak," Briggs wrote. "Maybe I'm simply unpatriotic, ungrateful or un-American. Or maybe the domestic automakers have slipped so far down that purchasing an American vehicle has become moronic. I'll go with that answer."


Thanks for Sharing

Rocky Mountain News, July 21: An editorial on Page 14C Saturday should have attributed a phrase describing former ambassador Joe Wilson's "stretches, misstatements and howlers" to The Daily Howler Web site.
Rocky Mountain News, August 5: [An editor's note from Rocky editor John Temple] An editorial on July 16, "Joe Wilson's howlers," inappropriately duplicated wording from a Washington Post article. The following passage was based on the Washington Post news story: "The committee said Wilson's Niger report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as Wilson said, bolstered the case for most CIA analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Niger intelligence that made its way into Bush's address." The Washington Post story appeared July 10 and was headlined "Plame's input is cited on Niger mission; Report disputes Wilson's claims on trip, wife's role."
The News previously published a correction July 21 stating that the same editorial contained a phrase that should have been attributed to The Daily Howler Web site.
I also wrote about problems with the editorial in my blog, "Answering questions about an editorial," at blogs.rockymountainnews
.com/denver/temple/. There I also discussed another troubling similarity between the editorial and the Howler Web site.
These mistakes do not reflect the policies or practices of the News' editorial page. We are committed to original thought and expression. Deputy Editorial Page Editor Thom Beal, the author of the editorial, has resigned and said he regrets his actions.
I personally apologize for this breach of our trust with you, our readers.

The Post article's wording, termed "inappropriately duplicated wording" rather than "plagiarism" by Temple, was almost identical to the Rocky's: "The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address."
The editor's note, incidentally, could use a correction of its own. As a commenter on Temple's blog pointed out, the Post's article was published on July 10, 2004, and not this year.
Why did Temple not use the word plagiarism? "Temple discloses that a 'bad experience' in a previous arbitration case he declines to specify partly inspired his avoidance of the P-word," Westword writes in its thorough account of how the plagiarism came to light. "(Most likely, he's referring to a '90s faceoff with ex-music writer Justin Mitchell.) Even so, he doubts that any reader would be confused about whether Beal had done wrong."
A commenter on his blog wasn't impressed: "You write like a public relations manager rather than an editor. Try reading 'The Complete Plain Words' by Sir Ernest Gowers rather the 'corporate-speak' manuals that you are apparently well-acquainted with. Pathetic."
An embarrassing sideline of all this is Temple's blog, which reads like defensive public-relations posturing rather than insightful reflections from an editor—and is also a cautionary tale about newspapers who heed calls that they should start blogging, then go about it all wrong. Six days after the Rocky ran the correction about the Daily Howler, he ran a triumphal item crowing that intimations his newspaper may have goofed in its reporting were refuted in a court hearing. "In this case the Rocky was alone in having it right originally. It was a banner story. The next day, other news organizations seemed to make a big deal of how our story might have been wrong."
The next day, he adopted the same tone in writing about the latest criticisms of the editorial, opening his post (July 28) with this tangential statement: "In this business, when I hear from other local news organizations wanting to ask me questions it's usually because they think they've got something on the Rocky Mountain News. When the News published a five-part series on graduation rates in Denver Public Schools, the media writer at the weekly newspaper Westword picked at how we worked with the school district to ensure accuracy rather than assess the quality of the actual journalism we published." Dan Brogan, editor of local magazine 5280, whose inquiries prompted Temple's blog post, told Westword the wording was "paranoid." Brogan wrote about Temple's post, and wrote a longer piece questioning the Rocky's transparency after the editorial was published.
Temple also PR-ed, "We published the correction after we were alerted that a local Web site had asserted that a phrase in our editorial mirrored a sentence on the Daily Howler Web site. We immediately investigated, although we had received no demand for a correction from another author or from any readers, and made public our error." But RockyWatch, the blog that first pointed out the Howler similarity, says it had emailed the paper's media critics before the correction ran.
Temple's latest post, on Wednesday: "I went for a jog this morning in my neighborhood and a big machine on tracks was outside a house down the street. I asked the workers, who were just getting their gear out of their trucks, whether they were taking down the house. Yes. When I ran back up the street half an hour later, the house was rubble. It was gone. That's how fast things change. And we have to capture that in our newspaper and on our Web site. A challenge." A dumbstruck reader commented, "Waitaminute. You're covering home construction now?"
Drunkalblog writes, "One must reiterate here that Temple's blog is not really a blog at all, at least in spirit. Most of his posts are 'Editor's Corner'-type things that would have looked at home (including the sly news management) in a newspaper of the 50s."
Having said all that, should Beal have had to resign over the borrowing? Plagiarism is a more minor offense than printing falsehoods—it harms readers much less, though it does harm other journalists. Yet in the wake of more-serious media scandals like Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley, newspapers seem eager to show they're tough on the surface issue of plagiarism while still often avoiding more serious issues. Often the one-time, inadvertent plagiarist has to lose a job to burnish the newspaper's surface sheen of credibility. (Though in this case only the Rocky can tell us if Beal's offense was a one-time-only slip-up, since its editorials are unsigned.)
Recently a Montreal Gazette columnist was reprimanded for lifting passages from a New York Times column, as noted by the blog Regret the Error. Meanwhile, journalists are accusing each other of plagiarism or the related offense of repeating scoops or quotes without crediting each other, as reported by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post. In one recent example, CJR Daily said it found extensive borrowing in a Salon piece about Robert Novak; two Romenesko commenters rightly pointed out that the repeating of facts isn't new. Rory O'Connor said, "It would be more helpful perhaps if the next piece written on the subject has something original to tell us—otherwise why bother?"
Rather than canning journalists or pressuring them to resign, newspapers should examine themselves. In American Journalism Review, Lori Robertson writes that newsroom culture deserves some of the blame for plagiarism—namely, pressure to produce and the fixation on getting the perfect quote, the perfect anecdote.
In the case of the Rocky's editorial, the veracity of its thesis—namely that Joe Wilson has lost all credibility—is a more important issue than the provenance of its wording. So it's worth returning to what started it all, the RockyWatch post questioning the editorial's claims and pointing out contradictory material elsewhere.
If journalists seek out only material that supports their view and then parrot that material in a plagiarism of ideas, that matters a lot more than whether they remember to paraphrase and use they thesaurus in order to avoid being caught for plagiarism of words.
Keep reading Oops for more on Wilson and Plamegate.

