December 18, 2014

Correction of the Year

This New York Times correction combines Kimye, butts and a writer treating a fake news website and a fake radio station as real. Bravo:

An earlier version of this column was published in error. That version included what purported to be an interview that Kanye West gave to a Chicago radio station in which he compared his own derrière to that of his wife, Kim Kardashian. Mr. West’s quotes were taken, without attribution, from the satirical website The Daily Currant. There is no radio station WGYN in Chicago; the interview was fictitious, and should not have been included in the column.

Runner Up

The Sun (U.K.) offered a correction that detailed just how ridiculous their original “reporting” was:

In an article ‘London Bridge IS Falling Down’ (16 June) we stated that the iconic bridge, now a tourist attraction in Arizona, was falling into disrepair and could soon be bulldozed. We also stated that there were plans to turn the area into a centre for drug tourism. We have been assured by Lake Havasu City that there are no plans to knock down the bridge or to build a centre for drug tourism. We regret any misunderstanding and are happy to set the record straight.

A Lake Havasu spokesman also assures us there are plans to revitalise the English Village on the east side of the bridge and that they are committed to looking after the monument.

Other Favorites

Philadelphia Daily News (via Romenesko):

In yesterday’s “Chillin’ Wit” column, a fond farewell to former Daily News editor Zack Stallberg as he heads west to New Mexico, stall berg was misquoted as using the term “horse manure.” He responded: “I demand a correction. Does anyone really think I would use the word ‘manure’?” No. Stall berg actually said, “horse s—-.” And that’s no bull manure.

The Economist:

In a leader last month (Of bongs and bureaucrats, January 11th) we said that The Economist first proposed legalising drugs in 1993. In fact we argued for it in a cover story in 1988. Who says drug use doesn’t damage long-term memory?

The New York Times:

An article on Thursday about the latest Internet sensation of “Alex from Target,” a picture of a teenager bagging merchandise at the retailer that went viral online, described incorrectly a subsequent Internet posting of “Kel from Good Burger.” It was a frame from the 1997 film “Good Burger” starring the actor Kel Mitchell; it was not a photograph of a teenager in a job.

The Washington Post:

An earlier version of this story erroneously said that Joaquín Guzmán was found in bed with his secretary. He was found with his wife. This version has been corrected.

The Dartmouth (via Romenesko):

A front-page editorial published Oct. 17 calling for the abolition of the Greek system at Dartmouth stated that in the late 1980s, Alpha Delta fraternity pledges were forced to perform oral sex on an ejaculating dildo. The editorial should have stated that some pledges were required to simulate oral sex on an inanimate object, which the house’s advisor now says may have been a banana.

The New York Times:

An earlier version of this article described bald eagles and ospreys incorrectly. They eat fish, and their poop is white; they do not eat berries and excrete purple feces. (Other birds, like American robins, Eurasian starlings and cedar waxwings, do.)


This post originally quoted photographer Tom Sanders as saying it takes him five years to get on the dance floor. It takes him five beers.

The Wall Street Journal:

The Minotaur is a monster in Greek mythology that is part bull, part human. A travel article in Saturday’s Off Duty section mistakenly called it a one-eyed monster.

The Sun (U.K.):

In a story ‘Britain’s biggest whinger’ {1 June] we stated that Marcus Stead, who appeard in the Channel 4 documentary The Complainers, ‘moans to the council every day for a year.’ Mr Stead says that, in fact, the number of complaints is closer to one or two per week. We are happy to put his position on record.


An earlier version of this story said that the methane emissions associated with livestock come from their farts. In fact, most of those methane emissions come from belches.

I tried to get some background on why this girl’s mother felt the need to speak out, but you’ll just have to enjoy it for what it is. A correction from the Cumbernauld News (U.K.):


This post originally identified the Kings as being from Sacramento, not Los Angeles. The author clearly cares much more about faceplants than sports. We regret the error.

VICE sports:

The original version of this article referred to a planet, not a place name in the Star Wars Universe. In fact, Fort Tusken, which sounds like Tustin, is located on Tatooine, Luke sky walker’s home planet. VICE Sports regrets this error. All staff editors take full responsibility and will re-watch Star Wars this weekend to ensure such errors are never repeated.

