The Year in Media Errors and Corrections 2008

As opposed to other years, the headline for 2008 is that three news organizations knowingly and willfully fabricated, plagiarized or otherwise abdicated their ethics on a regular basis.
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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 2008's offerings. You can read the full post here.

Trend of the Year: Epic Organizational Failure
It's rare to look back over a year of corrections and errors and see so many examples of organizational failure. Years past have seen plenty of malfeasance by individuals, but 2008 is remarkable for news organizations that pursued completely outrageous behavior.

In Japan, the Mainichi Daily News, the English website of Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, had to be relaunched thanks to its repeated publishing of false, titillating stories. In England, the Express Newspapers chain published a series of major front page apologies to repent for its wildly inaccurate and damaging reports about a British family. In the United States, the Bulletin, a weekly in Montgomery County, Texas, was revealed to be perhaps the first newspaper to pursue plagiarism as a standard operating procedure.

As opposed to other years when a story (think Sago Mine disaster) dominated accuracy news, the headline for 2008 is that three news organizations knowingly and willfully fabricated, plagiarized or otherwise abdicated their ethics on a regular basis.

For their amazing feats of organizational failure, Mainichi Daily News, Express Newspapers and the Bulletin are each presented with a Regret the Error Award of Demerit. These three organizations join the only previous recipient, The Sun (UK) tabloid, which received the dishonor in 2006 for its repeated scandalous errors, remarkable apologies, and nasty pseudo-apologies. Congrats all around.

Other Trends of Note
Rick Reilly: Cat Nip To Plagiarists
Sports writer Rick Reilly deserves credit for having produced work of such brilliance that two different sports writers plagiarized his work in a period of less than two months. No wonder ESPN paid millions to hire him away from Sports Illustrated. One of the thieves, Dave Pratt, also offered up what has to be the accuracy quote of the year after he was asked by the CBC about his theft: "It was a Saturday and I wanted to get out of [the office] before noon." Bravo.

David Gest Does Not Have Herpes
Four different newspapers published apologies this year because they had reported - inaccurately! - that David Gest has herpes. Specifically, they reported that Gest alleged that he had contracted herpes from Liza Minnelli on their wedding night. The offenders were The Independent (UK), Daily Mail (UK), Times (UK) and the Baltimore Sun. (Perhaps I missed a few others.) Read all four apologies here, and here's one from the Daily Mail:

In articles published on 23 and 26 May 2008, we gave the impression that Mr 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.

We apologise to Mr Gest for any embarrassment caused.

Obama, Again
It's a rule that the more someone is in the news, the more they'll be the victim of media error. Obama errors were one of 2007's Trends of the Year. They deserve mention again. Included below in this year's Crunks is a Treasury of Obama Corrections from 2008. The next four years are going to be interesting...

New Award: The Ian Mayes Award for Writing Wrongs

Last year, Ian Mayes, one of the great correction writers of all time, stepped down as the readers' editor of the Guardian. His corrections were sublime: to the point, witty, and self-effacing. (You can read the Regret the Error tribute to him at the end of last year's Crunks, or buy his book of Guardian corrections.) With his blessing, I have created an award in his honor, the Ian Mayes Award for Writing Wrongs.

It will be awarded to the publication or person that demonstrates wit and wisdom in the writing of corrections. Mayes has agreed with my suggestion for the first recipient of the award. He is David Hummerston, the Saturday editor/editorial counsellor and readers' editor of the West Australian. Yes, the man wears many hats.

In addition to everlasting fame, Hummerston will receive a signed copy of Ian Mayes' book, Journalism Right and Wrong: Ethical and other issues raised by readers in the Guardian's Open Door Column. Here's a sample of Hummerston's work from 2008:

Old Sparky: 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."

Bad conduct: Charles Mackerras was not born in Australia (Emma hits heights, Today, page 6, December 1). The eminent orchestra conductor was born to Australian parents in 1925 in musical-sounding Schenectady, New York. Apropos of nothing, Schenectady was where, in 1886, the Machine Works company was set up by Thomas Edison, who also knew a thing or two about conductors.

E=mc3+1: As mathematicians, journalists make fine geishas. One of the paper's most perspicacious readers has again successfully challenged our careless checking of figures in reports received from overseas and interstate. In one report we had an Olympic swimming pool holding a meagre 1000 megalitres - a waist-high depth that would becalm Eamon Sullivan ('Angel', 4, drowns as plastic dam wall fails, page 17, November 25). And in another report we had 40,000 US "gleaners" filling 80,000 4-6kg sacks with 250kg of vegetables - a minuscule 6g per person (Hard times bite in America, World page 28, November 26). We still don't know what we meant.

