Fact-Check Central

Newspapers Admit Their Mistakes
The Guardian's Clarifications and Corrections

The Washington Post's Corrections Page

Other People Point Out Newspapers' Mistakes
smartertimes.com Correcting the New York Times.

humanspellcheck.com: Pedantic and puffily proud of it. (Practice not limited to newspapers.)

A selection from Jim Romenesko's MediaNews.

Tuesday, April 3, 2001 10:37 a.m.
Is There a Worse Place To Make a Mistake?
My old friend the Guardian Corrections and Clarifications column had a lovely fix today:

In A Lad's Night In, pages 37 to 39, Weekend, March 31, the omission of a decimal point in the recipe for tamale pie will have made the result unpalatable. There should have been 7.5g salt (ie, a pinch), not 75g, in the cornbread dough. Apologies

Monday, March 26, 2001 02:11 p.m.

From the good folks at humanspellcheck, we learn of a confessional moment in Peter Jennings' ABCNEWS.com daily mailing:

First--yes, yes, we know! And we apologize. There was quite an error in yesterday's e-mail. It was caught by staff members here--unfortunately a few minutes after the preview had been sent out. What we SHOULD have said was, "Bahia de Cochinos." Perhaps we were confident about our Spanish, after our recent trip to Mexico. Well, well. Our translation turned "Bay of Pigs" into "Bahia Del Cocinas." "Bay of Kitchens." Not even close.

Friday, March 9, 2001 03:30 p.m.
Correction of the Week, From Salon
From Salon's corrections page

In the Salon Business & Technology article "The Internet's Public Enema No. 1" it was incorrectly stated that "Soylent," founder of Rotten.com, answered charges by Scotland Yard and the FBI relating to photos posted on Soylent's Web site "somewhat feebly, by arguing that the photo is a doctored image created by a Chinese artist." The words "somewhat feebly" did not accurately reflect the details of the case or the views of the author. Salon regrets the error. [Correction made 03/05/01]

Wednesday, March 7, 2001 09:31 a.m.
Corrections Guru as Butt-Head
Jim Romenesko's fabulous Media News site offers a wonderful letter today recounting a reader's run-in with the New York Times' correction czar. Check it out:

From ALAN LOFLIN: Loved the back-and-forth between Keith O. and Bill Borders of the New York Times. ... Mr. Borders and I had a similar tete-a-tete, via phone, a couple of weeks ago over a three-part food series on the cuisine of Hawaii by writer R. W. Apple. In his series, Mr. Apple used the term "Hawaiian," as if it applied to a "resident of Hawaii." Not the case at all. "Hawaiian" is a blood race. ... When I called the Times "boo-boo line" Mr Borders called back and we discussed the issue. He maintained that, as a New Yorker, if he moved to Texas, he'd be a "Texan," and thus, if he moved to Hawaii, he'd be "Hawaiian." When I asked if he moved to Canada, would he be "Canadian," he replied in the affirmative.

When Mr. Borders challenged me on my stance about "Hawaiian", I told him I could offer proof. I called a contact at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in Kauai, and, yes, she responded, "Hawaiian is a blood race of people." When I suggested to Mr. Borders that he contact her directly, he said, "She'd only tell me the same thing she told you." So I ran it by my wife, who is of Polish/Russian descent (and attended Trinity College in Dublin, but has never called herself "Irish"). She said, "If I moved to Kenya, would I be African American?" ... Oh, never mind! I'm off to surf the web for real estate deals in Istanbul so I can become a Turkey.

Sunday, March 4, 2001 12:55 p.m.
There's Nothing New Under the Sun
Nevertheless, I was embarrassed to see that my big "Fact-Check Central" Weblog idea was very old news. SLIpUP.com has been around since 1999 and provides the Slipup of the Day and a really useful resource page of corrections sites around the Web. (Thanks to the Rebecca's Pocket news sitelet for the tipoff.)

