February 3, 2006

We Spoke Too Soon

The press jumped the gun on Palestinian elections, but few publications corrected the error. Plus: A plagiarist and a fabulist; the New York Times parrots a suspect story; college media problems; 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.

We Spoke Too Soon

Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 26: A headline on Page A13 Thursday that was based on exit polls incorrectly reported that although Hamas had won a large part of the Palestinian vote, Fatah would retain power. A headline on Page A1 correctly reported that the election had strengthened Hamas' power.
Many papers reported Thursday that Fatah would retain power, based on flawed exit polls. No other paper Gelf could find acknowledged that it jumped the gun.

Conflict of Interest

Miami Herald, Jan. 26: An Oct. 20 article about the Human Rights Watch report on U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba quoted a Miami woman featured in the report, Marisela Romero, who was unable to visit her dying father in Cuba. The Miami Herald and Human Rights Watch recently learned that Romero is the owner of Cojimar Express Services, a Hialeah travel agency that organizes trips to Cuba. The Miami Herald should have noted that Romero has a financial stake in seeing the travel restrictions lifted.
The correction didn't note that the day after the Oct. 20 news article appeared, the author of the Human Rights Watch report wrote a guest column that also cited Romero and her heart-wrenching tale. As far as Gelf can tell, Human Rights Watch hasn't updated the part of its report spotlighting Romero.

Correction Extra

•The correction tallies are in! At the end of each year, many newspapers share their internal count of corrections from the previous year. Regret the Error tallies the tallies; here's another, from the Northwest Herald.

More Human-Rights Sources

Cayman Net News, January 9: In an article printed in Cayman Net News on 5 January 2006, "NGO seeks Cabinet approval," one of the two founders of the Centre for Education and Development of Human Rights (CEDHR), James Stenning, was described as "an attorney and expert in constitutional law." Mr Stenning has subsequently pointed out that the article, which was based on an interview with the other founder, Nick Robson, and upon information provided by him, was incorrect. Mr Stenning has requested that we point out that he is in fact an articled clerk interested in pursuing a career in civil litigation. [etc.]
On the same day it ran the correction, the Net News published a defensive editorial noting, essentially, that sometimes newspapers make mistakes, and sources shouldn't retaliate with lawsuits.

Trustworthy Sources

Fresno Bee, January 28: A story on page A1 of Wednesday's Bee, using information from Fresno Pacific University's academic guide, said professor William Cockerham previously taught in the Fresno Unified School District. Fresno Unified has no record of Cockerham teaching there.
Fresno Unified may have wanted to disavow any connection with Cockerham because of the nature of that A1 story: It reported that he was arrested on charges of possessing and distributing child porn. Cockerham since has resigned from Fresno Pacific, whose track is named in his honor.

So It Really Wasn't So Bad

Fresno Bee, January 18: A story on Page A1 of Monday's Fresno Bee incorrectly listed Darrell Scott Anderson among several men accused of obtaining pornographic images of children via Internet file-sharing programs. Anderson allegedly received pornographic images through e-mail.

'Suspect Material'

Press Enterprise (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), January 17: Press Enterprise editors have been unable to verify the authenticity of interviews in 24 stories written by former staff reporter Kate York between Aug. 23 and Jan. 2. The reporter has resigned. [etc.]
Via Regret the Error, which noted, "The note doesn't indicate why the paper decided to audit her work."

Thanks for Sharing

Halifax Chronicle Herald: Plagiarism is a grievous sin in journalism. When it happens, with intent or otherwise, everybody loses. Readers are cheated, editors betrayed and reputations tarnished. This newspaper has experienced such an event, brought to our attention in an e-mail by a reader who compared former Hunting and Fishing columnist Brian Medel's Sept. 15, 2005 column "Dogs, porcupines never mix" with material found on a website. The Daily News' David Swick, who was copied on the same e-mail, compared another of Mr. Medel's pieces "Hunter orange saves lives, but can it spook deer," published Aug. 25, 2005, with similar results. When we investigated and confirmed the first reported incident, we cancelled Mr. Medel's freelance column immediately and monitored all his staff work until a full investigation was complete. [etc.]
The paper found that a dozen more of Medel's articles may have been plagiarized, and suspended him without pay for six months. A reader at Regret the Error pointed out that the paper didn't quite exercise full disclosure in that it didn't explain what it meant by plagiarism.