Overreaching

USA Today, August 11: A spokesman for Larry Twombly, the CEO of a company profiled this week by USA TODAY, said Wednesday he had been misled by his client about the man's academic and athletic achievements.
Twombly, CEO of Hat Trick Beverage (HKBV), told his publicist and USA TODAY that he had attended Harvard, was a Boston Bruin draft pick and had played hockey for three different minor league hockey teams.
USA TODAY has learned Harvard has no record of his graduation or attendance, and his name does not appear in a database of college and professional hockey players.
"We were misled and apologize for any misunderstandings," said Jerry Jennings of Emerson Gerard Associates of West Palm Beach, Fla., the public relations firm that represented Twombly. "We have no reason to doubt our clients." [etc.]

The error came in a regular feature called "Executive Suite," about an entrepreneur. It's great free publicity for companies. But that didn't suffice for Twombly, apparently. Inside College Hockey separately noticed the discrepancies and wrote about its fruitless quest to confirm Twombly's background. Emerson Gerard, on its website, says, "When we accept the challenge to get major media coverage:
•Our sophisticated team of crack writers spin your story
THEN
•Our media specialists pitch it to the press, radio and TV."

Editors Are Looking Out for You

Chicago Tribune, July 29: Today's comic strip "The Boondocks" in the preprinted Tempo section is a substitute. The original strip was on the topic of missing American teen Natalee Holloway, but as the comics went to press Wednesday, developments in Aruba were deemed serious enough that the strip might seem insensitive if news broke Thursday.
If only newspaper editors applied as much care to their decision to blanket readers with coverage of Holloway's disappearance—a sad story, but a relatively trivial one. Here, for the record, are the insensitive words from which the Trib protected its dear readers (Gelf, not a regular Boondocks reader, is taking an educated guess at the names of the characters who spoke in this strip):

Huey: I haven't watched the news very much lately. It's too much like reality TV.
Huey: Whatever happened to that white girl in Aruba?
Jazmine: I dunno. I stopped watching before the season finale.