Saturday, February 17, 2001 10:23 a.m.
What's the Name of That Country?
Poaching Humanspellcheck's territory slightly, but today's New York Times features a story headlined, "Terrorism in Equador Takes Its Toll on Families in Oregon." The first graf reads: "GOLD HILL, Ore., Feb. 16—It has been more than four months now, and Gold Hill is still waiting for some good news from Ecuador."

Wednesday, February 14, 2001 01:05 p.m.
It's Unfair, but I'll Do It Anyway
It really is a bit much to rag on an English-language magazine produced by non-native speakers, but well, call me heartless. This correction ran in the Feb. 12 issue of the Day, a Ukrainian paper.

Last issue we mistakenly identified His Excellency Kemal Harrazi as the foreign minister of Iraq. Actually, Ukraine had the honor to host IRANIAN Foreign Minister Harrazi We regret the error and hope that this will not affect the good relations the Iranian foreign minister has done so much to establish.

Sunday, February 11, 2001 09:29 p.m.
A Lovely Bit of Colemanballs
From the latest Colemanballs column in Private Eye (see the Jan. 12 entry, below):

"If you're the chairman of a football club, and cocaine abuse is going on, you have to take a line on it." GRAHAM SPIERS, Scottish TV (Andrew Maclennan)

Saturday, February 10, 2001 11:39 a.m.
Correction of the Week, From Slate
"Because of an editing error, an article on Tuesday about the court case in Chile against Gen. Augusto Pinochet misidentified the ocean into which the military apparently dumped the father of Viviana Diaz, a woman who leads a group of surviving family members. It was the Pacific, not the Atlantic."--The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2001 (Link here.)

Friday, February 9, 2001 11:28 a.m.
The New York Times' Anti-Error Campaign
According to this story in the New York Daily News, the New York Times' executive editor Joseph Lelyveld proclaimed a jihad against errors during the paper's executive retreat in September. He found it unacceptable that the paper was running 6.82 corrections a day and had misspelled Madeleine Albright's first name a whopping 49 times. Since then, the Times has set up a toll-free phone number and an e-mail address specifically for error reports, consequently the number of corrections may actually have increased. The paper's style and accuracy watchdog Allan Siegal noted, "certain types of errors (such as the misspelling of names) might have dropped, but The Times is hearing about different kinds of things from readers since publicizing its openness to comments and information about errors."

Thursday, February 8, 2001 10:50 a.m.
Bloopers A-Go-Go
Jim Romenesko's fabulous Media News Weblog collects some favorite news bloopers. Among them:

BERNIE BECK, deputy copy desk chief, San Francisco Chronicle: "My all-time favorite is from when I worked at the Los Angeles Daily News in the late 1970s. Our matronly society editor did her her own hedlines. On a column about a debutantes' event, she wrote: 'Debs to Ball Under Tent.'"

Sunday, February 4, 2001 09:52 a.m.
What Do We Mean When We Use Terms Like "Hit Back"
A clarification in yesterday's South China Morning Post tries to clear up what the paper meant when it claimed that a Falun Gong spokeswoman had "hit back" at a HK official's comments. In situations like this, it seems to me, journalists are always going to use colorful phrases--"was not terribly pleased with" isn't ever going to make it by an editor--and if the subject of such projections objects, there's always the correction/clarification. Here's the entire "clarification":

In yesterday's front-page story it was stated that the Falun Gong had "hit back" at comments made by Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee at the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce spring reception. This was not correct and we accept that Falun Gong spokeswoman Sophie Xaio made comments on possible Falun Gong lobbying at an economic conference in May without knowledge of those made at the reception. We are happy to clarify this.

Tuesday, January 30, 2001 07:40 p.m.
As History, Billy Elliot Is Bunk

This fine piece of writing in Slate looks at how the writer and director of Billy Elliot misrepresented the miners' strike of 1984-85 in order to fit the formula of "young lad from grim working-class home in Northern England escapes from those nasty circumstances so he can grow up to be a nice middle-class man." What a talented and perceptive writer!

Here's another link in case you missed the first one!