New York Times, January 21: An article on Wednesday about infidelity exposed by a chatty parrot described the way the parrot, owned by a man living with his girlfriend in Leeds, England, kept screeching the name of the woman's secret lover. When the parrot said "I love you, Gary," in what sounded like the woman's voice, her boyfriend (whose name is not Gary) broke up with her. Although the article reported that the information had been obtained from reports in The Daily Telegraph and other British newspapers, The Times could not verify the former couple's accounts because the information was given to the British press by a freelance journalist who charged for the account. The Times does not pay for information. The Times should have disclosed fully to readers why we relied on other news reports. Or, perhaps it would have been prudent, given that condition, for The Times to have resisted parroting the episode at all.
The report also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, the Times of London, and elsewhere. Museum of Hoaxes notes that the New York Daily News also had trouble confirming Gary's words, and declares the episode a likely hoax.

False Extrapolation

Associated Press, January 23: In a Jan. 11 story about American attitudes toward obesity, The Associated Press reported erroneously that a survey of 1,900 people by the market research firm, NPD Group, was representative of the U.S. population. The sample was selected from among 700,000 respondents recruited by NPD to participate in various consumer research studies.
I wrote a column for WSJ.com about NPD's market-research methods.

Los Angeles Times, January 27: A Jan. 20 article in Section A about a rally of Iranian Americans outside the White House said Iranian Americans generally supported the removal of the People's Mujahedin, an Iranian opposition group also known as Mujahedin Khalq, from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Participants at the rally held that view, but it is not necessarily shared by other Iranian Americans.

Guardian, January 24: In our report about a survey relating to the earnings of gay people, page 7, yesterday, we appeared to be making the assumption that readers of the magazines involved in the survey reflected the condition of gay people in general. The headline, Gay men earn £10k more than the national average, and the same point in the text, applied to readers of the magazines when compared to the population at large.

The Muslim World

Guardian, January 20: A comment article on the Guardian Unlimited website headlined The awakening giant (January 17) referred to India as "the world's second largest Muslim country". This may have given a misleading impression about Indian politics and demography. The country has a secular constitution and, according to the 2001 census, 80.5% of the 1.08 billion people are Hindu, with Muslims accounting for 13.4% of the population. It would have been more accurate to say that India has the second biggest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia, although some figures suggest that it may be third, behind Pakistan.

CNN, January 16: Due to an error in translation, CNN incorrectly quoted Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinejad in his Saturday speech as saying that Iran has the right to build nuclear WEAPONS. In fact, President Amadinejad said Iran has the right to nuclear ENERGY, and that "a nation that has civilization does not need nuclear weapons," and "our nation does not need them." [etc.]
Despite the apology, Iran initially banned CNN from the country. (Bloomberg) The network has since been invited back.

Arizona Daily Star, January 27: Iran is not an Arab country. An incorrect reference was included in letter to the editor "Don't let history repeat itself" Tuesday on B5.

Los Angeles Times, January 19: A Week Ahead item in Monday's Calendar section said the plot of "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" involved Albert Brooks' character being assigned to find out what made 300 Muslims laugh. It should have said 300 million Muslims. The error was repeated Tuesday in a correction of another mistake in the item.
That other mistake was confusing Brooks's character's assignment to write a 500-page report, with a 500-word report; the reporter minimized the movie twice. Based on some reviews (Metacritic), 300 laughers may have been a better guess than 300 million.

Reports of His Life Were Greatly Exaggerated ...

Guardian, January 24: Our use of the present tense in a correction about Lord Callaghan, page 32, January 21, meant that we failed to convey an essential point—that he died on March 26 last year.

... As Were Reports of Their Deaths

Boston Globe, January 26: Because of a reporting error, a story about Worcester District Attorney John Conte deciding not to run for reelection incorrectly described Joseph D. Early as the late US representative from Worcester. Early is not deceased.

National Post, January 19: Heather Crowe, the former Ottawa waitress who became an activist against second-hand smoke after being diagnosed with lung cancer, is alive. Incorrect information appeared in yesterday's National Post.

The Lost Fifth Member of Cypress Hill

Detroit Free Press, January 26: In Tuesday's Sports section, a photo caption incorrectly said tennis player Marcos Baghdatis is from Cypress. His country is Cyprus.

We Don't Need No Education

Orlando Sentinel, January 22: A photograph in the Academic All-Star feature on Page K4 of the Jan. 15 Seminole section was of a student other than the academic all-star, Holly Hixson, and the item also misidentified her school. A subsequent correction on Page H2 of Thursday's Seminole section misidentified photographs of Hixson and fellow Academic All-Star Megan Franz, whose photograph mistakenly had accompanied the Jan. 15 feature. Both students attend Oviedo High School. The correct photographs and text appear on Page K4 of this section.

