Romps and Retractions

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Let's look at a few of the more entertaining errors in journalism 2006. They were compiled by Craig Silverman of Regret the Error, a Web site that does a great job of keeping us all honest.

The site gave an Award of Demerit to England's Sun, a nasty tabloid well known as a bastion of sloppiness, vulgarity and sheer fiction.

"This site simply wouldn't be possible without you," wrote Silverman, who also honored The Sun with Correction of the Year.

That was for a story about Princess Eugenie, one of Queen Elizabeth's granddaughters, whose 16th birthday party "descended into a drunken rave, with teenage guests snogging (that's British for necking), boozing and being sick…"

A "witness" told the paper that "randy guests dived into bedrooms in search of drunken romps." "Others passed out because they were so drunk, while several vomited."

Now for The Sun's retraction. "While a small amount of mess was cleared away at the end of the evening, there was no damage to furniture, no revelers dived into bedrooms in search of drunken romps and to describe the house as being trashed was incorrect. We are happy to make this clear and regret any distress our report caused."

The Apology of the Year award also went to The Sun, which reported that two soccer players and a music industry figure had a "gay romp" in which a mobile phone was used as a "gay sex toy."

In its correction, the paper named two of the men but said they were "not involved in any such activities."

"We are paying them each a sum by way of damages," The Sun said, and then cheerfully wished the soccer players "all the best for next Saturday's World Cup quarter-final."

The Sun ran yet another correction about yet another "romp" (a word the editors seem to like). The story had claimed that Teri Hatcher "had sex romps in her VW camper van at her home."

"Although published in good faith," the correction said, "we now accept that the article was totally incorrect and we apologize to Ms. Hatcher for the embarrassment caused."

Rather than being contrite, The Sun's corrections are often rife with sarcasm. The paper said it might have given the impression that England's former national soccer team manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, "was a greedy, useless, incompetent fool."

"This was a misunderstanding. Mr. Eriksson is in fact a footballing genius. We are happy to make this clear."

The Sun (which, mercifully, has nothing to do with the paper I write for), is owned by that paragon of  taste, Rupert Murdoch, and publishes a topless babe on page 3 every day.

But even The New York Times is prone to slip-ups. The paper ran a correction of a review of the film Little Miss Sunshine that had "referred incorrectly" to participants in a children's beauty pageant.

"The critic intended to compare the contestants to underage prostitutes, not to 'underage fleshpots,' " the correction said.

At The Oregonian, editors acknowledged they "should have made clear that Oregon Health & Science University will be studying the effects of meth, not cooking it."

The Error of the Year award went to Canada's National Post, which reported that Iran might require non-Muslims to wear ID badges. The paper splashed the story across six front-page columns, with a photo of Hungarian Jews wearing yellow stars during World War II.

Wrong. Five days later, the Post said: "We did not exercise sufficient caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources."

Then, amazingly, the correction went on: "That is not to say that we ignored basic journalistic practices or that we rushed this story into print with no thought as to the consequences."

Oh, really? Who are they kidding?

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan