Correctile dysfunction, fake nudes
Updated: May 26
Former Montreal Gazette colleague Jim Withers encapsulated it in his sparkling essay in Fish Wrapped: True Confessions from Newsrooms Past, David Sherman’s 2020 compilation of war stories by 30 or so mostly retired, mostly Canadian newspaper types.
“In the days when newspapers really mattered,” Jim remembered in the piece titled Funny headline goes here, “it took a gaffe to laugh (somebody else’s); it took a typo to cry (your own).”
I can still hear the chortling on the Montreal Gazette news desk the day after the editor in charge of seeing off the previous night’s final edition had “fixed” a story and headline about Catholics calling for the beatification of Queen Isabella I of Castile. Apparently not well-versed in Catholicism, he replaced “beatified” with “beautified.”
As Jim noted, it was standard practice — though not particularly effective — to try to raise newsroom morale after such screwups with reassuring nostrums such as “Look, no one died” or “Don’t feel bad, tomorrow it’ll be lining a birdcage.”
Hogwash! Deep down, we all knew the birdcage lining and fish wrap markets were mired in a decades-old inventory glut. Whoever wrote that banner DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune was buried long ago but lives in infamy.
And whatever else he/she/they accomplishes in his/her/their career, the New Zealand editor who wrote the following caption and ran it next to a photo of Stan Lee in the Gisborne Herald when the Marvel legend passed away in 2018 will be haunted by this epic blunder forever: ‘Characters first, superheroes next’: Spike Lee dies at 95.
The BlacKkKlansman director quickly took to Instagram to announce: “God Bless Stan Lee. Me? Not Yet. And Dat’s Da “I’m Still A Live, And Strivin’ ” Truth, Ruth. YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF.”
My own all-time worst plate appearance unfolded early one morning on the front page of The Gazette, when I unaccountably managed to paste a paragraph from a story about an Expos game into the middle of a news story about inside politics, not baseball. It was the sort of boneheaded blooper that newspaper corrections typically refer to as a “production error,” a meaningless, one-size-fits-all explanation that, in truth, doesn’t explain anything at all.
Simple typos and spelling mistakes — which a reader might reasonably but wrongly have inferred were at play in the beatified-beautified botch — don’t usually warrant corrections, but there are exceptions.
When it comes to spelling mistakes, context is everything, as The Washington Post perspicuously demonstrated with this one:
A May 31 Metro article about the Scripps National Spelling Bee misspelled last year’s winning word. The correct spelling is serrefine.
To its credit, New Hampshire’s Valley News embraced the mockery with this one:
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.
During my time at The Gazette, a reporter misspelled the name of the winner of the local spelling bee. Silly doesn’t even begin to cover how we felt.
When I worked for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix (shortly after leaving the Pony Express and before embarking on an unsuccessful internship as a Morse code-challenged operator at the Electric Telegraph Company in 1846), publisher Ed Sebestyen demanded and received a correction after an ink-stained wretch who shall remain nameless misspelled the boss’s surname (the “Ed” part he got right).
Most publishers I have known would have let the matter go with either a tantrum or a laugh, for fear of bringing further ridicule upon the product. But in this case, internecine office politics could have been a factor. (I figured Sebestyen was sore after having been described in a caption shortly before as standing next to a “rear-round” pavilion on the exhibition grounds. In fairness, he did appear to be leering.)
After a bad run of corrections one month, I joked in a column I wrote for the Star Phoenix that the management was thinking of running a picture of the entire staff under the paper’s standard correction label: “Our Mistake.”
Sebestyen was the only one who found that funny.
I fondly recall The Gazette’s Alan Hustak, a fine reporter and biographer but a terrible speller, getting his own name wrong in a byline. Don’t think he even noticed.
My favourite example of a blown name, though, is from the small city of Ontario, Oregon, south of where I now live:
A story that appeared in Saturday’s Observer contained an incorrect spelling of a name. Pastor Dick Bigelow was incorrectly identified as Dick Bigblow. The Argus Observer regrets the error.
But not half as much as Mrs. Dick Bigblow, who is rumoured to play the organ.