The strip was mirrored at this Live Journal blog. It's not clear which specific Holloway development scared off the Trib; the closest story in time to the strip was this article about a pond being drained near the hotel where she was last seen.
For more, see the blog White Women in Peril and this New Yorker profile of Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder from last year.

A Broadened Job Description

Rio Grande Sun (Española, New Mexico), July 7: A story titled "Española Puts Brakes on Fiesta Council Funding" in the June 23 issue of the SUN requires correction. The story states that Floral Expressions is the flower supplier to the Fiesta de Española. ... In the same story, in response to cuts in city support for the fiesta, Fiesta Council President Dennis O'Brien was quoted as saying he had become a "beggar, but not a prostitute" in his effort to raise funds. O'Brien denies saying that. He says he has become both a beggar and a prostitute.
Kudos to Gelf reader Brent Hunsberger for scanning and faxing this correction.

Very Unfortunate Errors

Guardian, August 5: In our two-page graphic, page 10 and 11, G2, yesterday, showing the international origins and connections of the victims of the London bombers and suspected bombers, we mistakenly used the wrong photograph in noting the death on the No. 30 bus of Sam Ly, from Australia. The picture did not show Sam Ly. It showed his niece, Jane Lien. Many apologies for the distress this error may have caused.

Guardian, July 21: The photographs of Arthur Frederick and Jenny Nicholson, both killed in the 7/7 bombings, wrongly appeared in each other's obituary and tribute columns in yesterday's early editions (Ordinary lives, page 8). We apologise for any distress this has caused.

Conflict of Interest

Washington Post, August 5: John Irving, author of Until I Find You, has called our attention to his previous associations with Book World's reviewer of that book, Marianne Wiggins (July 10). That contact, which we have now corroborated, should have disqualified her as a reviewer; our signed agreements with reviewers spell out our conflict-of-interest rules carefully ("if you have had any contact, friendly or otherwise, with the author of this book ... or if there is any possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest in the assignment of this review to you, please let Book World know immediately"). Had we known that Irving had dedicated one of his earlier novels to Marianne Wiggins's ex-husband, Salman Rushdie, and had we known that Irving and Wiggins had socialized with each other in the past, we would not have made the assignment. We apologize to our readers for this misstep.
Gelf was impressed that Irving would volunteer this information—until we read the harsh review. A passage: "The story reads as if Irving woke from a recurring nightmare and started dictating compulsively. He's too good a journeyman to have written anything this bad on purpose, and I kept asking myself, 'What's he up to? How's he going to salvage this?' " Later Wiggins calls the book a "mass of lazy, unrefined writing." This all makes us wonder what the nature of their relationship was. Neither commented to the Associated Press. Blogger Sarah Weinman, who has also reviewed for the Post, ponders the questions, "How transparent should reviewers be? What constitutes a conflict of interest?" Slate's Jack Shafer, meanwhile, makes a convincing case that newspapers shouldn't shun conflicted book reviewers, but instead embrace them while disclosing the conflict—it'd make for livelier, more insightful writing.

Blurry Vision

Detroit News, July 15: A story about UnitedHealthcare on the front of the Business section Thursday should have said that the health insurer is offering members discounts on corrective laser eye surgeries, including the popular LASIK procedure.
Instead, the News had reported, "Health insurer covers LASIK... UnitedHealthcare is among a growing number of insurers providing coverage for LASIK and similar procedures." On the faulty news report, stocks of Lasik companies surged, as the Globe & Mail pointed out.

He Did Mean It When He Called New York 'Jew York'

Denver Daily News, July 27: The Denver Daily News would like to offer a sincere apology for a typo in Wednesday's Town Talk regarding New Jersey's proposal to ban smoking in automobiles. It was not the author's intention to call New Jersey 'Jew Jersey.'
Westword, which flagged this correction, commented, inevitably, "oy vey."

