Saturday, December 26, 2015

Miscues That Made News

It is the custom of this column to mark the end of each year with a compilation of the best, or worst, or most convoluted, or contrived, or outrageous, or downright silly media corrections.

We used to focus exclusively on newspapers but since the printed word is becoming as rare as the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (which, to the uninitiated, is extremely rare), we have broadened our approach. We now welcome TV and the Internet to this walk of shame.

Steve Harvey and Brian Williams, come on down.

Why commemorate mistakes?  After all, journalism is a profession that prides itself on accuracy.  But sometimes in the production of countless words spread across countless pages, mistakes are made. And some are funny.

So once a year we pause long enough to laugh at ourselves. A little humor is good medicine when you spend your days covering a world that has gone mad.

Since this year is the 10th year we have complied this list, it seems entirely fitting that we look back on the very best of the miscues that made news.

Without further ado, we present the Mea Culpa Awards.

“Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite." --- The Dallas Morning News.

"Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21 April in the Independent Saturday magazine, Ms. Blair's representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article. They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms. Blair has never shared a shower with Ms. Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms. Caplin (or anyone else), and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms. Caplin. “ ---The Independent Saturday (UK) magazine.

“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.

“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.

“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.

 “In a recipe for salsa published recently, one of the ingredients was misstated, due to an error. The correct ingredients is 2 tsp. of cilantro instead of 2 tsp. of cement.” --- Publication unknown.

“Due to incorrect information received from the clerk of courts office, Diane K. Merchant, 38, was incorrectly listed as being fined for prostitution in Wednesday's paper. The charge should have been failure to stop at a railroad crossing.”                ---Publication unknown.

“Last week’s column mistakenly misidentified a source. The European Commission president is Romano Prodi, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”--- The Prague Post.

“Reporter Amanda Hess, in a story published Monday, acknowledges she wrongly wrote that ‘one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive.’ In fact, the statistic applies to black men ‘who have sex with men.’” --- Washington Citypaper.

“The following corrects errors in the July 17 geographical agent and broker listing: Aberdeen is in Scotland, not Saudi Arabia; Antwerp is in Belgium, not Barbados;
Belfast is in Northern Ireland, not Nigeria; Cardiff is in Wales, not Vietnam; Helsinki is in Finland, not Fiji; Moscow is in Russia, not Qatar.” ---- Business Insurance magazine.

“There was an error printed in the story titled ‘Pigs Float Down the
Dawson’…The story, by reporter Daniel Burdon, said ‘more than 30,000
pigs were floating down the Dawson River.’ What…piggery owner Sid
Everingham actually said was ‘30 sows and pigs,’ not ‘30,000 pigs.’”
--- The Morning Bulletin, Australia.

“Our panel listing the expected highlights at Glastonbury this summer
catapulted into the festival’s headliners a band not so much obscure
as unknown, even to those expert in Judaic contributions to rock. The
group Frightened Rabbi should have been the Scottish band Frightened
Rabbit.” --- The Guardian.

“In the September profile of Chelsea Clinton, ‘Waiting in the Wings’
by Jonathan Van Meter, Dan Baer was mistakenly identified as an
interior designer. He is deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.”
--- Vogue magazine.

“A column by Glenn Garvin on Dec. 20 stated that the National Science
Foundation ‘funded a study on Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole.’
That is incorrect. The event took place during off-duty hours without
NSF permission and did not involve taxpayer funds.” --- Miami Herald.

“Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the
number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker. It was five
decades, not centuries.” ---The New York Times.

"Just to keep the record straight, it was the famous Whistler's
Mother, not Hitler's, that was exhibited at the recent meeting of the
Pleasantville Methodists. There is nothing to be gained in trying to
explain how the error occurred." ---Titusville (Pa.) Herald.

 “A Bloody Mary recipe…called for 12 ounces of vodka and 36 ounces of tomato juice. The recipe as printed incorrectly reversed the amounts, calling for 36 ounces of vodka and 12 ounces of tomato juice.” --- Wall Street Journal.

 “This post originally quoted photographer Tom Sanders as saying it takes him five years to get on the dance floor. It takes him five beers.”  Slate magazine.

“Articles on April 25 and 26 about Pope Benedict XVI said that St. Peter was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the church, Jesus was the founder.” --- Washington Post.

“Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as “the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years”. This should, of course, have read “non-Italian pope.” ---London Times.

