July 1, 2006

The Sun Also Rises on the Moon

China thinks Japan's flag is so pretty, it adopts the rising sun for its (slowly) rising space program. Plus: Naughty sources; Murtha's media comeuppance; ancient diamonds; 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.

China to Plant Japan's Flag on Moon

CBS News, June 20: "A previous version of this story included a graphic of the Japanese flag instead of the Chinese flag. We regret the error."
Mindless Bit Spew has a screengrab of that previous version, which also refers to China's "ambition" space program. Gelf wonders if CBS News will also run a correction in 2024 when it becomes clear that printing lofty projections by overambitious nations is a fool's game. Remember how the US was going to be a legit contender for the World Cup in 2010? It's called Project 2010, and it's silly.

Journalists Quoting Journalists: To Say It's Dangerous Is a Misstatement

In an article in the Latino Reporter that seems to no longer be online, Washington Post assistant technology editor Sam Diaz says, "Saying that the Parity Project is not succeeding is a big understatement." The Parity Project, an effort by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to increase the employment of Latino journalists in US newsrooms, really has been a failure, the Miami News Times argues. But Diaz claims he was misquoted—he said "misstatement", not "understatement," which means entirely the opposite thing. Monica Rhor, who edited the article, retorted, "Sam went overboard in trying to cover his ass—overboard, overboard, overboard. He was not misquoted. I saw the notes."

Murtha's Media Menace

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 25: An article in Sunday's editions misinterpreted a comment from U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., at a town hall meeting in North Miami on Saturday. In his speech, Murtha said U.S. credibility was suffering because of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, and the perception that the U.S. is an occupying force. Murtha was citing a recent poll, by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, that indicates a greater percentage of people in 10 of 14 foreign countries consider the U.S. in Iraq a greater danger to world peace than any threats posed by Iran or North Korea.
By the time the Sun-Sentinel ran its correction, favorite conservative target Murtha had gotten his thousand lashings, including one from John Fund on OpinionJournal. Fund updated his post to print the Sun-Sentinel correction; many others didn't bother. As the Broward-Palm Beach New Times points out, this is the Sun-Sentinel's second major gaffe in a month. "It’s time that the Sentinel comes clean with its everyday readers and comes clean quickly," New Times writes. "Or it can start kissing its credibility goodbye."

Your Friendly Neighborhood Phone Company

USA Today, June 30: ... Based on its reporting after the May 11 article, USA TODAY has now concluded that while the NSA has built a massive domestic calls record database involving the domestic call records of telecommunications companies, the newspaper cannot confirm that BellSouth or Verizon contracted with the NSA to provide bulk calling records to that database.
That's part of a massive note to readers by the newspaper about its big NSA scoop. USA Today notes in the letter that it gave the two phone companies ample time to deny the charge before the article came out, yet the didn't complain until after publication. "The denial was unexpected," the newspaper writes. As Gelf has noted in the past, it sometimes behooves sources to withhold denials until after publication, in order to make the story about the press.

He Likes Shakespeare for the Font

News & Observer, May 28: The News & Observer in 2005 published 663 corrections, up from 617 the year before. That puts the paper above the median (522) of eight similar-sized newspapers I surveyed, ranging from 409 at The San Antonio Express-News to 779 at The Orlando Sentinel.
Counting corrections is a silly way to measure a newspaper's accuracy [just like font is a stupid measure of literature, in case you didn't get Gelf's odd headline], David Cay Johnston argued on Romenesko, adding that "the correction process itself reeks of bias that favors softball journalism."

They Are, After All, Forever

The Heartless Stone, June 26: The diamonds in the Argyle mine date from 1.6 billion years ago, not 16 billion years ago.
We kid because we love. In fact, we really do love it when nonfiction books run corrections on their website, especially because, as James Frey generously reminded Gelf, books usually aren't fact-checked by the publishers. In this case, it looks as though the source of the correction is a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal. "Though a fine storyteller," the article states, "Mr. Zoellner is no geologist. He understates the age of most natural diamonds—a billion years on average, not 50 million—but has Australia's diamonds emerging '16 billion years ago,' some 10 billion years before the solar system formed."

David Goldenberg contributed to this article.

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