So Did the Police, Presumably

Newsday, July 29: A July 23 story reported that London subway rider Oren Hallale said he felt encouraged that police had shot a then-unidentified person at the Stockwell subway station the day before. Hallale says that, in making his remarks, he had assumed the person shot was a terrorist and potential suicide bomber.
The original article used the spicy quote as part of a kicker: "But some people on the streets outside the Stockwell station said they felt relieved. 'It's good that the police shot someone,' said Oren Hallale, 28, who admitted he has felt nervous taking the subway. 'It's quite encouraging.' "

On Anna Nicole Smith

Atlantic Monthly, May 2005: An article in the May 2005 issue of The Atlantic—"The Coming Death Shortage," by Charles Mann—made reference to a case involving E. Pierce Marshall and the estate of his father, J. Howard Marshall II. The references to the case were intended to make an illustrative point for the remainder of the article, and not intended to cast Mr. Marshall in an unflattering light. The article was written before the legal process was complete, and it cited the decision and commentary of one judge in one aspect of the case. Because it did not take note of subsequent developments, which occurred prior to publication, and because it did not take note of the legal history leading up to the judge's comments, the article left a wrong impression of the outcome and of Mr. Marshall, and we apologize for the omissions.
By way of background for interested readers, here is a fuller account of the case. In March of 2001, after six months of trial and testimony from forty witnesses, a jury in the Texas Probate Court found that there was no evidence to support the existence of any oral promise by J. Howard Marshall II to provide Anna Nicole Smith with any money from his estate after his death. With the exception of Ms. Smith (who was threatened with perjury charges for lying under oath), no witness has come forward in any court to support her claim. The jury also found that there was no wrongdoing of any kind on the part of E. Pierce Marshall or any other person connected with the Marshall Estate with respect to that estate or to Anna Nicole Smith. It dismissed accusations of "attempting to seize control of assets," of "undue influence," and of "document destruction." It should be noted that J. Howard Marshall II had made no reference to Ms. Smith of any kind in any of his wills, trusts, or other estate planning documents. These documents have been upheld as valid and binding on all parties by both the Texas Probate jury and by the United States Courts. The Harris County Probate Court is the only court ever to conduct a trial on the issues. The decision and commentary by the judge cited in Mr. Mann's article, which followed the Texas jury verdict by a year, were made by that judge not in the context of a jury trial but on a rehearing from a decision issued by a bankruptcy court in California. That judge's ruling and the bankruptcy court decision were made moot when they were stayed and then overturned by the U.S. Appellate Court for the Ninth Circuit in December 2004.
Needless to say, neither Mr. Mann nor The Atlantic Monthly have any personal knowledge of, nor have they seen any evidence that, E. Pierce Marshall was "infuriated" by his father's gifts to an "(alleged) mistress, an exotic dancer, who then died in a bizarre face-lift accident." J. Howard Marshall II (not Pierce Marshall) filed suit for the return of some items and prevailed in the matter. There is no evidence that Pierce Marshall ever regarded his father's "money ... as rightfully his," during J. Howard Marshall II's life. Those wanting to know more abut this case can find the jury's verdict in the Texas Probate Court trial and also the opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at http://www.warejackson.com/, in the News section of that website.
Maybe the reference seemed to the Atlantic to be only illustrative, but it made up the lengthy lead of the article, which began, "Anna Nicole Smith's role as a harbinger of the future is not widely acknowledged."

The Price of Modern Technology

Wall Street Journal, August 4: The Commodities Report in yesterday's Money & Investing section in some editions contained numerous spelling errors throughout the column because of the misuse of spell-checking software.
Alas, Gelf can't find the original version.

Time Flies ...

New York Times, August 2: A front-page article yesterday about the decision by President Bush to use a recess appointment to install John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations misstated the number of years Mr. Bush has been in office, a period in which he has made 105 other recess appointments. It is four and a half years, not five and a half.