“The Argus would like to apologize for suggesting that the director of the Brighton Science Festival believes the ‘21st century will be remembered for a terrible war between mankind and goats.’ That contention, as well as another goat-obsessed comment, actually came in the form of a question submitted by a reader.” --- Argus, Brighton, England.

“An article on Monday about a recall election facing Colorado lawmakers who supported gun-control legislation referred incorrectly to one of the Republican challengers expected to face John Morse, the State Senate president, on the ballot. The candidate, Bernie Herpin, is a former city councilman, not an author of erotic novels.”  --- New York Times.

“The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our original regrets were unacceptable.”  --- Ottawa Citizen and Southam News.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Yada, Yada, Yoda

“Already know you that which you need.” – Yoda.

When it comes to merchandising, nobody in the world does it like the good old U.S.A.

We sell sunscreen to the Eskimos and space heaters in the Sahara. Using catch phrases, we sell each other interminable amounts of stuff. Things go better with Coke?  You bet.

The world is our mall.

Take the lowly pumpkin. As I wrote in a column last month, ever since Starbucks foisted the oddly popular Pumpkin Spice Latte on an unsuspecting nation, the bulbous orange squash has achieved cult status.

We have been deluged with pumpkin lattes, marshmallows, Pringles, Pop Tarts, cookies, cereal, ice cream, M&Ms, beer, air freshener, lotion, shampoo, candles and whiskey. There are even pumpkin dog treats.

But that’s nothing compared to the avalanche of products that is being unleashed in connection with the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, “The Force Awakens.”

It’s not the first “Star Wars” movie, there have been many others. But the hype for this newest version is spreading at warp speed thanks in large part to the media which can’t churn out enough glowing stories about it.

Ticket sales could hit $1 billion, maybe even $2 billion. But that’s chump change compared to what movie-related merchandise might bring in. That pencils out to around $5 billion.

It’s the kind of money that could furnish every man, woman and child in the U.S. with their own light saber.

And what do you get for your hard-earned cash?

There’s a Princess Lea dress ($54.95) or, if you’ve gone over to the Dark Side, a Darth Vader cape dress ($47.95). Wear either with a pair of C-3PO flats ($111.65) or R2-D2 slipper boots ($18.55).

After a busy day cruising the galaxy, tuck yourself in to some “Star Wars” poster sheets ($31.15) and pull up the “Star Wars” comforter ($48.65).

Surround yourself with items like a “Star Wars” water bottle ($8.75), and R2-D2 wallet ($11.55), and R2-D2 cupcake pan ($13.65), Yoda plush slippers ($17.15),  an Ewok hoodie ($58.50) or a Millennium Falcon chopping board ($22.75).

But wait! There’s more:

“Star Wars” dog tags ($7), R2-D2 can coolers ($7), or a Chewbacca can cooler ($13), Death Star ice sphere mold ($13), light saber chop sticks ($15), Darth Vader oven mitt ($15), R2-D2 hip flask ($16), Death Star tea infuser ($20), Millennium Falcon owner’s manual ($23) and light saber barbecue tongs ($30).

Rounding out the selection: a Death star waffle maker ($39.99), “Star Wars” multivitamin gummies, “Star Wars” soups, “Star Wars” coffee mate (prices vary), “Star Wars” apples and oranges.

For the fan who has everything, there’s a Millennium Falcon bed, yours for $4000.

There’s more, much more. But it gets bewildering. Target, the big-box retailer, now has nearly 900 “Star Wars” products listed for sale on its website—787 of which are tagged with “The Force Awakens.” 

Who dreams up this stuff?

That’s not clear but what is evident is that Disney, which paid $4 billion to purchase LucasFilm, creators of the “Star Warrs" franchise, is trying to wring every cent they can from their acquisition by licensing their asset to anyone with money to spend.

It’s not a tough sell.

"If you're a (consumer) product, and you have an opportunity to license 'Star Wars' and possibly get incremental sales, you will take it," Rebecca Brooks, co-founder and partner at marketing research firm Alter Agent, said in an interview.

In the meantime, if you think the people who collect “Star Wars" stuff are space cadets, consider this:

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s cloak sold for $104,000.

A Chewbacca head mask worn by Peter Mayhew was sold by Profile in History, an auction house, for $120,000.

Hans Solo’s blaster from “Return of the Jedi” sold for $201,000.

A miniature TIE fighter, specifically the one that collided with Darth Vader in the hidden depths of the Death Star in “Episode IV, A New Hope” went for $402,000.