Typos are inevitable, of course. Copy editors are a dying breed and spell-checking systems are useless if you accidentally hit on a meaningful word. So when a reporter at Maine’s Morning Sentinel hit the “g” key while reaching for an “m” … well, newspaper taxis appeared on the shore, waiting to take us away:
Due to a typing error, Saturday’s story on local artist Jon Henninger mistakenly reported that Henninger’s band mate Eric Lyday was on drugs. The story should have read that Lyday was on drums. The Sentinel regrets the error.
Again, in fairness, both statements could have been true. Britain’s Morning Star once struck a similarly dissonant note:
In yesterday’s paper in Chris Searle’s jazz albums column, we incorrectly referred to Don Rendell as a “terrorist” when it clearly should have been “tenorist.” We apologise for any offence.
Terrorist. Tenorist. The description might vary according to musical tastes.
In any case, you will have noticed that because of massive downsizing of media staffs, typos are far more common in print than they used to be.
But we certainly had our moments in the good old days. An alert Star Phoenix reader once sent me a clipping of an article about “soft drinks in bottles,” a story that used the phrase repeatedly and twice omitted the “r” in the second quoted word. Now that’s a production error.
Punctuation problems can also get you into all kinds of trouble:
Due to a production error, a quote attributed to Lieutenant Colonel Ghulam Jelani Shafiq in a report in the Weekend Australian on Saturday (“Afghanistan battles scourge of corruption,” page 16) was altered to change its meaning. Colonel Jelani did not say: “It’s not like 25 years ago. I was killing everybody.” In fact, he said: “It’s not like 25 years ago I was killing everybody. At that time too we tried not to have civilian casualties.” The Australian apologizes for the error.
Unless you’re living in red-state America, sometimes it’s good to miss a period.
I’d never heard of a transcription error before — presumably some minion charged with transcribing a taped interview took the fall in this one from US Weekly — but it definitely qualifies as a bona fide production boner:
Due to an error in transcription, Danielle Brisebois was misrepresented in US (“Where Are They Now? US 60). Discussing the demands of the acting profession, Brisebois was misquoted as saying, “You have to know how to run, you have to be in shape, you have to know how to do sex acts.” She actually said, “You have to know how to do circus acts.” US regrets the error.
But not half as much as Mr. Brisebois, rumoured to have originated the expression: “Come one, come all to the Big Top!”
Which reminds me of the time the Star Phoenix ran a front-page index placeholder reading: “Now is the time for all good men to come.”
But I digress.
For my money, the most memorable newspaper howlers involve egregious misstatements of fact. For example, this one ran in The Gazette on March 13, 1999, the day after the publication of an otherwise stellar obituary for the physician alternately revered and detested as the father of Quebec’s seminal language law known as Bill 101:
Yesterday’s report on the death of Camille Laurin said, incorrectly, that Laurin chose to dye his hair with shoe polish. The intent was to say that Laurin’s hair was dyed shoe-polish black.
Laurin’s family was not amused. The reporter and editors involved were traumatized. Everyone else could best be described as ... festive.
Obituary screwups inhabit the sweet spot between horror and hilarity. Had to like this one in The Boston Globe:
Because of a reporting error, Dr. Dygert Richardson III, former teacher at Lawrence Academy in Groton, was described in his obituary yesterday as favoring tacky pants with tweed jackets and Oxford shirts. Dr. Richardson favored khaki pants.
Whatever … but I’m 99.5% positive that we all had at least one tacky pant-favouring math teacher in high school who also sported jet black, KIWI Parade Gloss higher-wax-paste-formula hair.
A New York Times article celebrating the recently departed Bard of the Boudoir suddenly veered off into a decidedly queer direction:
An Op-Ed article on Monday about the death of Leonard Cohen rendered Mr. Cohen’s Hebrew name incorrectly. It is Eliezer ben Nisan ha’Cohen, not Eliezer ben Natan ha’Cohen. It also misstated the title of a Cohen song. It is “I’m Your Man,” not “I’m in Your Man.”
(You might have missed it, but “I’m in Your Man” was the neglected single from Cohen’s confusing and unheralded 1977 album Death of a Man’s Man, released to largely negative reviews except in Sweden, where it briefly peaked.)
