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Craig Silverman

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The Year in Media Errors and Corrections 2009

Posted: 12/16/09 09:04 AM ET

Every year at this time, I collect the best of the worst in media errors and corrections and post them on my site, Regret the Error. Here's a sample of 2009's offerings. You can read the full post here.

Correction of the Year

This year's winner is without question amusing -- not to mention embarrassing for the news organization the published it -- in that it demonstrates a certain amount of cultural/musical ignorance. But it earns Correction of the Year honors because of what happened after it was published. This Washington Post correction inspired an amusing Twitter hashtag, which saw people come together to come up with imagined corrections. It's Correction of the Year because it communicates that people notice and care about corrections, and because it demonstrates the participatory potential being unleashed by the Internet. The correction:

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

Additional background here and here.


Runner Up

British Medical Journal:

During the editing of this Review of the Week by Richard Smith, the author's term "pisshouse" was changed to "pub" in the sentence: "Then, in true British and male style, Hammond met Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, in the pub and did a deal." However, a pisshouse is apparently a gentleman's toilet, and (in the author's social circle at least) the phrase "pisshouse deal" is well known. (It alludes to the tendency of men to make deals while standing side by side and urinating.) In the more genteel confines of the BMJ Editorial Office, however, this term was unknown and a mistake was made in translating it into more standard English. We apologise for any misunderstanding this may have caused.

Other Favorites

News Tribune (Washington State):

A photo caption on Tuesday's Page A8 said a student was performing the Heimlich maneuver on a dummy. The student was actually playing around and pretending to choke the dummy.

West Australian:
Green gaffe: There's little doubt eco-warriors love a good chat as much as a tree hug, but our digitally dyslexic reporter's creation of a new organisation was a revelation for verbose greenies (Recycling record comes under fire, page 18, March 23). It is more apt, of course, to discuss recycling with the Conservation Council than with the loquacious Conversation Council.

Toronto Sun:
A headline on page one of the Toronto Sun yesterday was both inaccurate and misleading. In fact, as the story reported, the mother of a boy involved in a high school fight in Keswick said her son "said something stupid." She did not say nor imply he was stupid. The Sun regrets the error and apologizes to the boy and his family.

Denver Post:
Because of a reporter's error, Bill Husted's column on Page 3B on Sunday contained an item about a tombstone for "Elway the Drug Sniffing Dog." The tombstone was digitally fabricated for a blog and does not exist.

The Independent (U.K.):
Further to the reference in the paper on 14 June to Rebekah Wade allegedly hitting her first husband, Ross Kemp, after a "drinking bout" with David Blunkett, Mr Blunkett has been in touch to correct the record: "the alleged 'drinking bout' was a cup of tea at 5.30 in the evening (with witnesses including Rupert Murdoch)... There was no 'drinking bout', I've never been involved in such a 'drinking bout' - with or without Rebekah Wade".

Los Angeles Times:
Bear sighting: An item in the National Briefing in Sunday's Section A said a bear wandered into a grocery story in Hayward, Wis., on Friday and headed for the beer cooler. It was Thursday.

The Guardian (U.K.):
A reply to a question in Notes & Queries yesterday recommended purchasing lion and tiger urine from Chester Zoo to stop neighbourhood cats from urinating in a vegetable patch (G2, page 17). Chester Zoo would like to forestall requests for its big cats' urine: it asks us to make clear that it does not in fact sell either tiger or lion urine. Many years ago the zoo sold elephant dung, but it no longer does.

New York Times:
An article on Aug. 2 about older alumni who have been helped by university career counselors referred imprecisely to comments by a 1990 graduate of Lehigh University who lost his job in February when his company was downsized, and a correction in this space last Sunday misspelled his surname. As the article correctly noted, he is David Monson, not Munson, and he was speaking generally -- not about himself -- when he said that newly unemployed people sometimes mope around the house in sweatpants.

The Guardian (U.K.):
A comment piece about achievement and frailty in the lives of artistic greats mentioned Wagner's reminder to his favourite Vienna chambermaid to wear purple knickers next time they met. A Wagner expert points out that the pants in question were pink (To understand genius, forget the purple knickers, 19 August, page 28)

The Guardian (U.K.):
A taste test of various foods described a sample from Anila's Curry Sauces as starting well but having "a slightly dirty aftertaste". Our reviewer meant to convey that the aftertaste was odd - not to imply that food hygiene might be poor (Look, no gluten! 19 August, page 14, G2).

