< Regret the Error 2012


Friday, December 14, 2012

BOB GARFIELD:  So yeah, OTM arrogantly overlooked the time-space continuum, and for that we unreservedly apologize. I regret to say, however, that we are not alone in making mistakes. Each year at this time we call on Craig Silverman, author of the Poynter Institute's Regret the Error column to review the most notable media mea culpas of the previous 12 months. Craig, welcome back, man.

CRAIG SILVERMAN:  Thanks for having me.

BOB GARFIELD:  Let's start with the big one. For Error of the Year, you chose an unusually high profile mistake. Both CNN and Fox News erroneously reported that the Supreme Court had struck down the individual mandate for the President healthcare program.

CRAIG SILVERMAN:  That's right. It was very hotly anticipated, everybody prepared for it. And on game day CNN and Fox News both made the same mistake, while other folks, Bloomberg, Reuters and others, they got it right. I mean, obviously, you don't see CNN and Fox News come together on a lot of things, so I suppose that in itself is notable. But the fact that they fell down at such a big moment, for a breaking news story, that made it a very big mistake. And then the second part was, you know, how did they deal with it? And that, in and of itself, was also something that was kind of notable.


CRAIG SILVERMAN:  Well, CNN acknowledged they got it wrong and they apologized for that mistake. Fox News wasn't really gonna go down that road. So rather than apologize, they actually sort of doubled down on it and said, listen, you know, as Chief Justice Roberts was reading this out, he said that it wasn't valid under the way that everyone expected it would be declared valid, so we declared that it was, you know, invalid at that moment.


The key thing here was that there was a surprise in the decision that it was upheld as a tax. And that was a possibility, but it really wasn't a big thing that people were expecting. And so, the producer that Fox News had reading the decision in the room read that it, it was invalid, failed to turn the page and then discover that oh, wait a second but it's valid as a tax. And so, Fox News is actually sort of blaming it on Chief Justice Roberts in the way that the decision –


- [LAUGHS] was, was read out, rather than admitting that, listen, you know, our producer jumped the gun a bit, which is what happened there and also what happened with CNN.

BOB GARFIELD:  All right, now most of the mistakes you flagged in this year's year-end column weren't so high profile and the – and the stakes were not nearly so high. Your Correction of the Year was a small one. You tell me what it related to.

CRAIG SILVERMANThe Economist, a very well-known magazine, of course, had an article looking at sort of the, the habits of drinking at work, you know, the old martini lunch. And, you know, the story was called “The Boredom of Boozeless Business.” The subhead was “The Sad Demise of The Three Martini Lunch.”


And so, it was one of these pieces looking at sort of what have we lost without people coming back from lunch sloshed at the desk? And at one point in the story, they said that journalists at Bloomberg's Businessweek Magazine could actually be disciplined for sipping a spritzer at work. Bloomberg's Businessweek's editor got out on Twitter and he said, listen, you know, this is wrong, we drink all the time - jokingly, of course.


And, and this needs to be corrected. He also said something about having his vengeance on The Economist. So this resulted in a correction from The Economist that read, “An earlier version of this article claimed that journalists at Bloomberg Businessweek could be disciplined for sipping a spritzer at work. This is not true. Sorry, we must have been drunk on the job.”

BOB GARFIELD:  [LAUGHS] Okay. Now, that's your Correction of the Year. My Correction of the Year came courtesy of the New York Times, which exercised enormous ex-post facto rigor in setting the record straight in a story involving two young people with Asperger's syndrome.

CRAIG SILVERMAN:  This was, in the end, the most viral Correction of the Year, but it was actually published in very, very late [LAUGHS] December 2011, so I have to be a stickler for accuracy on this. I hope everyone understands that it is not eligible for Correction of the Year 2012 but it was definitely the most viral Correction of 2012 because in early January it started spreading like crazy. So here is the correction from the New York Times.

“An article on Monday about Jack Robinson and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger’s Syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship misidentified the character from the animated children's TV 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.”

BOB GARFIELD:  [LAUGHS] Oh my God, had they only been so accurate and precise leading up to the war in Iraq. You know what I'm sayin’?


And, as you say, it went crazy viral. What is it about this correction that is just so gripping?

CRAIG SILVERMAN:  I think part of it you sort of hinted at, which is the idea that, number one, the New York Times is going to run a correction, correcting the name of a My Little Pony character.


So, so that, in and of itself, is, is something. The second part, I think, is, is the way it's written. There's this long buildup of, you know, the two college students and talking about Asperger’s Syndrome and, you know, the perils of navigating an intimate relationship, and all of it leads up to basically a punchline of Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, and Fluttershy, the kind animal lover. So I think that they really recognize the possibility here and they execute it well.

BOB GARFIELD:  Now, there’s one in your column that made me laugh out loud, and it [LAUGHS] – from Vogue. Permit me to read this.


BOB GARFIELD:  “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 a deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor [LAUGHING] at the US Department [LAUGHING] of State.

CRAIG SILVERMAN: [LAUGHING] It’s close, you know.


Everyone would have understood it a bit more if, if Dan Baer had worked at, you know, at the Interior Ministry or something like that.

BOB GARFIELD:  The Department of Interior.


BOB GARFIELD:  I was waiting for, no, no – [LAUGHS]


Can we end this by reading the correction about the late author E.B. White?

CRAIG SILVERMAN:  This was my runner-up for Best Numerical Error of the Year, a correction from the New York Times. 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.”


If only we could all have such a, a long and fruitful career.

BOB GARFIELD:  Craig, as always, thank very much.


BOB GARFIELD:  Craig Silverman writes the “Regret the Error” column for the Poynter Institute.


BROOKE GLADSTONE: Talk about regretting errors. As we approached the immovable deadline for finishing this week's show, news of the Connecticut shooter was breaking, reports from everywhere citing anonymous authorities first naming one man, then his brother, often accompanied by dubious Facebook photos.

 Jeff Jarvis, an avatar of digital media, found that he had directed his Twitter followers to the dark tweets of the suspected shooter, who wasn't. Go to our blog at onthemedia.org to hear from him, and Bob, and possibly others on the confusion of breaking horrible news in the digital age.


Craig Silverman

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Bob Garfield