January 23, 2006

So Long, Plagiarists

Two longtime journalists lose their jobs for borrowing others' work, prompting some to wonder if the plagiarism police has gone too far. Plus: Holocaust numbers; that 'Friends' apartment; an old internet joke resurfaces; 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.

Not Far Enough?

Washington Post, January 7: A Dec. 26 article misstated the accreditation of Web journalist Bill Roggio when he was embedded with U.S. Marines in Iraq. He was accredited by the Weekly Standard. The article said that Roggio was embedded with the Marines at the time of publication, but Roggio had returned to the United States. The article also described Roggio as a retired soldier; he served four years on active duty and two years with the National Guard, which is short of the 20-year minimum for retirement.
The factual errors bolstered Roggio's case that there was a wider problem with the Post's coverage: It was out to label him, falsely, as an information tool of the US military. "Couple the Post's fake 'facts' with the misrepresentation of the embed-credentialing process and the blending of my story with military-information operations, and the groundwork has been laid to label me as a tool of the military," Roggio wrote on National Review. The Raw Story reported that the Post's ombudsman is looking into the story; in the meantime, Post media reporter Howard Kurtz called the correction "too narrow," saying Roggio's reader-funded Iraq coverage might not have belonged in an article about the military paying Iraqi journalists for favorable coverage.

Correction Extras

•The Observer recalled its most memorable "clangers" from 2005, including this one: "The late John Paul II was a remarkable man, but if he had travelled 'more than 500 million miles' as we claimed in 'The man in white who changed the world' (News, 3 April), he would have circumnavigated the earth about 20,000 times. We meant 500,000 miles." Less self-deprecatingly, the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, gathered its favorite corrections from other publications, including many you read in Gelf.

•Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bob Ford parodied the form of newspaper corrections, as he does each year in a mock-regret column: "In a column on Feb. 7, Bob Ford wrote: 'The Eagles didn't win the Super Bowl for many reasons. Donovan McNabb had an extremely average game. The team looked disorganized and casual as irreplaceable seconds ticked away. The Patriots aren't the Vikings or the Falcons.' The Inquirer regrets that Mr. Ford is so enamored of the obvious."

•The SF Weekly's Dog Bites column catches the San Francisco Chronicle bungling math in an article about math, then bungling the correction: "Only the San Francisco Chronicle makes so many mistakes that it is forced to waste paper partaking in meta-meta-journalism. Of course, when that happens, you know you can turn to Dog Bites to waste paper telling you all about it."

Plagiarizing the Correction

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Jan. 13: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has dismissed entertainment reporter Tim Ryan following an investigation into stories he wrote during the past several years. The stories contained phrases or sentences that appeared elsewhere before being included, un-attributed, in stories that ran in the Star-Bulletin. The stories did not include inaccurate information or any fabrications. [etc.]
Link via Slashdot, which notes that Wikipedia first identified the possible plagiarism, but didn't get credit from the Star-Bulletin.

Thanks for Sharing

Baltimore Sun, January 8: Last week, Sun columnist Michael Olesker resigned, ending a 27-year career at the newspaper after being confronted with evidence that he had used material from other newspapers without attribution. [etc.]
Olesker's resignation (or, really, dismissal; as Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post, he was told he could quit or be fired) following his admission that he lifted some material from other publications, was parsed by the paper's public editor, who wrote, "Olesker broke the cardinal rule found in The Sun's ethics code: 'When we use facts gathered by other news organizations, we attribute them. ... Staff members must not use anyone else's work and present it as theirs.' " Writing in the Baltimore City Paper, which helped expose the plagiarism, David Simon argued that many journalists would be considered plagiarists under the Sun's strict standard, for building on others' reporting. But Dean Miller warned fellow journalists at the Romenesko message board that little is as unreliable as others' work, including their own newspapers' work as archived in the "morgue," or clips library: "Want a sobering experience? Go ask editorial writers what happens when they write from their paper's morgue instead of from personal reporting."

The Fog of War

Associated Press, December 23: An obituary from The Associated Press on Dec. 23 about Heinrich Gross, a psychiatrist who worked at a clinic where the Nazis killed and conducted experiments on thousands of children, misstated the number of people killed in Nazi euthanasia programs. The United States Holocaust Museum and other sources say that the number is estimated to be about 275,000, not 75,000.
According to the Holocaust Museum's website, the estimate of total victims presented at the Nuremburg trials was 200,000, not 275,000. The website also says that the bulk of the killings happened in secret starting in August 1942, so an exact count is elusive.

We Was Had

New Bedford Standard-Times, December 24: The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story. The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account. [etc.]
The Standard-Times had first reported the story, and at the above link explains how it got it wrong. By the time the story was corrected, it had become an Internet phenomenon, linked from Slashdot and elsewhere.

Did You Hear the One About the $250 Cookie Recipe?

New York Times, January 4: A reader's contribution in the Metropolitan Diary on Monday misstated the origin of an anecdote about a cellphone conversation in a restroom that ended: "I'll have to call you back. There's an idiot in the next stall who keeps answering my questions." It has circulated for years; it was not based on the contributor's personal experience.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Blinq blog spotted this goof, a hazard of a column generated by user-submitted cutesy anecdotes.

And contrary to our report, Spy Kids was grrrrreat!!

National Enquirer: "A cover story we ran entitled 'Teri Hatcher: Amazing Bedroom secrets' was based on an interview sold to us by an experienced freelance journalist who we now believe never actually conducted the interview. Ms Hatcher has never engaged in sexual relations with men in a van parked on her property, nor does she leave her child alone in her house while having 'steamy romps' with men in a 'passion wagon'. We also published a story suggesting that Ms Hatcher had become 'desperately thin' and was 'wasting away'. We now know that during the past seven years her weight has fluctuated by only three pounds—a result of healthy diet, moderate exercise and a good metabolism. Ms Hatcher is fit and looks great, and her healthy appearance is nothing new."
The groveling correction was discovered by Slate. As Defamer reported, the British tabloid The Daily Sport lost a libel suit brought by Hatcher after falsely reporting the same alleged van sex.

Attention, Party Crashers

Florida Sun-Sentinel, December 29: An article on Page 42 of the Dec. 23 edition of Showtime lists a New Year's Eve party at Grand Oaks Golf Club, 3201 W. Rolling Hills Circle, Fort Lauderdale. The event is not open to the public.

Anti-Conservative Media?

New York Times, December 17: Because of an editing error, a news analysis yesterday about a colleague's statement impugning the stem cell research of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, a South Korean scientist, misstated what Dr. Hwang said about it last month. Dr. Hwang admitted then that an error had been made in submitting photographs that accompanied an article about his research, but he has not publicly admitted that he fabricated evidence, and has defended his research. Also because of an editing error, the article misstated the title of Richard Doerflinger, who maintains that stem cell proponents are misleading the public about their accomplishments. He is deputy director for pro-life activities—not "anti-abortion activities"—at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

First One Million Bucks an Episode, and Now This

Slate, January 6: In the Jan. 5 "Surfergirl," Dana Stevens suggested that Friends offered no explanation why Monica and friends lived in such a large apartment. In fact, it was Monica and Ross' grandmother's rent-controlled apartment.

—David Goldenberg contributed to this column.

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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