Ethical media are committed to correcting damaging or substantive errors in their stories – not that they like to, but it’s necessary for their credibility. One of the unhappy truths of running corrections, though, is that the correction can sometimes attract more attention than the original error.
For example, a red-faced CNN once caused a good deal of amusement by correcting what it termed a “typo” in a story about Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. One of its headlines had reported that Alan Greenspan had been hospitalized because of an “enlarged prostitute.” When the correction was brought to the attention of Mr. Greenspan’s wife, NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, she quipped: “He should be so lucky.”
CNN’s correction said that, of course, it meant “prostate.”
Newspapers seldom correct typos, which are generally benign as mistakes go, but the following church-page ad was an exception: “An Italian sinner will be served at 5:30 p.m. at the Essex Center United Methodist Church.”
A Michigan newspaper corrected an ad for Ora’s Steakhouse that listed the “Cook’s Surprise” as “Pan-Fried or Baked Children.”
And a Massachusetts newspaper correction explained: “Due to a typing error, Gov. Dukakis was incorrectly identified in the third paragraph as Mike Tyson.”
There’s no shortage of memorable – and sometimes bewildering – corrections:
* “The Star-Telegram incorrectly reported Tuesday that Jack Wallace Davis, 20 . . . was killed Sunday in an auto accident. Davis was not in an accident and is not dead.”
* “In last week’s issue of Community Life, a picture caption listed some unusual gourmet dishes that were enjoyed at a Westwood Library party for students enrolled in a tutorial program for conversational English. Mai Thai Finn is one of the students in the program and was in the center of the photo. We incorrectly listed her name as one of the items on the menu. Community Life regrets the error.”
* The Cedar Rapids Gazette amended a drug store ad:
Generic tampons are not available.
We are substituting Generic toilet paper.
We are sorry for this inconvenience.
* “A story in yesterday’s Commercial Appeal incorrectly said 11 fans were trampled to death by The Who, a British rock group, outside a concert hall in Cincinnati. . . . The 11 people died in the crush of other fans seeking to enter the building.”
* “The title of the book that was to be reviewed at Sunday’s meeting of the Unitarian fellowship was incorrectly reported on the church page of Saturday’s Eagle as How to Say No to a Baptist and Survive. The title should have been How to Say No to a Rapist and Survive.”
The following correction, from a Richard Lederer Web site, appeared in a California newsletter. It was obviously written by someone so focused on one mistake that he missed the more amusing one: “The following typo appeared in our last bulletin: ‘Lunch will be gin at 12:15 p.m.’ Please correct to read ‘12 noon.’ ”
The following two corrections, also from the Lederer site, show that sometimes the correction itself needs correcting:
* “Our newspaper carried the notice last week that Mr. Oscar Hoffnagle is a defective on the police force. This was a typographical error. Mr. Hoffnagle is, of course, a detective on the police farce.”
* “We referred to the chairman of Chrysler Corporation as Lee Iacoocoo. His real name is Lee Iacacca. The Gazette regrets the error.”
A Texas newspaper bungled the Dec. 7, 1941, date of the attack on Pearl Harbor, producing the following “correction”: “Due to a reporting error, it was incorrectly reported Saturday that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on June 7, 1941. The correct date is Dec. 1, 1941. The Texarkana Gazette regrets the error.”
Here’s another “correction” from a confused writer: “The News American incorrectly reported Wednesday that parking meter rates are higher in Baltimore than in Washington, D.C. In fact, Washington’s rates are lower.”
Finally, a correction to end all corrections, from the San Antonio News:
* The pilot “was not a former Air Force pilot, as reported, but had been in the Air Force pilot training program. . . . He wasn’t flying an aircraft owned by Beck Concrete Co. He was in a plane owned by Crow Aviation Co., where he was a student working toward a commercial pilot’s license. He was not making a mechanical check of the plane and was not trying to land. He was making a low-level pass. He was not trying to lower the landing gear. He had been flying in a two-plane formation with Harry Perez, not Joe Perez, and Perez did not circle the area until help arrived. Perez was already on the ground when the crash happened. . . . The victim was not trapped between the instrument panel and engine, but between the seat and the instrument panel.”
That correction created a little stir among an amused media. An editor, responding to the question how could such a thing happen, said simply: “That reporter didn’t know a danged thing.”