Why You Can't Trust the Press

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Everybody makes mistakes. In journalism, a profession devoted to keeping people properly informed, those errors can be embarrassing. That's why a blog called Regret The Error keeps track of the fourth estate's follies. Freelance journalist Craig Silverman started the project in 2004 after reading the following correction from Lexington, Kent., Herald-Leader: "It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the Civil Rights Movement. We regret the omission." Silverman has been tracking media-related corrections ever since. Regret the Error's annual "best of" list went up Dec. 16 (you can find it here). Reading it is like taking a stroll through the aftermath of a particularly amusing Jay Leno "Headlines" skit.

Choice Corrections:

From the Tacoma News Tribune:
"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."

The 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 Guardian (UK):
"A reply to a question in Notes & Queries yesterday recommended purchasing lion and tiger urine from Chester Zoo to stop neighborhood cats from urinating in a vegetable patch...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...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 Sun (UK):
"Surrey police have not blamed gypsies for an attack on their force helicopter, no staff in their operations rooms were threatened by gypsies and no gypsy site was being targeted for a raid as we reported on May 14. We apologize for the mistakes and are happy to set the record straight."

The Justice (Brandeis University's school newspaper):
"The original article provided the incorrect location of New York University's new institution. It is in Abu Dhabi, not Abu Ghraib."

The Independent (UK):
"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 piggy bank': 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 organization. Jimmy Wales has pointed out that we repeated allegations which have no truth and we apologize to him for this."

But Silverman's blog is more than just a list of funny bloopers. It also recounts several egregious plagiarism cases, including one in which a Canadian newspaper fabricated an entire story about Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claiming that he pocketed a communion wafer instead of ingesting it during a church communion. "Wafergate" never happened, and the story included quotes supposedly uttered by prominent officials that were completely fabricated. Whoops. Hopefully this buys us a little leeway: the next time we screw up, just remember that others have done worse.