Error of the Year: Wafergate

This was a bad year for the Telegraph-Journal, a newspaper in New Brunswick, Canada. First, it came under fire when it dismissed a summer intern after he committed a few factual errors in a controversial story. It also had to apologize for an incident of plagiarism in an unrelated story. But the biggest problem was a front page story that included a fabricated accusation against the Canadian prime minister, as well as a fabricated quote from a prominent priest. In Canada, the ensuing national scandal came to be known as "Wafergate," and it eventually cost the paper's editor her job. The publisher was also suspended. Here's how I described the incident in a previous column:

In early July, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to New Brunswick to attend the funeral of former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc. At the funeral, the prime minister was given communion. Video footage shows him accepting a wafer from the priest, but cuts away before anyone can see him eat it. Nobody thought much of this until the Telegraph-Journal, a New Brunswick paper, published a front page article claiming that the prime minister put the wafer, which represents the body of Christ, in his pocket. Then everyone piled on the story. Eventually, the prime minister and his spokesman issued strong denials.

Almost three weeks after it set off a national controversy, the paper issued a front page apology and admitted that, "There was no credible support for these statements of fact at the time this article was published, nor is the Telegraph-Journal aware of any credible support for these statements now." So, uh, how did they end up in the paper?


Then, on September 16, the paper issued another major apology, this time to Monsignor Brian Henneberry for fabricating a quote from him in the offending report. From the apology:
... The Telegraph-Journal said prominently, on the front page, that Monsignor Brian Henneberry, a senior Saint John priest, had "demanded" that Prime Minister Stephen Harper explain what he had done with the communion wafer that he had been given. The newspaper has determined that Monsignor Henneberry said no such thing and believes that the false assertion was wholly the product of improper editorial manipulation ...

Though the paper has issued two prominent apologies, one major issue remains: the public doesn't know who or what caused the paper to fabricate this controversy. Who made the decision to insert the offending accusation and quotes? Why did they do it? Do they still work for the paper? The paper apologized for its errors, but it hasn't been transparent about what caused them. Sadly, this lack of disclosure is all too common among news organizations.


Runner Up: Hartford Courant Plagiarism
Last year, I noted a rather remarkable case of systemic plagiarism at a weekly paper in Texas. Who would've thought we'd see this same issue again in 2009? In early September, the Hartford Courant disciplined six people and admitted publicly that, "Over the last few weeks, The Courant carried several news stories in which the original news source attributions were removed and credit was given to a Courant staffer. This was plagiarism." The paper was subsequently sued.

Apology of the Year

The Sun
(U.K.):

IN a report on May 5, 2009, headlined "Riddle of Boruc, the brunette and his hair straighteners", we claimed that Artur Boruc had brought two girls to the house he shares with partner Sara Mannei and had sex with one of them. We published a picture which we said showed him straightening one of the girls' hair. We now accept the picture was in fact of Mr Boruc and his younger sister Paulina in Poland some years earlier, and that neither did Mr Boruc invite back nor have sex with either of the girls in our story. We apologise to Mr Boruc and Ms Mannei for any embarrassment caused.

Runner Up

Daily Mirror (U.K.):

OUR report ("Off their Facebook", May 30, 2008) said that Amanda Hudson's house on the Costa del Sol had been wrecked by drunken and out of control teenagers attending her daughter's 16th birthday party, who had also stolen property. We also referred to an internet posting in which it was claimed that Amanda had punched Jodie because of what happened. We now accept that these allegations were untrue and we apologise to Amanda for the distress and embarrassment caused.

Other Favorites

Daily Mirror (U.K.):

ON 17 July 2008 in our front page article "Ron the Lash" we falsely reported that whilst recovering from an operation to his ankle Cristiano Ronaldo had "gone on a bender" at a Hollywood nightclub where he splashed out pounds 10,000 on champagne and vodka and threw his crutches to the ground and tried to dance on his uninjured foot. We now accept that Cristiano did not "go on a bender", did not drink any alcohol that evening, did not spend pounds 10,000 on alcohol, nor throw his crutches to the floor or try to dance.

The Sun (U.K.):
SURREY Police have not blamed gipsies for an attack on their force helicopter, no staff in their operations rooms were threatened by gipsies and no gipsy site was being targeted for a raid as we reported on May 14. We apologise for the mistakes and are happy to set the record straight.

Sunday Express (U.K.):
On Sunday, August, 2, in our article Robin Hood And His Merry Hell In The Pub, we said that Russell Crowe had been banned from, amongst others, the Brickmakers pub in Windlesham, Surrey whilst staying in the area filming a new Robin Hood epic. We have been informed that Mr Crowe has never been to the Brickmakers pub and therefore the incident never took place. We also acknowledge that Mr Crowe has not been banned, ejected or asked to leave any pub in Windlesham, Surrey or anywhere else in the UK during the shooting of Robin Hood. We apologize to Mr Crowe for the embarrassment and stress caused directly by our error.