Tuesday, January 30, 2001 07:36 p.m.
Talk About a Reluctant Correction
Is it just me, or is there an element of "not that we believe them" in this correction in the Guardian:

Microsoft have asked us to say that, contrary to what we stated in Get ready for a pager on steroids, page 7, Online, January 25, Bill Gates does not possess a BlackBerry pager.

Monday, January 29, 2001 03:09 p.m.
I Can't Believe It's Taken Me So Long To Feature ...
Smartertimes.com, which "is dedicated to the proposition that New York's dominant daily has grown complacent, slow and inaccurate. Even an ordinary semi-intelligent guy in Brooklyn who reads the newspaper carefully early each morning can regularly notice errors of fact and of logic. Smartertimes.com is dedicated to assembling a community of readers to support a new newspaper that would offer an alternative to the dominant daily."

Thursday, January 25, 2001 09:42 p.m.
The Truth About Ruth (Shalit)
Not exactly a correction, but Brill's Content has an interesting story about how former New Republic plagiarist Ruth Shalit is accused of having invented quotes for a Salon column about advertising. According to the piece, although Salon "ran a lengthy correction (eight months later), all three [of the accusers] say the amended story still contains statements they never made."

Sunday, January 21, 2001 10:26 a.m.
The NYT Gives Readers Credit for Long Memories
A very curious "Editors' Note" appears in today's New York Times. Apparently, the NYT gives its readers credit for extraordinarily long memories and extraordinarily large Rolodexes.

An article in Sunday Styles on April 9 discussed the evolving fashion symbolism of blond hair. It mentioned a friend of the author who had formerly worn his hair dyed platinum to appear "extreme and, I suppose, ironic, slightly scary." Later, the article went on, the writer's friend changed his style, saying he worried about fitting a sinister German stereotype — "like my name was Diddo Ramm or something."

The author understood the name to be fictional. The Times has since learned that someone bears that name — while not fitting the description in the article. The description should not be taken as a reference to the actual Diddo Ramm.

Wednesday, January 17, 2001 10:06 p.m.
Every Time He Opens His Mouth ...
... it's an opportunity if not for fact-checking, then at least for mockery. I'm sure you know who I mean, our soon-to-be 43rd president, George W. Bush. And to celebrate the inauguration it's hard to top Bushisms from that fine Internet magazine, Slate.

Tuesday, January 16, 2001 08:29 p.m.
If There's One Error Papers Want To Avoid ...
... it's exaggerating the reports of someone's demise. Tuesday's Jerusalem Post had to admit to allowing Harry Hurwitz to read his own obituary. When the obituary of a different Harry Hurwitz appeared in Rehovot, the Post jumped to conclusions and ran a tribute to 75-year-old Harry Hurwitz, the founder and president of the Begin Heritage Memorial Center, who is still very much alive. Hurvitz, the Post maintains, was "pleased to hear that premature obituaries are considered a sign of long life.

Monday, January 15, 2001 11:29 a.m.
The Guardian Counts Its Mistakes

The Guardian's "readers' editor" (I guess that's Brit for ombudsman, or maybe ombudsman is Swedish for readers' editor) takes a look at the previous year's trail of errors, and vows to do better. There were 1,500 entries in the corrections column in the last 13 months or so, though the compilers of the list didn't try to differentiate between serious mistakes and less consequential (trivial) errors.

And how about this quotation from Dr. Johnson about a nitpicky friend:

A superstitious Regard to the Correction of his Sheets was one of Mr Savage's Peculiarities; he often altered, revised, recurred to his first Reading or Punctuation, and again adopted the Alteration; he was dubious and irresolute without End, as on a Question of the last Importance, and at last was seldom satisfied; the Intrusion or Omission of a Comma was sufficient to discompose him, and he would lament an Error of a single Letter as a heavy Calamity.

Friday, January 12, 2001 09:20 a.m.

Colemanballs, the long-running Private Eye column is far from a corrections page. It's a collection of dumb things TV (or occasionally radio) commentators say during live broadcasts. Because of the ripe pickings, sports are the most fruitful source of Colemanballs. (The name comes from David Coleman, a longtime British soccer/sports commentator, who was particularly prone to verbal howlers.)