Misheard words — tacky for khaki, for example — are the starting point for a majestic subset of corrections like this one from The New York Times:
An article last Sunday about the documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, who has a new film on the boy band One Direction, misstated the subject of his 2012 movie, ‘Mansome.’ It is about male grooming, not Charles Manson. The article also misspelled the name of the production company of Simon Cowell, on whose ‘X Factor’ talent competition show One Direction was created. The company is Syco, not Psycho.
Sometimes, as in this classic from Australia’s Morning Bulletin, just picturing a simple misunderstanding is worth a sows-and-words :
Baralaba Piggery owner, Sid Everingham, was quoted as saying 30,000 pigs were floating down the Dawson River, when he actually said that “30 sows and pigs” were floating down the river. The Morning Bulletin would like to apologize for this error.
The corrections that make the least amount of sense — corrections of corrections featuring abject, grovelling apologies — almost inevitably arise out of threatened libel suits. They tend to be written with ponderous wording suggested by lawyers, who spend years in law school learning how to say virtually nothing as unclearly as possible. Check this one out:
The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our original regrets were unacceptable and apologize to Mr. Steyn.
Having to say you’re sorry for saying sorry, especially to a reactionary COVID skeptic and Rush Limbaugh protégé like Mark Steyn, has to be the very definition of meta-sorrowfulness.
It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally one comes across an apology for an ad. This one from 20 years ago — no one seems to know which paper it appeared in, but the clippings of the texts that ran next to a photo of a very pleased middle-age man appear authentic — always makes me happy:
Ad one: CONGRATULATIONS! George Brownridge for pleasing 15 women for an entire day! We were all exhausted and very satisfied and we look forward to next year … We all thank you!
Ad two: OUR SINCERE APOLOGY to George Brownridge & Staff. Our intentions were to thank him for a generous holiday shopping trip which he arranged. The annual tradition is much appreciated. Any inappropriate innuendoes were unintentional and we take full responsibility for the ad that appeared in yesterday’s papers.
Another whimsical category of corrections comprises those that underscore precisely what the complainant objected to seeing in print in the first place. For example:
An article on Monday about a lawsuit filed against the Internet Movie Database by the actress Junie Hoang for disclosing her age in an online profile misstated her age. She is 40, not 41.
Ingénue audition offers must have poured in by the score after that one.
Meanwhile, if the woman called the “Songbird Supreme” by the good folks at Guinness World Records was hoping to enhance her appeal to younger fans or increase her chances of being considered a grownup, this New York Times clarification must have landed in her stocking like a lump of coal:
A Critic’s Notebook article on Wednesday about Mariah Carey misstated how long ago her song “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was released. It was 21 years ago, not 19. The article also misstated the name of Ms. Carey’s spoiled brat alter ego. She is Bianca — not Mimi, who is her good alter ego.
Similarly, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ill-considered claim to Native American ancestry didn’t get a big boost from The Boston Globe’s inability to do simple division:
Due to a math error, a story about Elizabeth Warren misstated the ancestry percentage of a potential 6th to 10th generation relative. The generational range based on the ancestor that the report identified suggests she’s between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American.
The wronged party in the following example had little choice but to demand a correction after the train had left the station, but still, her neighbours must have been yukking it up down at Petticoat Junction:
Due to incorrect information received from the Clerk of Courts Office, Diane K. Merchant, 38, [whose address I’ll omit here because this poor woman has suffered enough] was incorrectly listed as being fined for prostitution in Wednesday’s paper. The charge should have been failure to stop at a railroad crossing. The Public Opinion apologizes for the error.
Sometimes it’s tricky to give a precise job description for the person you’re writing about without asking probing questions. Still, Vogue got condé nasty with this one:
Editor’s Note: In the September profile of Chelsea Clinton, “Waiting in the Wings,” by Jonathan Van Meter, Dan Baer was mistakenly identified as an interior designer. He is deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.
Oh, and it also turns out that Al Gore wasn’t at the White House just to clean the gutters and empty the wastepaper baskets.
The “Second Hand” column in The New Yorker raised the stakes with this one:
CORRECTION: Last week’s column mistakenly misidentified a source. The European Commission president is Romano Prodi, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Second Hand regrets the error.
But not half as much as vampire villains Spike and Dru; Signora Prodi hadn’t returned our calls by press time.