Several Problems

Observer, July 31: Our interview with Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing ('Wing and a prayer', Review, 10 July) repeated press speculation that he would 'hole up in a room at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles and consume huge amounts of crack while, at the same time, producing huge numbers of pages for the show'. We now accept that this is untrue. We were also wrong to say that he had his first spell in rehab in 1995: it was his only stint. Furthermore, we said he was now in a new relationship with Megan Gallagher and yet she was his fiancee 15 years ago. Apologies for these errors.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 24: A July 10 Metro story about security at the Fulton County Courthouse, appearing under the headline "Security fell victim to budget, panel says," contained some errors or unsubstantiated assertions. The County Commission did not cut the sheriff's budget by $5.7 million. A budget analysis provided by the county shows that the county often has trimmed budget requests by the department, but it hasn't in recent years reduced the department's spending by such a large amount. There is no evidence to support the assertion that budget cuts forced the sheriff's department to cut 234 positions or that the county had imposed a hiring freeze that prevented the sheriff's department from filling 90 open positions. Finally, a quote attributed to former Sheriff Jackie Barrett—"The department does not have the manpower to secure a new courthouse without additional staff"—referred to the new juvenile courthouse, not the courthouse that was the scene of the March 11 fatal shootings.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 31: An item in Deb Peterson's column of May 11 concerning a Girls Gone Wild promotion at Al Hrabosky's Ballpark Saloon was incorrect in several respects, including when it took place and who shut it down. Hrabosky said he asked managers of his downtown tavern to end the promotion after 1:30 a.m. on May 1. Off-duty police officers providing security at the bar asked patrons to leave the premises. No minors were hauled in by police. In addition, the restaurant had permission to serve alcohol in tents on the site.

New York Times, August 1: An article in Business Day on June 27 headlined "Lawsuit of the Rings" described a court action by Peter Jackson, director of "The Fellowship of the Ring," contending that New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner, had committed fraud in handling the film's subsidiary rights. The article included a quotation attributed to a lawyer for New Line, said to be involved in the suit but not further identified, contending that Mr. Jackson had already received an enormous amount of money from the company and asserting, "There's a certain piggishness involved here."
The Times's policy does not permit the granting of anonymity to confidential news sources "as cover for a personal or partisan attack." In fairness the quotation should not have appeared.
The article also referred incompletely to an assertion of "self-dealing," the sale of subsidiary rights to other companies under the Time Warner umbrella, and to the way it could affect the film's gross revenues, upon which Mr. Jackson's percentage is based. The possibility that such deals lowered the gross revenues is an allegation in the lawsuit, not an established fact.
The article also omitted context for a comment by Robert Schwartz, an entertainment lawyer hired by New Line, that litigants are willing to settle for far less than what they initially claim. He says he was speaking in general about such lawsuits, not specifically about the parties in Mr. Jackson's suit.
The article and a related chart misstated the role of Warner Books in the distribution of subsidiary rights for the "Lord of the Rings" films. Warner Books did not receive such rights. The chart referred incorrectly to rights for foreign theatrical exhibition, home video and television markets sold to Warner Brothers International. New Line sold Warner Brothers International less than 30 percent of such rights, not a majority. The article also misstated the name of the music division of Time Warner that had the rights to the film's soundtrack. It was Warner Brothers Records (now the Warner Music Group), not Warner Records.
Inappropriate anonymice find a back road into the Times again! Times public editor Byron Calame, in a column about the paper's freelancers, suggests that this quote was included because the freelance author of the piece didn't know the paper's ethics guidelines. But shouldn't the editor have known? For another example of anonymice, keep reading...

Anonymice Infestations

New York Times, July 19: A front-page subheading on Friday with an article about the disputed involvement of Karl Rove, the White House senior adviser, in leaking the name of a C.I.A. officer omitted attribution for an account of Mr. Rove's words to the columnist Robert D. Novak. The conversation was described by someone who had been officially briefed on the matter. According to the account, Mr. Rove said "I heard that, too" after hearing about the officer from the columnist. The subheading should not have attributed the account of that comment directly to Mr. Rove.

