Most good journalists try to get things right and abhor corrections, clarifications and the like, particularly for what is considered a "stupid mistake."
Every year journalist and author Craig Silverman compiles a very humorous list of the best corrections from media around the world at RegretTheError.com. I received a lot of positive response for sharing the "best" blunders of 2007 and thought you would enjoy a few fabulous flubs from 2008.
Leave it to Dave Barry to earn the coveted (coveted?) "Correction of the Year" award to correct a misspelling he made in a column published by the Miami Herald. Barry's correction: "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."
Regardless of how reporters and editors pour over text on a piece that is filled with potential error landmines, such as a crime story or feature with a controversial topic, it never fails that they will slip up on what is seen as a "benign" story. For example, here's a correction from The Guardian "across the pond":
"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."
With thousands of words going from fingertips to press plates in the matter of hours, there are thousands of possibilities for typos. Nonetheless, The Valley News, a newspaper distributed in Vermont and New Hampshire, committed what many journalists and editors would agree is just about the most embarrassing typo possible. Here's the correction:
"Readers may have noticed that the Valley News misspelled its own name on yesterday's front page. Given that we routinely call on other institutions to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes, let us say for the record: We sure feel silly."
And then of course there's a typo that, while not quite as embarrassing as misspelling the name of the publication, makes editors want to crawl in a hole. For example, in an Associated Press story about presidential candidate John McCain considering Sen. Joe Lieberman as a running mate, Lieberman was referred to as "the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent." That unfortunate typo made it onto several websites before it was caught.
Sometimes a stupid mistake can make you feel like you'll die from embarrassment, or that you want to die, but an error in a recipe published by Reuters could actually kill someone.
According to Silverman, "Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson apologized after accidentally recommending a potentially deadly plant in organic salads. The chef and TV presenter said in a magazine article that the weed henbane, also known as stinking nightshade, made an excellent addition to summertime meals... Henbane, or Hyoscyamus niger, is toxic and can cause hallucinations, convulsions, vomiting and in extreme cases death. The chef had intended to refer to fat hen, a weed rich in vitamin C, that is edible, media reports said..."
But then there are times when staffers bring shame and embarrassment upon themselves. I have to admit some of the best practical jokes I've ever seen have been pulled off in the time between when the stories are in and the paper goes to bed because there's a lot of downtime.
However, this joke made it into print and cost an editor at the North County Times in California his job. An Associated Press story reported that a Los Angeles Councilman "held a kitten at a City Hall news conference." The editor and another prankster tinkered with the story and changed the word "held" to "strangled."
And then there are the technology-induced errors, such as the one that earned "Best Headline Error" for The American Family Association's OneNewsNow website. The association uses the "homosexual" instead of "gay" and set up a filter to automatically make the change in text. This worked against them when a sprinter named Tyson Gay made news at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and Gay became Tyson Homosexual when the site's filter ran through the Associated Press story.
Far be it from me to mock these publications for honest mistakes. I've made a few of my own...and I'm fortunate none of my own practical jokes ended up in print. (I've since repented of my evil ways, because it's just too darn easy for it to show up.) However, I do appreciate the good-natured way some journalists handle their corrections. Take, for example, a correction from the 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."
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.