Daily Mail (U.K.):
An article on May 25, 2007, 'The Cult Guru Who Stole My Son' made claims that William Van Gordon was a 'brainwashed zombie' and Edo Shonin brainwashed him and that the Buddhist retreat which they ran was a cult. We accept this is untrue. We apologise to both men for the contrary impression given.

The Independent (U.K.):
In our article 'Wikiworld' (3 February 2009) we repeated several claims about Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder: that he had a company that dealt in "soft porn" and was short-lived: that he had had to defend himself against "allegations from former colleagues that he used Wikipedia as a personal piggybank": that he faced controversy over his age and "doctored his own Wikipedia entry to knock it down a couple of years: and that there had been speculation and board in-fighting about Wales's relationship with the organisation. Jimmy Wales has pointed out that we repeated allegations which have no truth and we apologise to him for this.

The Sun (U.K.):
IN my column on August 22 I suggested that Sharon Osbourne was an unemployed, drugaddled, unfit mum with a litter of feral kids. This was not intended to be taken literally. I fully accept she is none of these things and sincerely apologise to Sharon and her family for my unacceptable comments. Sorry Sharon...

Typo of the Year

The Daily Universe, a student paper at BYU, recalled and trashed 18,000 copies of an edition after discovering a typo. Notably, it was a typo that could have offended the Mormon church. The paper issued a brief apology and also published a lengthy article to explain the error. The apology:

In printed copies of Monday's Daily Universe, due to a spelling error in a photo caption, the word "apostles" was replaced with a different word. The Daily Universe apologizes to the Quorum of the Twelve and our readers for the error.

So what appeared instead of "apostles"? From an article about the error:
A spelling error appeared in a photo caption in which the word "apostle" was rendered as "apostate." In referring to activities at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last weekend, the caption read in part, "Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostates and other general authorities raise their hands in a sustaining vote. . . ." Link

Other Favorites

The Sunday Paper (Georgia):

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Buffington's special support hose as "mercury-lined." The hose are mercury-gauged, meaning that barometric mercury is used to measure the compression of the hose. They are not mercury-lined which would, of course, make them poisonous. I regret the error. -- SR

The Guardian (U.K.):
This article was amended on Tuesday 20 January 2009. In our entry on Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days, we referred to a Prairie Ho Companion; we meant a Prairie Home Companion. This has been corrected.

Reuters (note the highlighted text near the end of the article):

Best Headline Error

Daily Express (U.K.):


An explanation of the error is available here.


Runner Up



Award for Multiple Errors

An "appraisal" of Walter Cronkite published by the New York Times on July 17, after the former new anchor's death, set of an accuracy-related storm. The story, written by television critic Alessandra Stanley, resulted in two corrections, one of which was for multiple errors. Part of the reason for the outcry was Stanley's well-publicized previous problems with accuracy. The other complaint was that the errors were for easily verifiable facts. The paper's public editor weighed in on the issue, and I wrote two columns about it, along with a blog post. Here are the corrections:

An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite's career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite's coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. "The CBS Evening News" overtook "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents' reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of "The CBS Evening News" in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.

And:
An appraisal on July 18 about Walter Cronkite's career misstated the name of the ABC evening news broadcast. While the program was called "World News Tonight" when Charles Gibson became anchor in May 2006, it is now "World News With Charles Gibson," not "World News Tonight With Charles Gibson."

Of course, the Times story wasn't the only example of media inaccuracy related to Cronkite's death. Below are two other notable corrections, one from AP and the other from the Times:
In an obituary of Walter Cronkite on Page A1 July 18, The Associated Press, relying on published accounts that included Cronkite's memoir, reported erroneously that "cronkiter" was used in Sweden and the Netherlands as a term for "TV anchorman." Olof Hulten, a journalism educator in Sweden, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide's Expert Desk say the term is unknown in their countries.

And:
An obituary on July 18 about Walter Cronkite, using information from his autobiography, "A Reporter's Life," misstated the origin of the term "anchor." While Mr. Cronkite was referred to as the anchor of CBS news coverage of the 1952 presidential conventions, that was not the first time that "anchor" and "anchorman" were used. Both terms had been applied to broadcasters in other contexts before the conventions. The obituary also included an erroneous anecdote from the autobiography about the extent of his fame. He was said to be so widely known that newscasters in Sweden were once called "Cronkiters," but that term is not known to linguists in that country.

This is an excerpt of a post published at Regret the Error.

 

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