Hip hip, Horatio: Legendary British Admiral Horatio Nelson would have turned 250 today. We published a fascinating but mathematically muddled report from London about an auction today, wrongly stating it would mark the 250th anniversary of his death (Ring and box highlights of Nelson anniversary sale, page 36, September 25). If this was true, he would have died 47 years before the Battle of Trafalgar, where he was struck by a French sniper's bullet and died on the first day of combat on October 21, 1805. Like Nelson, we had only one eye on the job.

Birdbrains: We swiftly swallowed the information supplied to us which described a photo of a bird in flight as a Rottnest Island Sparrow (The science of fine photography, page 19, August 16). As any eagle-eyed ornithologist would attest it was, of course, the much less rare Welcome Sparrow.

Deep depression: Our economics editor has officially gone from recession to depression. By mangling the names of two of history's most highly decorated economists, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, we not only created an economy of truth but blamed poor Milton Keynes for having "crazy" ideas (We can all learn from Depression, Opinion, page 21, September 29). Milton Keynes is an English town famous not only for its grid system of roads and its herd of concrete cows but because in 1998 it was deemed so boring that even chartered accountants refused to move there. The "crazy" ideas comment was intended for John Maynard Keynes, who was voted one of Time Magazine's most important people of the 20th century - and who was not boring.


Correction of the Year
One of the year's most coveted awards goes to none other than Dave Barry. Here's how the famous humor writer chose to correct a misspelling he made in a column published by the Miami Herald:

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.

Other Favorites

In the June 20 "Culturebox," Jonah Weiner stated that Lil Wayne was the first hip-hop artist to fantasize about eating his competition. Other rappers have contemplated consuming their rivals.

The Age:

AN ARTICLE in last week's Sunday Age, "Born to be, um, mild -- and possibly damp", contained views about biker groups that were inserted in the editing process.
As well, the survey of motorcyclists who rode for about three hours every weekend found that many had problems emptying their bladders.
The story stated that bike riders could be "bedwetters". The error was made during editing.

Washington Times:

Friday's Pruden on Politics column quoted a spokesman for the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv saying the newspaper had been encouraged by the Barack Obama campaign to publish a written prayer left by Mr. Obama in Jerusalem's Wailing Wall and retrieved by an onlooker. A second Ma'ariv spokesman and the Obama campaign dispute the first Ma'ariv spokesman's account, and the newspaper refuses to comment further. The column also said the Obama campaign posted a video about the candidate's visit to Jerusalem on the Internet site YouTube. The video appears to have been posted by an independent blogger who inserted a counterfeit "Paid for by Obama for America" sign-off.

New York Times:

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."

The Guardian:

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 (Questioning, the Jack Bauer way, page 1, April 19).

Press and Journal (UK):

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.

The Guardian:

Gore Vidal was once head-butted by Norman Mailer, not the other way round. Vidal described the altercation as "marshmallow to marshmallow" when asked about it at the Hay festival 2008 (Diary, page 9, G2, May 27).

National Post (Canada):

There is no documented evidence to suggest dance poles sold at Condom Shack cannot bear the weight of a user. An unsubstantiated claim appeared in a Post Homes feature on Saturday.

Obama Errors '08: A Treasury
Quite the predictive lede on this Reuters story:

Rocky Mountain News

One of the items on this list has been removed because it mistakenly repeated a report that Barack Obama holds dual United States-Kenyan citizenship. This erroneous information was never reported in the Rocky Mountain News print edition.

New York Post:

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. Bread and water would be too good for such disinformation.

(Here's my Columbia Journalism Review online column about this correction.)


An item in the Periscope section of the Jan. 21 issue mischaracterized New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's use of the phrase "shuck and jive" as a direct reference to the political style of Sen. Barack Obama. In fact, Cuomo, a Hillary Clinton supporter, was speaking in broad terms about how candidates interact with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to a review of the transcript by the New York Times.

New York Times:

In describing an encounter between Barack Obama and a schoolboy in Zanesville, Ohio, Maureen Dowd's column on Wednesday used a campaign pool report. The report said that Mr. Obama had declined to bump fists with the boy. The campaign now says that the boy was trying to get Mr. Obama to autograph his hand, but the candidate declined, citing the possible reaction of the boy's mother.

The Guardian:

The toxic Texan's foreign policy doctrine will endure, page 26, June 20, was referring to, not endorsing, the position taken by others when it used the term "apostate Muslim" in relation to Barack Obama. Obama has never been a Muslim.

Kansas City Star:

The Buzz on Saturday incorrectly described when a Dallas crowd applauded Barack Obama. It was when he blew his nose.

As I noted above, you can go here to read the rest.

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