By Daniel Radosh
It has been said that journalism is the first rough draft
of history. Not so at The New York Times, where journalism is often the
first rough draft of more accurate journalism. The Times may not make
more errors than other newspapers, but its obsession with correcting those
errors is unique. That's why "Corrections," published virtually
every day on Page A2, is The Times' funniest regular columnand I'm
including Abe Rosenthal.
"Because of an editing error, an article on Wednesday about the Coast
Guard's decision to close its base on Governors Island referred incorrectly...to
Seaman Arizona Guastaferro, who expressed remorse over the shutdown. The
seaman is a woman." Some people travel to Sweden for an editing error
Other days The Times can be found casually redrawing geopolitical landscapes
with a slip of the keystroke. A map "mislabled a country west of
Hungary, between Austria and Croatia. It is Slovenia, not Slovakia."
Meanwhile, "a group of countries that view Iran as a menace,"
which included Israel, "should have been characterized as regional,
not Islamic." This is Hamas. Postpone that order for the party hats.
International affairs are The Times' forte, so you can imagine the troubles
that arise when it comes to more uncertain turf. One article "referred
incorrectly...to the source of a quotation used by President Clinton in
[a] eulogy. He was paraphrasing Leon Russell, the pop musician, not Leon
Redbone, the jazz musician, when he said 'I love you in a place that has
no space and time.'"
Another story "misidentified the movie [Jon Huntsman] cited as his
inspiration to go into plastics. It was The Graduate, not Mrs. Robinson."
And I suspect that both singer Maxene Andrews and writer Kingsley Amis
were glad they were too busy being dead to see the reversed subheadings
for their obituaries. "The reference to 'a onetime radical' applied
to the obituary of Mr. Amis; the one to a 'last role' in 'a Manhattan
revue' was for Miss Andrews's."
Sometimes three-letters makes all the difference. "An article...omitted
a word in quoting Rabbi Avi Weiss...at a demonstration outside the Al-Salaam
mosque in Jersey City. He said, 'I am not here to condemn this place and
this mosque." Perhaps one can sense hidden prejudices lurking behind
this and other slightly off-base quotations. Former legislative aide Sherry
Jeffe "said of [Pete] Wilson: 'He's been biding his time on this,
knowing all along what he was going to do when the time was ripe. It's
ripe. He's picked.' She did not say, 'He's pickled.'"
More distressingly, a review of the documentary Harlem Diary "quoted
Nikki Matos, an 18-year-old mother, incorrectly. Speaking of her worries
about her infant son, Ms. Matos says in the film, 'I gave birth to an
endangered species'--not 'a dangerous species.'"
Another correction was necessitated when the The Times' famous stuffiness
overwhelmed its commitment to objective reporting: "An essay...about
Paris, past and present, mistranslated the phrase, C'est sympa d'etre
celibataire. As used by the Eurofit Club, it means, 'It's fun to be single,'
not celibate." On the other hand, nothing can explain the misreporting
of Mary Matalin's description of Rush Limbaugh. "She said he was
'sui generis,' not, 'sweet, generous.'"
With this track record, The Times should be considered suspect as source
of practical information as well. "The lottery report in some copies
yesterday included incorrect Friday numbers..." Hope you didn't tear
up that ticket. And speaking of tickets, "The concert is not free;
admission is $12." Or if you're thinking of going to that play, the
paper "gave the date of the opening performance incorrectly. It will
be on Tuesday; it was not yesterday."
On the upside, the cost of the silver Pope medallion "will be $90,
not $1,125." If you had more trouble than usual with the crossword
puzzle, that's because the clue for 85 Down "should have read, 'Playhouses,
in Madrid,' not 'Yellowish-pink color.'" And before you toss those
birth control pills, "An article...about the Reality female condom
misstated the annual pregnancy rate among users. It is 21 to 26 percent,
not 2.8 percent." Hell, the Pope medallion is more effective.
Don't look to The Times for historical information either. A caption "incorrectly
described a picture of [John B. Connally] and President John F. Kennedy.
The car in which the two men were sitting was not the limousine in which
Kennedy was assassinated, but a smaller car they used earlier that day.
The caption also misstated Mr. Connally's location in the later motorcade.
He sat in a jump seat between the front and rear seats of the limousine,
not in its front seat." And President Kennedy's head did not go forward
and to the right.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but at The Times it's always
worth 25 on Page A2. "A painting of two fish by Robert Rauschenberg...was
reproduced sideways. The fish are horizontal, with their heads at the
left." "The Caspar David Friedrich painting Walk at Dusk was
reproduced in mirror image. The man's figure actually appears at the left."
"An article...about the sale of fake Salvador Dali artworks...missated
the given name of Miro, whose works in the same sale are said to be genuine.
It is Joan, not Ernst." If you have one signed Ernst, it may not
be genuine after all.
From the in-house ("...misstated the age of John F. Burns of The
New York Times...He is 48") to the outer-limits ("It is E=mc2,
not E=mc"), The Times version of the universe is simply different
from everyone else's, at least until the matter is caught and corrected.
Even the corrections get corrected: "The star is Joan Cusack, not
John Cusack. A correction in this space on Sunday rendered both performers'
names incorrectly." Even the excuses get corrected: "It resulted
from computer malfunctions at The Times, not problems in transmission
from The Associated Press."
It makes you wonder about the time the paper "rendered the epigraph
to E.M. Forster's novel Howards End incorrectly. It was 'Only connect,'
not 'Just connect." Perhaps The Times' epigraph should be "Only