A couple of examples from the current column:

"...allegations of throwing at the women's world cup cricket in Christchurch. One of the Kiwi girls [sic] has been fingered by officials. More after the break..." SPORTS PRESENTER, New Zealand (Dave Smith)

"Six and a half million people have visited the Dome and six and half left happy or happier." P-Y GERBEAU, Radio 4 (Andy Lee)

Tuesday, January 9, 2001 02:13 p.m.
A Good Way of Indicating Corrections Online

The Washington Post has a very effective way of indicating corrections online. When you go to a corrected story, for example, a piece from yesterday's paper about Linda Chavez's lying problem, right at the top of the screen in a little box with some red type is a very clear explanation of what was wrong and how it was wrong.

Here's the correction:

A Jan. 8 article incorrectly reported that Kimba Wood had hired an illegal immigrant and failed to pay taxes on wages. In fact, Wood paid Social Security taxes and did not break any immigration law, but the woman she had hired was not a legally documented immigrant.

Monday, January 8, 2001 11:40 a.m.
I know what a correction is
but what exactly is an "editing lapse"? From today's New York Times:

An obituary on Nov. 9 about Rosalind Baker Wilson, a writer and daughter of the critic Edmund Wilson, misstated her age. She was 77, not 79. This correction was delayed by an editing lapse.

Saturday, January 6, 2001 08:48 p.m.
Dulce et Decorum Est

Britain's Guardian has for years been known as the Grauniad to readers of the satirical magazine Private Eye, thanks to the newspaper's remarkable propensity for typos. The Guardian has an extremely good Web site these days, and the daily "Corrections and Clarifications" page is a must-check.

They don't take themselves too seriously. In fact, they manage a lovely self-mocking tone--with a didactic twist. Today's column, for example, a pretty slow day by Guardian standards, includes the following:

Bad grammar department, a headline from page 4, G2, January 4: "Didn't you used to be someone else?" The readers' editor writes about ageism, page 7, today's Saturday Review.

So, if you didn't know what was wrong with that headline, you'd be off to the grammar book looking up past participles. Just like the sub-editors at the Guardian!

Friday, January 5, 2001 11:29 a.m.
My Favorite Correction of 2000

Britain's Sunday Mirror published the following correction July 30, 2000:

Following an article published on May 28 entitled "Mrs Baggy Manilow: 34 years on ... Meet The Girl Barry Manilow Married Before His Pop Career Took Off" Susan Deixler has advised us that she does not scrape a living from a clapboard home, she does not shop for junk food in budget stores, her garden is not overgrown and there are no cobwebs or dirty dishes in her home. She also says that the years have not taken a heavy toll, she is not fighting a losing battle against middle-aged spread and her life is not "humdrum."

Thursday, January 4, 2001 10:00 p.m.

Recently, I've been searching for a theme for a new Weblog--without much success. In the past I've produced an online journal (You Say Tomato; no link because I didn’t back up the files when I changed ISPs) and a brief and not-much-updated Olympics-themed blog (I was too busy watching television to write much), but I wanted to start over with something fresh.

The other day, by a wild coincidence of insomnia, my usual late-night listening being off the air, and kismet, I heard the Public Radio International show The Connection on the subject of Weblogs. During the show, a caller berated (completely unfairly, I thought, but that's the nature of call-ins, I guess) Rebecca of Rebecca's Pocket about factual inaccuracies. She pointed out that blogs were almost always personal projects produced without the assistance of crack teams of fact-checkers.

As part of my job, I read hundreds of papers from around the world every week. Most of them provide amusement and edification by correcting previous mistatements, or making new ones. "Eureka," I thought, I can be the proprietor of the fuck-up zone. I don't actually propose to fact-check the world's press, but I hope to provide links to some good corrections and perhaps to point out an error from time to time.



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Thanks to Anita's List of Links for formatting "influence."