Luke Skywalker’s light saber, sold from the collection of movie producer Gary Kurtz, gained bids up to $240,000. 

The Panavision PR 35mm camera George Lucas used in filming “A New Hope” sold at auction for $625,000.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trump Card

Years ago, when I first started writing this column, I would lick my journalistic chops at the chance to do battle with American’s most famous Wing Nuts.

We’re talking Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter, Ted Nugent and others whose inflammatory rhetoric and total disregard for factual reporting was shocking.

My intent was to expose their hypocrisy and set the record straight. I was never at a loss for subject material.

But somewhere down the line, I decided that this kind of subject material was nothing more than a “he said, she said” exercise and that all I was doing was calling attention to people whose notoriety didn’t need my help.

Outrage was a saleable commodity and this bunch was making a handsome living pedaling it.

It seemed I was just pouring jet fuel onto the inferno that is political discourse in this country. More importantly, I was often calling for civility while being uncivil myself.

I took a pledge, solemnly administered to myself by myself, never to mention any of them again unless there was some overriding news value involved. That was nearly four years ago.

Now comes Donald Trump and my pledge is being sorely tested.

It’s the same message, just being bellowed from a bigger orifice.

Like Beck and Limbaugh, Trump’s philosophy, if that’s not too strong a word, resonates with disenfranchised working class white folks who view our changing world with fear and trepidation. He promises to smite our enemies, drive immigrants from our shores and make America strong again, whatever that means. Specifics?  That’s for the other guy,

The irony is, of course, is that this billionaire Pied Piper who lives in a tower wouldn’t get caught dead hanging out with most of the people who vote for him. Don’t expect to see him having a beer with the boys down at the Dew Drop Inn.

So should I slip into my armor, pick up my lance and start jousting with the Trump campaign?  After all, he is a serious presidential candidate, not just some poisonous pundit.  And his policies certainly deserve scrutiny.

I probably won’t although I reserve the right to change my mind.

First, I don’t believe he’ll ever be the nominee of his party. The Republican Party views Trump as some disruptive crazy uncle who shows up periodically and wreaks havoc.

He is even seen as  running a "false flag operation" for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and hopes to help her secure the presidency by obtaining the Republican nomination, or running as a third party candidate, which Trump has been reluctant to rule out.

If you think that’s goofy, Jeb Bush believes it.

Second, Trump is receiving more coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined. Oddly, even the media is complaining.

CNN staffers recently complained about the excessive coverage of Donald Trump as well as CNN President Jeff Zucker’s directive to cover the presidential candidate ad nauseam, according to published reports.

The Huffington Post opined that anyone who’s tuned in to CNN lately will know what the staff is upset about. The network airs Trump rallies and press conferences in full -- regardless of their news value -- and continues to dedicate precious airtime to segments about Trump’s hair or his latest Twitter outburst.

Even Fox News is fed up.

“Less than a week after the worst terror attack on America since 9/11, we are in a full-blown media circus,” Fox political commentator Megyn Kelly said recently. “Not about these two killers and their terror ties, but about something that a man who is not the president would do if by chance his party nominates him to be president and then the same general electorate that elected Barack Obama twice happens to choose him, Donald Trump, as their president.”

She repeatedly said it’s amazing that everyone is talking about this not-gonna-happen policy when we should be talking about terrorism, telling her audience, “We will not be devoting an hour or a half hour or 20 minutes to what Trump said tonight.”

And, of course, the blanket coverage of Trump is fueling his surge in the polls. The Washington Post’s John Sides explains it this way:

“When a pollster interrupts people’s lives and asks them about a presidential primary that doesn’t formally begin for months, a significant number of people will mention whichever candidate happens to be in the news these days. It’s basically a version of what’s called the ‘availability heuristic.’ And for any causal consumer of news, Trump is very available these days.”

It’s also called pack journalism and almost everybody who has ever been in the business has been guilty of it.

If your newspaper/TV news operation/website doesn’t report that Trump wants to ban all Muslims immigrants from the U.S., you will not only look foolish, but it may make you look like you’re ignoring a major candidate, justifiably or not. So you publish it along with any other outrageous quotes he can produce.

The answer is balanced coverage. Write about Trump all you want but write about the other candidates as well in equal doses. You’ll be doing a service to yourself and your country.

As for me, I’ll stay on the sidelines.  At least for now.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

It's Traditional

It’s Christmas.

Get ready to deck the halls, don your gay apparel and roast your chestnuts on an open fire. 