The Guardian:

An article about a conservation project to return mountain chicken frogs to Montserrat said that the endangered frog was the national dish of the island. Montserrat’s national dish is goat water, a stew; mountain chicken is the national dish of nearby Dominica.

The New York Times:

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a creature in the “Star Wars” universe. It is a wookiee, not a wookie.

Los Angeles Times:

“Big Little Man”: A review in the June 29 Arts & Books section of the book “Big Little Man” said that author Alex Tizon is in his 60s. He is 54. Also, the review described Tizon as an avid consumer of porn, but the book says the viewing was for research. It also described Tizon’s friend’s embarrassment about the size of his endowment, whereas the book states that “he liked being average.” 

San Francisco Chronicle:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post suggested that a singular being named Yar was getting his revenge in the Atari 2600 game Years’ Revenge. In fact, the Yarians were a race of aliens, and were collectively seeking revenge. The Big Event apologizes for the error.  (Thanks to TBE reader Marty for the e-mail pointing this out.)

Ayrshire Post  (U.K.):

Columbia, S.C. Free-Times Weekly (via Romenesko):

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 9.04.16 PM

Error of the Year: Rolling Stone’s Campus Rape Story

It should go down as one of the most cautionary tales of confirmation bias in journalism. It’s also an example of how not to behave when your organization publishes a disastrous piece of reporting.

In November, Rolling Stone published a major feature about a shocking gang rape that allegedly occurred at a frat party at the University of Virginia. 

The story initially catalyzed the university and people around the country to do more to stamp out sexual assault on campus. The school even placed a temporary ban on all frats.

However, other news outlets — most notably The Washington Post — followed on the story and soon raised troubling details about the account that was at the center of the RS story, and the magazine’s failure to do basic reporting. One big problem was that the writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, didn’t contact any of the men she accused of participating in the gang rape. Nor did she speak with key friends of the accused, even though the story includes scenes with verbatim dialogue attributed to them.

Campus rape is a serious issue and deserves attention, but Rolling Stone and its reporter cherry picked this story and failed to properly verify it.

In an interview, Erdely described how she scoured the country for just the right rape story to be the focus of her article. Once she found it, the bias was set to believe it to be true, and to report it in a way the reinforced that. Here’s what she said in a Slate podcast:

First I looked around at a number of different campuses. It took me a while to figure out where I wanted to focus on. But when I finally decided on the University of Virginia — one of the compelling reasons that made me focus on the University of Virginia was when I found Jackie. I made contact with a student activist at the school who told me a lot about the culture of the school — that was one of the important things, sort of criteria that I wanted when I was looking for the right school to focus on.

As is the norm for the Error of the Year, the mistake was then compounded by the organization’s method of handling it. Managing editor Will Dana published “A Note to Our Readers” that acknowledged there were now “discrepancies” in the account of Jackie, the woman who was allegedly assaulted. The first version of that letter also blamed her, saying that the magazine now realized its trust in her had been “misplaced.” After objections, the magazine removed that line — and didn’t acknowledge the after-the-fact scrubbing. It also has not offered any real information about how the story was fact checked, where mistakes were made, and what it plans to do about it. It hunkered down and kept silent. Shameful.

Honorable Mention

A late breaking entrant for notable media error deserves a mention as well. This week New York Magazine had to admit that it was fooled by a teenager who claimed that he had earned many millions playing the stock market. In fact, as he later confessed to the NY Observer, he didn’t earn any actual money and is just a member of an investor club at his high school.

Yet, even with that admission, as of this writing the headline on the NY Mag article still reads: “12. Because a Stuyvesant Senior Made Millions Picking Stocks. His Hedge Fund Opens As Soon As He Turns 18.”

No, he didn’t.

Apology of the Year

Deadspin is unflinching when it has a target in its sights, and that approach apparently extends to itself. In October it published a story that questioned what U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner has said publicly about his time playing high school football. Deadspin’s piece suggested he didn’t play any football. But it was wrong. So editor Tommy Craggs wrote an apology with the headline, How Deadspin Fucked Up The Cory Gardner Story.” Yes, that will get readers’ attention.