We now return you to the White House for this update from The Lexington Dispatch:
Boyd Thomas’ letter Saturday contained an error in the headline. He does not believe President Obama is the Antichrist, who will come after the seven kings, according to Revelation. He thinks Obama could be the seventh king.
So that would make Donald Trump … let’s see if my math on this is better than The Boston Globe’s.
Math, of course, isn’t the forte of word people, particularly when writing about word people who were sticklers for style and accuracy. The New Yorker again:
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker. It was five decades, not centuries.
He did seem to linger in those tacky pants for an awfully long time, though.
Back to the White House for two breathless updates from The New York Times:
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article identified Ivanka Trump as President Trump’s wife. His wife is Melania. Ivanka is one of her [step]daughters.
But still. A fellow can dream.
An earlier version of this article misstated whom Vice President Joseph R. Biden kissed on Tuesday. It was Senator Charles E. Grassley’s wife, not Mr. Grassley’s mother.
The senator is a decade older than Biden, so even though this mistake occurred during the Obama presidency, we’re guessing the younger Mrs. Grassley wasn’t a big believer in Oil of Olay.
Photo caption blunders, much to everyone’s joy, are endlessly creative.
In the essay that kicked off this whole chain of shambles, slip-ups and stumbles, my friend Jim included a photo of former Parti Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard and his late wife, Audrey Best, that ran in the English-language South China Morning Post in 1995.
The headline above the photo read: “Cheerful, charming odd-jobman West driven by sex and sadism.” Turned out the paper had mistaken Bouchard and Best for British mass murderers Fred and Rosemary West.
The West is the Best. The West is the Best. Get here and we’ll do the rest …
A decade later, Us did the Morning Post one better:
In our feature “Why She Left Him” (March 21, 2005), the woman identified in a photograph as former adult-film star Ginger Lynn Allen is neither Ms. Allen nor an adult-film actress. Us regrets the error.
But not as much as former Ginger Lynn Allen squires Charlie Sheen and George Clooney (you could look it up).
Usually written by grizzled news desk veterans, corrections about sports cutline snafus, I have noticed, tend to get pedantically snarky. As in this dressing-down that appeared in The Guardian:
In a photo caption with a Test match report from Galle in Sri Lanka — “Swann emerges from shadows to give England hope after latest collapse” — 28 March, page 47 — Jonathan Trott was described as lying “prostate” after colliding with the Sri Lankan wicket-keeper. But “prostrate”, too, would have been wrong — as this column occasionally has reason to note — because Trott was lying face up (supine), not face down (prostrate).
Something to ponder during your next yoga workout: Would an enlarged prostrate involve arching your back while stretched out on the floor before the king?
For years, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and such traditional and online publications as the Columbia Journalism Review, HuffPost (what’s left of it) and BuzzFeed (ditto) have been helpfully collecting lists of hysterical newspaper and magazine corrections.
What follows is a list of greatest twits. It’s not like I’m picking on the Ottawa Citizen, but the next one is kind of a world beater:
The Earth orbits the Sun, not the moon. Incorrect information appeared in a story on Page A1 in Wednesday’s Citizen.
Interested readers can find heliocentric updates in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, published just before the death of Copernicus in 1543. (The Citizen was presumably working from an older papyrus scroll or possibly a clay tablet.)
Here’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigmatic blunder from The Arizona Republic:
The Jumble puzzle, which appeared on page D1 of Thursday’s edition, actually was the puzzle scheduled to appear today. The Jumble originally scheduled to appear Thursday as well as the answers to Wednesday’s puzzle are on page E1 today. The answers to the puzzle published today appeared Thursday, and the answers to the puzzle published Thursday will appear Saturday.
A whole new puzzle to solve! And it’s not so enigmatic if you’ve ever toiled in a newspaper lifestyles section. All those crossword pages look alike when you’re downloading them from a service provider. Make a slight miscalculation on Tuesday re. what is slated to appear Thursday, and you’ll suddenly find yourself spiralling into what Daniel Webster would have described as a “fearful concatenation of circumstances.”
Timing is everything. And not just in the puzzle section. This is from the online magazine Slate, which — unlike so-called legacy media — is free to operate outside the “family values” constraints imposed by blue stocking societies and book-banning soccer moms:
In an April 30 “TV Club,” Julia Turner misstated when Sally Draper ate the fish in Mad Men. It was before she saw the blow job.