Innumeracy

Miami Herald, July 30: Several headlines in Friday's Business section were incorrect. The headlines should have read:
•AutoNation income more than doubles
•DHB Industries: Revenue rises 2.5 percent
•Pharmaceuticals: SFBC International revenue nearly triples
•ANDRX: Revenue falls 10.8 percent.
The erroneous headlines:
AutoNation revenue more than doubles
DHB Industries: Quarterly profits rise 2.5 percent
SFBC Profits Nearly Triple
ANDRX: Quarterly profits fall 10.8 percent

Detroit Free Press, July 20: Tom Walsh's column incorrectly said 2 billion people live in China. The correct figure is about 1.3 billion.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, August 5: An article in the Business section Wednesday about regional wages incorrectly defined mean, as in mean wage. An arithmetic mean would refer to an average wage, not the middle wage between the highest and lowest wages.
That would be the median.

Los Angeles Times, August 4: An article in the July 26 California section about a state bill to control the breeding of pit bulls quoted a spokeswoman from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said fatal dog attacks represented 0.00001% of the estimated 4.7 million dog bites that occur each year in the United States. That would translate to about one fatal attack every two years. The CDC says that estimate came from an outside source and does not match its own research, which records about 12 fatal dog attacks each year. The CDC says that it will remove the 0.00001% estimate from its literature.

Newsday, August 3: The number of Americans expected to listen to alternative radio sources by the end of 2005 was incorrect in a graphic that appeared Sunday. The number listed, 35 million, did not include any potential overlap among listeners of subscription and Internet radio and MP3 players.
Overlap is almost a sure thing between Internet radio and MP3 players.

Washington Post, July 31: A July 31 Style article about a community document-shredding event in Vienna and Gaithersburg incorrectly described the total amount of paper collected as "close to 80 tons." It was about 78,000 pounds, or 39 tons.

Los Angeles Times, August 5:
A chart in Thursday's Business section with an article about Adidas-Salomon's proposed acquisition of Reebok International gave Adidas' 2004 sales as $7.06 trillion. It should have said $7.06 billion.
The US economy is less than twice that big.

New York Times, August 2: An article in Business Day on Wednesday about increasing investor interest in the self-storage business misstated the size of a space for which the Self Storage Association quoted a rental price averaging $135 a month. It is 10 feet by 10 feet—that is, 100 square feet, not 10.

New York Times, August 6: An article on Wednesday in The Digital Student, the special Circuits section, about educators who promote the use of computers misstated the ratio of students to computers in public schools. It is 4.4 to 1, not 1 to 4.4.
Now that's multitasking!

Arizona Daily Star, July 21: Federal legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain and others would create a new temporary work program for up to 400,000 foreign workers who would fill jobs that require few or no skills, not 4 million as reported Wednesday on A9.

Guardian, July 20: In the environmental supplement published on July 7 as a wrapround of G2 we gave a wildly inflated figure for the amount of CO2 produced by a television left on standby for a year. We said it would be 436.9kg. The actual figure is 1.9kg of CO2 per week (98.8kg a year). The figures come from the Energy Savings Trust.

Slate, July 29: In the July 25 "Today's Papers," Lea Rappaport Geller incorrectly stated that the Tour de France is 15,000 miles long. In fact it covers 2,241 miles.
The Slate-prescribed length would have required Lance Armstrong to bike about 650 miles a day.

Philadelphia Inquirer, July 19: An article in yesterday's Health & Science section incorrectly stated the height a balloon could reach. It flew to 125,000 feet, not miles.

Los Angeles Times, July 21: An article in Wednesday's Section A about job cuts at Hewlett-Packard Co. said the company's share price had fallen 50% in the last year. In fact, it has climbed 24%.

Wall Street Journal, July 22: According to Nielsen Media Research, 18 million people in the U.S. watched at least one minute of MTV and VH1's broadcasts of the Live 8 concert on July 2. The Advertising Report in some editions Wednesday about America Online's broadcast of the concert incorrectly compared the MTV-VH1 average U.S. audience for the entire broadcast with the total number of people in North America and Europe who watched any part of AOL's concert broadcast.

Los Angeles Times, July 19: An article in the same section about former secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall cited the Wilderness Act as protecting more than 400 million acres. It protects more than 100 million acres.

History Lessons

Los Angeles Times, July 28: An article about constitutions in Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine cited the following passage and attributed it to the Bill of Rights: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. ..." That's from the Declaration of Independence.