The post gave details about what went wrong and Craggs also made it clear that he understood the irony arising from their mistakes:

… the most damning implication of our story, that Gardner didn’t actually play high school ball, is wrong. That’s shitty of us. As serial collectors of media fuck-ups, we add this self-portrait to the gallery. For more thorough coverage, you can read Erik Wemple over at the Post. As I told Wemple—and I sincerely meant it—given that our main source went and unsaid everything he’d said 24 hours earlier, the only thing for us to do now is to eat shit.

Obviously, not every publication can use the language and tone that Craggs deployed. But what matters is he gave himself and his staff the Deadspin treatment and made it clear that they really screwed up, and deserved criticism for it. It’s also great that he pointed people to a report from an external critic as well.

Runner Up

A fellow Gawker Media site also offered an honest and accountable apology for a bad piece of reporting. This time the story focused on animals that are used in research experiments. Annalee Newitz, the editor of io9, did not mince works when she admitted the story’s failings. Her first paragraph is a textbook example of how a top editor should handle this kind of failure:

On Wednesday, we published an article about animal welfare in research experiments. It was biased, factually incorrect, and should not have appeared on io9 in that form. As io9’s editor-in-chief, I’m the one who screwed up, and I’m sorry. Here’s how this mess happened, and what we’re doing about it.

I’m looking at you, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana.

Other Favorites 

Yeah, just go ahead and read it: 

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 9.11.09 PM

I for one am deep into preparations for the coming war between man and goat.

The Economist:

Apology: In our review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, we said: “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil. We regret having published this and apologise for having done so. We are therefore withdrawing the review but in the interests of transparency, anybody who wants to see the withdrawn review can click here.

And this is an excellent non-apology apology:

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.55.58 PM

Watchdogs of the Year: Our Bad Media

Sure, their pseudonyms are silly sounding (@blippoblappo & @crushingbort), but they’ve done the reporting. It’s a shame that there are still many in the journalism world who won’t take it seriously.

Blippoblappo & Crushingbort operate the blog Our Bad Media. Over the course of this year, they have provided ample, repeated evidence about the plagiarism of CNN host and magazine/newspaper contributor Fareed Zakaria. In his articles, on his show, in his books. They also pointed out failures of attribution on the part of Malcolm Gladwell.

When accusations first surfaced against Zakaria, CNN, The Washington Post and TIME all said they conducted reviews of his work and were satisfied. Then along came this duo who, in their telling, simply picked out some suspect sentences/paragraphs and passages and placed them in Google. Voila — hit after hit.

The media were admittedly slow to pick up on the pair’s work. The organizations that still publish Zakaria’s work have also had little to say about the evidence. (Though Zakaria’s former employer Newsweek eventually corrected seven of his articles that had issues.)

The pseudonymous plagiarism checkers proved something that has long been true: news organizations have very different standards in how they treat incidents of plagiarism, especially when it comes to big name stars. And let’s also stipulate that it doesn’t matter a damn if evidence of the offences comes from two people who choose to use pseudonyms. Evidence is evidence, and it’s unacceptable that Zakaria hasn’t faced anything close to real consequences for his offences.

Best Photo Error

The Oregonian had to follow up after a photo error led it to direct readers to very much the wrong ‘shroom in a food article.

A photo of an amanita muscaria mushroom, which can cause hallucinations, disorientation and wild behavior, mistakenly appeared with a story about the opening of matsutake mushroom season on page 7 of the Sunday A & E section of The Oregonian. 

The amanita muscaria, which often has a cap that is reddish with white spots, can impact the central nervous system and cause people who eat it to become extremely disoriented and be hard to control, according to Judy Roger of the Oregon Mycological Society.

It also causes them to go into a deep sleep for several hours. But she said it is not considered deadly …

Runner Up

After an Israeli man was killed, the New Zealand Herald mistook him for Ryann Dunn, a deceased star of the “Jackass” show/films:

Best Dummy Copy

Dutch paper Volksrant made a very bad choice when testing out a new news app. They wrote up a fake news article announcing the death of well known foolballer and team manager Johan Cruyff. It of course ended up going out to readers, causing a lot of confusion. (Remember: Your worst dummy copy always gets out into the world. It’s some kind of newsroom law, folks.)

The Guardian reported

The paper’s editor, Philippe Remarque, called it a “stupid mistake”, and apologised to Cruyff, the former Ajax and Holland forward and manager of Barcelona.