We celebrate collectively but also individually because many of us have our own holiday traditions.

Maybe your family plays a spirited game of touch football using Aunt Mary's fruit cake.

Maybe you make bets on how much Christmas cheer Grandpa will consume before he falls into the tree.

Maybe it’s that Christmas ornament from the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Or the old family recipe for Eggnog casserole.

My mother used to cook up a batch of sweet potatoes covered with marshmallows every Christmas because "it's one of Dad's favorites." Years later, Dad admitted to me he hated the dish but ate it to make Mom happy.

My kids tried to start a tradition one year by awakening at 3 a.m., about five minutes after I had collapsed into bed exhausted from an evening of Greco-Roman wrestling with a mass of "some assembly required" toys. It was the shortest tradition ever.

We do watch a scratchy old video tape of "A Christmas Carol" starring George C. Scott every year simply because he is the best Scrooge of all time.

There's a fire in the fireplace Christmas morning even if it's 80 degrees outside. There's always a birthday cake because the Old Man of the House had the misfortune of being born on Christmas Day. I celebrate with mortals like Sir Isaac Newton, Clara Barton, Conrad Hilton, Humphry Bogart, Cab Calloway, Rod Serling, Jimmy Buffet and Sissy Spacek who also call Dec. 25 their birthday.

In other corners of the word, celebrations are decidedly different.

On Christmas morning, people in Portugal have a traditional feast called "consoda" with a twist; not only does the family get together to eat but also dead people are invited. Extra places are set and food is offered to the deceased. Which is a great idea because since the deceased rarely show up, meaning more food for everybody.

In some rural areas of south Wales, the Mari Llwyd is a person hiding under a horsehair sheet while carrying a horse's skull on a pike . The Mari Llwyd wanders the streets at Christmas with a band of mummers and anyone "given the bite" by the horse's jaws must pay a cash fine. Which is where we got the model for our IRS.

In Oaxaca, Mexico boys and girls don’t have visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads. Instead they dream of radishes.

Started in 1987, the Night of the Radishes is a festival consisting of parades, parties, and dances all to celebrate the radish. Radish aficionados and experts sculpt and paint the vegetable for the holiday season.

“I was absolutely blown away by the popularity of this festival,” blogger Becky Kirts told the BBC. “Young and old waiting in line for hours on end to look at carved radishes. By 4 p.m., the lines were literally miles long.”

In Galve, Sweden, a 45-foot high goat made of straw is erected each Christmas. And almost each year, it is trashed.

Out of the 46 times the goat has been set up in the town square, it has burned down 28 times, and torn down, run over, or thrown in the river an additional 7 times giving it a survival rate below 25%.

Yet, the tradition continues. Hard headed, those Swedes.

Christmas doesn’t end after Dec. 25 in Germany. The town of Weidenthal holds its annual Christmas Tree Throwing World Championships. The competition takes in distance throwing, height throwing and flinging of trees, with the winner decided by the overall distance.  It is unclear if the winner receives a wreath.

In parts of Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland, the last month of the year is a time, especially for naughty kids, to be frightened. It seems young men dress up as the Krampus, a devil-demon creature equipped with cow bells and rods, usually accompanied by the Nikolaus (a sort of Santa Claus) and roam the streets to scare hell out of the children as well as adults. This is called a Krampuslauf.

Leave it to those Germanic types to celebrate as only they know how.

In Greenland, so I'm told, kiviak is a gastronomical Christmas treat made from the raw flesh of an auk which has been buried under a stone in sealskin for several months until it's achieved an advanced stage of decomposition. Apparently, it smells like old blue cheese and tastes very pungent.

I could not find no other country that has adopted this tradition.

In Japan, families mark Christmas by heading out to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken store for a bucket of “Christmas Chicken.”

There are a number of theories about this seemingly odd obsession. When a group of foreigners couldn’t find turkey on Christmas day in 1979 and opted for fried chicken instead, the company saw this as a prime commercial opportunity and launched its first Christmas meal. Chicken and wine went for 2,920 yen ($10). Today the Christmas chicken dinner (which now boasts cake and champagne) goes for about 3,336 yen ($40).

The “Americaness” and simplicity of the message rather than any religious associations with the holiday is what makes it appealing, according to the Financial Times which notes Japan is well known for taking foreign products and ideas and adapting them to suit domestic taste.

So whether you like your Christmas extra crispy or plain and simple, this column wishes you a very merry one.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.