New York Times, July 27: An article last Wednesday about wineries and restaurants in Walla Walla, Wash., misstated the name of a restaurant. It is the Creek Town Cafe, not the Town Creek Cafe. The article also misstated the surname of a local winemaker. He is Christophe Baron, not Byron. The article also misstated the area's geological history. Floodwater that once inundated the Walla Walla valley resulted from the failure of an ice dam in a glacial lake; water was not trapped in the valley by a sheet of ice. During the floods, the Walla Walla valley was under a maximum of 800 feet of water, not 1,200 feet. The valley's silty soil, or loess, was deposited by wind, not by the flooding.
Gelf reader Becky Oskin, who submitted the error, also sent the original text, which had been changed in the original version. "Like all wine areas, Walla Walla flourishes because of its soils and its climate. The valley once lay under 1,200 feet of water, impounded by a sheet of ice. When the water was released by the melting ice, it left behind a layer of unusually deep, well-drained silt, known as loess. Temperatures are ideal for wine grapes: extremely hot days in summer, nights as much as 25 to 40 degrees cooler."

Guardian, August 3: In the heading to our report of the Champions League match between the Lithuanian team FBK Kaunas and Liverpool, page 32 (Sport), July 27, we appeared to sanctify the ground on which the game was played, calling it the St Darius and St Girenas Stadium. It is actually named after two Lithuanian aviators, Stepanos Darius and Stasys Girenas. They died when their plane crashed on a homeward flight from New York in July 1933.

Detroit Free Press, August 6: A story about the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki said that Japan surrendered unconditionally on Aug. 15, 1945. It should have stated that Japan surrendered unconditionally on Aug. 14, 1945.

New York Times, August 4: An Op-Ed article yesterday about the need to take risks in space exploration misstated the year of John Glenn's flight in the Friendship 7 capsule. It was 1962, not 1961.

Washington Post, July 27: A July 27 Federal Page article incorrectly said that the Senate remained in Democratic hands after the 1998 election. The Republicans won control of the Senate in 1994 and retained it after the 1998 election.

Washington Post, July 22: The July 24 Book World review of "Surviving the Sword: Prisoners of the Japanese in the Far East, 1942-45" incorrectly said that 4 percent of the Germans captured by Allied forces in World War II died as prisoners. The sentence should have said that 4 percent of Allied prisoners held by Germany died.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 28: Vincent van Gogh was a 19th century painter. He was incorrectly described in a main news section story Wednesday about a man sentenced to life in prison for killing Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker who was a distant relative of the painter.
The original article described Vincent Van Gogh as an "18th-century painter."

Los Angeles Times, July 22: A July 10 Section A article about the Brooklyn Navy Yard said the Spanish sank the U.S. battleship Maine in 1898. At the time, the U.S. blamed Spain for the incident, which helped trigger the Spanish-American War, but the exact circumstances remain unknown. A 1976 Navy investigation concluded that the Maine sank after heat from a fire in a coal bin on the ship exploded near some ammunition.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 23: Because of a page designer's error, a story on the front page of the Business section Friday about the City Club in Cleveland had an errant reference to Robert Kennedy as once being president.

Los Angeles Times, July 19: A timeline accompanying a story in Sunday's California section about the 50th anniversary of Disneyland mistakenly reported that Disney World opened in 1979. It opened in 1971.

Guardian, July 20: In a front-page report headed PM who took Britain into Europe, July 18, marking the death of Sir Edward Heath, we said that at the time of the miners' strike of the mid-1970s the National Union of Mineworkers was "led by Arthur Scargill". That is not true. The NUM president then was Joe Gormley, its general secretary Lawrence Daly and its Scottish president Mick McGahey.

Geography Lessons

Los Angeles Times, July 27: An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section about sleepovers at the Los Angeles Zoo incorrectly identified the geographic origins of the bearded dragon, black rabbit, boa constrictor, black widow spider and tarantula. None of those are from Africa.

Newsday, July 31: A caption in yesterday's Newsday misidentified the country where a malnourished youth was being treated. The child was in the African nation of Niger.
The caption said the child was in Maradi, Nigeria.

Guardian, July 29: An article about British sales of olive oil, G2, page 7, yesterday, was illustrated with a photograph of olive oil in a French supermarket.
Sacré bleu!

