In an example of how the concept of corrections has taken root outside of the press, the White House today added a corrective note to a transcript of a speech by President Obama.

The speech referenced "Polish death camps" in describing the wartime experience of Medal of Freedom recipient Jan Karski. The use of that phrase sparked immediate reaction because it has long been objected to by Polish officials and organizations. Anytime it appears in the press, the news outlet in question finds itself fielding requests for correction, which are usually granted.

So, here's what a White House speech correction looks like:

*Note – the language in asterisks below is historically inaccurate. It should instead have been: “Nazi death camps in German occupied Poland”. We regret the error.

The offending passage:

For years, Jan Karski’s students at Georgetown University knew he was a great professor; what they didn't realize was he was also a hero.  Fluent in four languages, possessed of a photographic memory, Jan served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II.  Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a *Polish death camp* to see for himself.

As far as corrections go, they did a few things right:

  1. They placed the correction at the top, to ensure readers see it right away.
  2. They left the original transcript intact. This is important because a transcript of presidential remarks is a historical document. Add a (prominent) correction, but keep the original intact.
  3. They highlighted the change with asterisks to make it easy to find. This also emphasizes the mistaken nature of the statement, ensuring people don't miss it.

It's nice to see the ethic of correction adopted by other institutions -- and to see them adopting best practices, too.

Correction: Jan Karski was awarded the Medal of Freedom (not the Medal of Honor).