Dallas Morning News, January 24: The Jan. 23 "Thinking About Education" column had the wrong byline and picture. Joshua Benton wrote the column.

Guardian, January 27: The secondary school league tables published on January 19 contained some mistakes. A-level students at King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon, achieved an average points score of 472.7. The 31 A-level students at the Mount School in York achieved an average score of 417.4. At St Edward's school in Oxford, 124 A-level students achieved an average score of 344.8.

Our College Journalists

Iowa State Daily, January 24: In Friday's issue of the Iowa State Daily, the article "Decorate your dorm on the cheap" inaccurately described furniture purchased at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores as being "complete with that old urine smell." The Daily retracts its false statement and deeply regrets the error.
The smell apparently costs extra. Via Regret The Error.

The Exponent (Purdue), January 11: In the Quick Read section of Tuesday's Exponent, the brief on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito contained a sentence that was not intended to be part of the brief. The Exponent regrets this error.
The sentence, as revealed by educe me, said of Alito, "His motive for shooting John Paul in the abdomen on May 13, 1981, remains unclear."

Cavalier Daily: The Cavalier Daily has discovered that the Dec. 2 Science column, "Browser Wars: A New Hope," used a significant amount of ideas and conclusions without attribution from a Dec. 15 PCWorld column, "Browser Wars," by Michael Desmond. The Cavalier Daily is retracting the column and apologizes to its readers for publishing the piece. The similar headline is a mere coincidence because the writer of the headline never read the PCWorld column.
Via Regret the Error, which also noted this recent Cavalier Daily apology: "The Nov. 29 comic Schizophrenic Bosnian depicted a character calling the crane the 'gayest-looking of all birds.' The Cavalier Daily regrets printing this comic and deeply apologizes to those who were offended." Here are some of the angry letters the comic provoked.

Oregon State Daily Barometer, January 31: Approximately, 2,000 rapes occur each day, or one about every five minutes. The Daily Barometer misprinted this fact in an article that appeared in the Jan. 19, 2006 edition of The Daily Barometer. The Daily Barometer staff regrets any misunderstanding or inconveniences caused by this error.
The correction fails on two count: Noting just how egregious the error was, namely that the newspaper claimed 2,000 rapes occur ever five minutes; and failing to correct the faulty math behind even the corrected stat: One rape every five minutes is closer to 300 rapes per day, as Eugene Volokh pointed out.

Error Propagation

Slate, January 20: The Jan. 17 "Explainer" originally contained a photograph of a man holding a piece of ordnance; the photograph was removed after readers brought our attention to a New York Times correction that pointed out the caption information provided by Agence France-Presse was inaccurate. The unexploded ordnance was not the remains of a missile fired at a house in Pakistan.

Department of Redundancy Department

Wall Street Journal, January 20: Union organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World have tried to organize some employees at Starbucks Corp. recently. The Dec. 12 In the Lead column in the Marketplace section incorrectly identified the union as the International Workers of the World.

The Sequel Didn't Come Close to the Original

Adult Video News, January: In the December issue, we mistakenly ran the box cover art of the first Swallow My Squirt from Elegant Angel with our review of Swallow My Squirt 2. Here's the correct box. We swallow our pride and apologize.
Via DVD Dossier.

The Crime Was Never Solved

Newsday, January 19: A passage in Linda Carroll's memoir "Her Mother's Daughter" describes an incident in which the author discovered that her young daughter, Courtney Love, was with a puppy whose leg was broken. It does not say that Love broke her puppy's leg, as was written in a review in Sunday's Fanfare.

Forecast: Cold & Communist

Chicago Tribune, January 24: On Monday's Weather page, an article about a deadly cold wave over sections of Russia and Western Europe incorrectly referred to the Soviet Union. It should have referred to Russia.

An Ancient, Oil-Rich Universe

San Francisco Chronicle, January 21: A story Friday about the discovery of debris disks surrounding two stars in the Milky Way galaxy misstated an estimate of the age of one of the stars. It is 300 million years, not 300 billion.

Dallas Morning News, January 25: A Jan. 21 article about Exxon Mobil Corp. incorrectly stated the company produces 2.5 billion barrels of oil a day and refines 6 billion barrels. Exxon Mobil produces 2.5 million barrels a day and refines 6 million.

China controls Internet, Guardian

Guardian, January 28: In an article about Chinese censorship of the internet, Backlash as Google shores up great firewall of China, page 3, January 25, we described Falun Gong as a cult. In doing so, we should have made clear that we were giving the Chinese government's official view of the movement.

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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