Ah. That casts the fish eating in an entirely different light. (Shut the door. Have a seat.)
As if there aren’t enough pitfalls in the real world, TV shows and movies open up whole new minefields to step into and tripwires to trip. The first of these is from London’s Daily Express, the latter two courtesy of The New York Times:
On page 27 of the Express’ May 6 issue, we conflated the superheroes. The Atom’s alter ego is Dr. Ray Palmer, not Dr. Hank Pym. Ant-Man, whose alter ego IS Dr. Hank Pym, can talk to ants; The Atom cannot.
A television review on Tuesday about “The Muppets” on ABC, misidentified a material used to make Kermit. It is fleece, not felt.
An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.
Try visualizing Twilight Sparkle talking to fleecy ants if you’re still with me. Maybe we can bring in Mimi and Bianca for a quick consult. It’ll help get us through this.
Song lyrics and musical celebs offer no respite:
A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living [in The Washington Post] incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.
Operator, let’s forget about this call. You can keep the dime.
Then there was the time someone at The New York Times made the obvious assumption that Snoop Dogg is rapper Bow Wow’s uncle. Has to be, right? The terseness makes this one all the more biting:
An earlier version of this column misstated Bow Wow’s relationship to Snoop Dogg.
Fo shizzle my nizzle.
Where was I? Oh yes. Ditto for novels:
An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook [of The New York Times] last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in “The Hobbit”; Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshielf in the book. (Bilbo Baggins’s sword was called Sting.)
I dig the some editions qualification here. Some nerd on the desk actually knew the Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver origin story and replated the page to make the fix. Good catch, Gollum!
This is where Brazilian news magazine Veja chimes in:
The candidate likes to spend his free time reading Tolstoy, and not watching Toy Story, as originally reported.
Laugh if you will, but Prince Andrei and Buzz Lightyear would have made an awesome team.
Ditto for social media culture (The New York Times again, twice):
Because of an editing error, an article Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of the Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786.
An earlier version of this article included an anecdote about a married man who received an intimate selfie from a woman who was not his wife; the article also included comments from others about the selfie. Editors were not aware until after publication that the married man was the writer’s husband. If editors had realized the connection, the incident would not have been included, or would have been described differently. The material has now been removed from the article.
When it comes to pimpin4paradise, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that the comments about the brazen little hussy’s selfie were less than enthusiastic. Like, ew.
Ditto for geography (The Washington Post, no less):
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly located Brooklyn in the Canadian province of Quebec. It is in New York.
Still awaiting GPS co-ordinates from the Manhattan on the moon. The Citizen science reporter is standing by, salvific sextant and magical orrery at the ready.
Ditto for recipes (like this one, in which The Guardian eats a little crow):
A reader noted our recipe called “Spaghetti with radicchio, fennel and rosemary” didn’t include spaghetti, fennel or rosemary. The ingredients and methods were right, but it should have been titled Strozzapreti with radicchio and balsamic.
Ditto for Judaism, notwithstanding the longstanding article of faith among antisemites that Jews control the media:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Benjamin Netanyahu said Moses brought water from Iraq. He said the water was brought from a rock. — The Wall Street Journal
In a story Feb. 22 about the Florida school shooting, The Associated Press misquoted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in some versions of the story when he spoke about the families of the victims. He said, “I’ve been to their homes where they’re sitting shiva,” not “where they sit and shiver.”
An article on April 5 about Capers Funnye, a rabbi who is a cousin of Michelle Obama’s, misstated the name of an organization to which he considered applying for membership. It was the Union for Reform Judaism, not the Union of Reform Jews. — The New York Times
Correct me if I’m wrong. But as I understand it, one of the perqs that come with being a Reform Jew is that you can drive on Shabbat and tell Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up at your door precisely where they can plug in their electronic devices.
And finally, ditto for subbing out stories in the going-bananas rush between editions while forgetting to change the original heading:
A headline on an item in the Feb. 5 edition of the Enquirer-Bulletin incorrectly stated “Stolen groceries.” It should have read “Homicide.”
Aw, nuts! It finally happened.