Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We Regret the Error

Unlike Wall Street executives, journalists don't get $20 million bonuses for botching the job.

Instead, they are subjected to a sort of public flogging in the form of corrections that are displayed in print for all to see.

Some are minor. Others are so serious that the offending reporter might find himself working at Jiffe Lube the next week.

Whatever the case, we in the profession, while devoted to accuracy, find some dark humor in the corrections that appear in the publications for which we toil.

And this column, being no stranger to dark humor, has traditionally marked the passing of the year with some of more noteworthy mea culpas from the past 12 months. Many have been collected by Craig Silverman, a Montreal freelance writer and author a book called "Regret the Error." Others were sent to me by fellow aficionados.

We present them for your reading pleasure, hopefully in correct form:

Early exit: Sportswriter Dave Pratt offered up this explanation after he was found plagerizing noted Sports Illustrated and ESPN columnist Rick Reilly: "It was a Saturday and I wanted to get out of [the office] before noon."

Did They Get Anything Right?: In articles published on 23 and 26 May 2008, we gave the impression that Mr. (David) Gest had contracted a sexually transmitted infection and alleged that he had Liza Minnelli's dog killed without her knowledge. This was wrong. David Gest has never had a sexually transmitted infection and did not have Ms. Minnelli's dog killed. (Daily Mail, UK).

Current Events: The compilers and suppliers of our On This Day column deserve to learn a lot more about electric execution. The recidivist column wrongly stated that the first electric chair execution took place on July 7, 1890. In fact, it was Wednesday, August 6, 1890 in New York - ironically then known as the Electric City of the Future - that wife-killer William Kemmler became the first man executed in an electric chair. Although Dr George C. Fell said Kemmler "never suffered a bit of pain," a reporter who also witnessed the execution wrote in the New York Herald the next day that "strong men fainted and fell like logs upon the floor." (The Guardian, UK).

Current Events, Part 2: We said that, in the American TV drama "24," Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorism agent, resorted to electrocution to extract information. You cannot extract information from someone who has been electrocuted because they are dead. (The Guardian, UK).

Spell Check: In yesterday's column about badminton, I misspelled the name of Guatemalan player Kevin Cordon. I apologize. In my defense, I want to note that in the same column I correctly spelled Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarak, Poompat Sapkulchananart and Porntip Buranapraseatsuk. So by the time I got to Kevin Cordon, my fingers were exhausted. (Dave Barry).

Did He Enjoy the Film? A film review on Sept. 5 about "Save Me" confused some characters and actors. It is Mark, not Chad, who is sent to the Genesis House retreat for converting gay men to heterosexuality. (Mark is played by Chad Allen; there is no character named Chad). The hunky fellow resident is Scott (played by Robert Gant), not Ted (Stephen Lang). And it is Mark and Scott - not Chad and Ted - who partake of cigarettes and "furtive man-on-man action." (New York Times).

In the Pink: We have been asked to point out that Stuart Kennedy, of Flat E, 38 Don Street, Aberdeen, who appeared at Peterhead Sheriff Court on Monday, had 316 pink, frilly garters confiscated not 316 pink, frilly knickers. (Press and Journal, UK).

Family Values: Our article last Tuesday...pictured Mr. Eriksson in a hotel restaurant with a young lady. We wrongly assumed that the lady was an admirer and suggested that he was fondling her. In fact the lady was Lina, Mr Eriksson's daughter, with whom he was sharing a normal fatherly embrace. (Daily Star, UK).

Choice Words: A photo caption in the Oct. 22 Style section incorrectly referred to Bill O'Reilly as a "right-wing pundit." The Fox News host presents himself as an independent. (Washington Post). Note that the correction uses the term "presents himself" indicating a certain level of disagreement with O'Reilly's view of himself. Which reminds us of this classic:

An Oct. 1 editorial referred to Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville as a "classy candidate." This page regrets the error. (Lewiston Morning Tribune).

Skip the Salad Course: Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson has apologized after accidentally recommending a potentially deadly plant in organic salads. The chef and TV presenter said in a magazine article that the weed henbane, also known as stinking nightshade, made an excellent addition to summertime meals. Henbane, or Hyoscyamus niger, is toxic and can cause hallucinations, convulsions, vomiting and in extreme cases death. (Reuters).

Dangers of Technology: The American Family Association's OneNewsNow site has a standard practice of using the word "homosexual" instead of "gay." They even set up a filter to automatically make the change. This didn't serve ONN well when a sprinter named Tyson Gay made news at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. He suddenly became Tyson Homosexual when the site's filter got a hold of an AP story. The same thing happened several year's ago at a different publication when a filter changed the name of the airplane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima to the "Enola Homosexual."

Dangers of Technology, Part 2: "Please note the important 4th writethru to SCOC-Cromwell which corrects the name of the former Supreme Court judge to Michel Bastarache, which had been changed to Bastard by a spellcheck error." (Canadian Press).
Food for Thought: The source who told us last week about Michelle Obama getting lobster and caviar delivered to her room at the Waldorf-Astoria must have been under the influence of a mind-altering drug. She was not even staying at the Waldorf. We regret the mistake, and our former source is going to regret it, too...(New York Post).

Last But Not Least: Readers of the New Hampshire-based Valley News couldn't help but shake their heads. On July 21, the paper's lead story reported Barack Obama had called the situation in Afghanistan "precarious," but the biggest news was far above the fold: the paper had misspelled its own name. People were reading the Valley Newss.
"Readers may have noticed that the Valley News misspelled its own name on yesterday's front page," read a subsequent editor's note. "Given that we routinely call on other institutions to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes, let us say for the record: we sure feel silly." (Craig Silverman).

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