Guardian, July 18: We moved Kylie Minogue a remarkable 707km in the space of one paragraph when we said she was spotted out and about in Sydney and then described her visiting a children's cancer ward in Melbourne. It all happened in Melbourne (Sidelines, G2, page 15, July 14).
A sense of humor is always welcome in corrections.

Culture Lessons

Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22: An item in the PeopleWatch column in the Arts & Life section Thursday incorrectly credited author Robert A. Heinlein with creating the sexual euphemism "making the beast with two backs." William Shakespeare wrote the line in "Othello," and Heinlein used it in several of his books.

New York Times, August 7: An article last Sunday about shifting standards for the use of profanity misspelled the surname of the bartender in the television series "The Simpsons." He is Moe Szyslak, not Syzlak.

Science Lesson

Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 6: Because of incorrect information from the Associated Press, a story on page A5 Friday about reports that Britain helped Israel obtain nuclear technology incorrectly said that heavy water also is known as deuterium. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen. Heavy water is deuterium oxide.

Language Lessons

Guardian, July 26: A leader (Death of an innocent man, page 19, July 25) referred to "ethnic communities". It should have said ethnic-minority communities.
Presumably every person in the world is a member of at least one ethnic community.

Arizona Daily Star, August 2: A story Monday on B1 should have said the phrase "In here moder tunge" is Middle English, not Old English.

Guardian August 4: In our report of the death of Wim Duisenberg, page 11, August 1, we said he had the reputation of a bon viveur. We meant to say bon vivant (Guardian stylebook).
AllWords.com says the two phrases are essentially the same.

Guardian, July 27: The residents of the Cornish town of Rock, who are energetically pursuing dispersal orders and other measures, are almost certainly not enervated, as we described them in a subheading, Wild, wild west, G2, page 2, July 25. We meant to say they were angry.
Dictionary.com: "enervated" means debilitated.

Guardian, July 28: Coincidentally, on the day we corrected larva when lava was what was meant (corrections, page 23, July 26) the same error occurred in Pass Notes, page 3, G2, in a reference to the "rocky larva fields" of a national park in Hawaii. Larva: an immature free-living form of many animals that develops into a different adult form by metamorphosis. Lava: magma emanating from volcanoes etc (Collins).

Guardian, July 30: The point of argument mentioned in a column, page 5, G2, July 28, is not whether "medical advance in assistance for a wanted child mitigates against the abortion of an unwanted one". It is whether it militates against it. The readers' editor writes on the split infinitive, page 22.
The split-infinitive column was headlined, "How to correctly use the English language." Dictionary.com: "militate" means "bring about an effect or a change" (usually used with "against"); "mitigate" means to moderate or alleviate.

Observer, July 31: 'Revealed: Callas's secret passion' (World news, last week) intended to refer to Aristotle Onassis as 'the shipping magnate'—not 'the shopping magnate'.

Chicago Tribune, August 7: A June 17 news story and headline incorrectly stated that Cardinal Francis George had said that homosexual men should not be admitted to Catholic seminaries. In fact, George noted that a document on that issue was in preparation within the church and that the issue was fraught with complications, including how to define homosexuality. He did say, however, that "a vocation to celibacy for life" is a requirement of any man who would enter a seminary, regardless of his sexual orientation. And he said that, under current norms, "anyone who has been part of a gay subculture or has lived promiscuously as a heterosexual" would not be admitted to a seminary "no matter how many years in his background that might have occurred." According to a spokeswoman for the cardinal, his reference to being "part of a gay subculture" meant actively engaging in gay sex.
What about the celibate gay subculture?

Click here for the rest of Oops.

Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik is a co-founder, contributing editor, and Varsity Letters editor of Gelf. Bialik currently writes the Numbers Guy column for the Wall Street Journal and plays no role in Gelf's day-to-day editorial decisions.







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Article by Carl Bialik

Carl Bialik is a co-founder, contributing editor, and Varsity Letters editor of Gelf. Bialik currently writes the Numbers Guy column for the Wall Street Journal and plays no role in Gelf's day-to-day editorial decisions.

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