Accuracy in Media

Amid recent news of steep circulation declines at the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe; deep staff cutbacks at the “Dallas Morning News;” and another reporter at USA Today resigned over plagiarism; there are plenty of media gaffes that will just leave you laughing or scratching your head and asking, “What were they thinking?”

The last week of April was a bad one for the Chicago Tribune, which apologized  for publishing a photo caption that incorrectly identified a man as a high-ranking mobster. The caption of the photo indicated it was of 76-year-old Joseph “The Clown” Lombardo, a reputed mob boss on the lam after being indicted on charges of plotting at least 18 murders. 69-year-old Stanley Swieton told reporters that he was the person in the picture, which the newspaper said was taken by a college student. It’s not clear why the newspaper was relying on the photographic skills of a college student, but editor Ann Marie Lipinski said the newspaper regretted publishing the photograph on the front pages (yes, on the front pages) and that the newspaper strives for accuracy. There were some indicators the striving was ratcheting up, however, since the apology came the day after the newspaper ran a photo of another man who was wrongly identified  as a mobster.

That photo was supposed to be of Frank Calabrese Sr., a mobster indicted on organized crime charges. It was, in fact, a photo of retired businessman Frank Calabrese accepting an “Excellence in Manufacturing” award from Price Waterhouse in 1988.”It’s just upsetting,” Calabrese, 76, told the Associated Press. “I have voice mails from people calling me who were my customers asking me what’s happening. Is that you?”  The newspaper published a correction and a detailed article about both incidents stating in part, “The newspaper erroneously used that photograph in its graphic describing Tuesday’s mob indictment.” The businessman, however, decided to sue the Tribune Co. for more than $1 million in damages. Tribune spokeswoman Patty Wetli called the lawsuit “unfortunate.”

If you’d like some more humor with your media gaffes, you might check out Craig Silverman’s Regret the Error blog. Silverman is Montreal-based writer and consultant whose work has appeared in publications such as The Globe And Mail, Saturday Night, Toro, Scarlett, Vice, Montreal Magazine, the Sunday Herald, among others.

Silverman’s tracking of newspaper errors will definitely leave you laughing. Some of the corrections are as bad as the errors first published. On May 5, London’s Guardian posted this correction: “In our article about the founder of Greenpeace, Bob Hunter, The original Mr. Green, pages 2 and 3, G2, yesterday, we referred to British Columbia as a state in North America. It is not a state. It is a province of Canada.” Thanks for the tip, Guardian. Then there’s this recent Los Angeles Times correction: “An April 16 article in Section A about tensions between Kosovo’s ethnic groups said Ramush Haradinaj, the former prime minister of the Serbian province, had pleaded guilty to 37 counts of war crimes against Serbs. He pleaded not guilty.” Silverman files this under “Why newspaper editors/reporters should never be court stenographers.”

On April 28 the Orlando Sentinel “pulled an Albom” as Silverman calls it, referring to Mitch Albom’s precognitive reporting of a Michigan State game that had not yet occurred. The Sentinel notes: “An article on the front of Tuesday’s Sports section reported incorrectly that a meeting occurred Monday night between Orlando Magic General Manager John Weisbrod and interim coach Chris Jent about the team’s search for a new coach. In fact, the meeting did not occur until Tuesday morning. The reporter wrote the article after being told by Jent that the meeting would occur Monday evening but failed to check back to determine that the meeting had happened. In fact, the meeting had been postponed because of a scheduling conflict.” Oops.

And there’s this illuminating fact from the Arizona Daily Star: “An editorial April 19 about a proposal to enlist a monkey on a police SWAT team left the wrong impression about the intelligence of primates. Humans are the smartest primates, with chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys lower on the scale.” Thanks for the clarification, guys.

Regret the Error is not above admitting the occasional error though, as they did when they noted they incorrectly stated that both men whose photos were incorrectly captioned as mobsters in the Chicago Tribune were suing the newspaper. Only one is. Regret the Error can be forgiven however, since their information came from this incorrect headline in the Washington Post: Two Men Sue Chicago Tribune for Defamation.

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