“On behalf of Volkskrant I offer my apologies to Johan Cruyff and anyone who has been upset by this,” he said. “The app was tested this morning with fake stories, and a technician came up with this as a way of testing a major breaking news story. By mistake it appeared with this headline.”

Best Author’s Note

The article, “Variation in Melanism and Female Preference in Proximate but Ecologically Distinct Environments,” in journal Ethology went to press with a note from one of the authors that was clearly not meant for publication (emphasis mine and hat tip to Retraction Watch):

Although association preferences documented in our study theoretically could be a consequence of either mating or shoaling preferences in the different female groups investigated (should we cite the crappy Gabor paper here?), shoaling preferences are unlikely drivers of the documented patterns both because of evidence from previous research and inconsistencies with a priori predictions.

Best Photo Cutline

Read the names carefully:

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.56.13 PM

Oh my, that’s some offensive stuff. Now, read the amazing details about the publication in question, from this Philadelphia magazine story:

In the August 21st print edition of the Philadelphia Public Record, the free weekly tabloid published by former Philadelphia City Councilman turned federal inmate Jimmy Tayoun Sr., current Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla is pictured at an event in Chinatown with, among others, “Chinky Winky,” “Me Too,” and “Dinky Doo.”

“It was a proofreading error,” Tayoun told Philadelphia magazine on Friday afternoon. According to Tayoun, the editor who used those names did so because he didn’t have the actual names. When we pointed out to Tayoun that there were actually more names than there were people, he reiterated, “It was a proofreading error.” And when we asked why the editor didn’t use a generic placeholder instead of an ethnic slur, he insisted that there’s no prejudice or bigotry involved here.

“That editor is a Britisher,” Tayoun explained, puzzlingly. “He didn’t mean anything by it. The Public Record is the most inclusive publication in Philadelphia.”

Obviously, the Record is an incredibly inclusive operation if they’re willing to hire Britishers.

Worst use of Unverified UGC in Reporting

So many news organizations will just grab something from Twitter or elsewhere and treat it as true. I could do an entire post of examples from the past year, but let’s go with one example that arose when someone placed two white flags on the Brooklyn Bridge. That set off speculation as to who was responsible, and what kind of message the flags were intended to send.

Into that information vacuum stepped @BicycleLobby, a Twitter account with a bio that clearly states it is a parody. In spite of that, their joke tweet about being responsible was picked up by AP, the New York Daily News and others.

The account followed up with some pretty damning tweets about media gullibility, including this one:


I mean, really.

Best Naming Error:

Well hello there, Wales rugby star “Jake Ballsack”:

Image via the Daily Star

He was a good sport about it, saying, “Thanks, BBC! It’s going to haunt me the rest of my days”

Most Unreliable Source

The Washington Post had to offer an editor’s note after it discovered that a key source in an article about african-american men and HIV had fabricated details:

Editor’s note: Several passages have been removed from this story because the source of those passages, Mickyel Bradford, has admitted to fabricating them. The passages include descriptions of a lunch in Bradford’s town and a ball that Bradford claimed he attended with a man identified as Seth. Bradford now confirms that neither of those events occurred as described. Additionally, Bradford admits the two men never discussed getting tested for HIV. All passages concerning the two men have been removed.

Best Corrective Letter to the Editor

Author Ann Patchett was lucky enough to have her book reviewed by The New York Times. But after reading it she was moved to correct a mistaken impression that arose due to a missing comma:

Puppy Love

To the Editor:

I was grateful to see my book “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” mentioned in Paperback Row (Oct. 19). When highlighting a few of the essays in the collection, the review mentions topics ranging from “her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog” without benefit of comma, thus giving the impression that Sparky and I are hitched. While my love for my dog is deep, he married a dog named Maggie at Parnassus Books last summer as part of a successful fund-raiser for the Nashville Humane Association. I am married to Karl VanDevender. We are all very happy in our respective unions.



 Thanks for reading. See you in 2015.

Craig Silverman’s upcoming Webinar for Poynter’s News University, Fact-checking and Debunking: Covering Rumors, Hoaxes and Gossip, is Jan. 6. You can sign up here. And you can still take his self-directed course, Getting It Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age.

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Craig Silverman ( is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
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