June 22, 2012

Few newspapers enjoy a reputation as solid as that of The Wall Street Journal, even after the consternation over ownership changing hands a few years ago. Its news reporting is solid, writing first-class, opinion pieces sharp and pointed. And, as Marilyn Monroe pointed out, there are all those tiny figures.

Lately, though, I’ve discovered numerous cracks in its editorial page fortress, which seems to be surrounded by a nearly impenetrable wall.

The cracks are errors on the opinion pages. I’m not talking about statements that might be open to interpretation or arguable viewpoints. No, I’m talking about things more basic. Like Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

That’s the way the surname of the Republican U.S. senator from Texas was spelled in a column last month about that state’s politics. It was still that way online when I checked the other day. And, as with other examples, I haven’t seen a correction in the print edition, either.

As I’ve undertaken a relatively close inspection of the Journal’s opinion pages over several weeks — red pen in hand and Google at the ready — here’s a sample of what I’ve found:

There were others, as well as several more I believe were incorrect but was unable to nail down. I’ve seen two of the errors corrected online without acknowledgement of the original mistake and have noticed none corrected in the printed edition.

I have no desire to embarrass anyone. My sense is surprise and sadness, not schadenfreude. But it seems only fair to present all my information, as long as you bear in mind that you can’t assume the writer committed the error.

Then there’s that wall. For news, the process for reporting errors is simple. Corrections & Amplifications includes a phone number and email address. Trying to find either for the opinion pages was another matter. The closest I came was a letters-to-the-editor email, which I used twice, got no replies and saw no corrections.

Believe me, I know about newspaper errors. I still cringe when I recall a big one I made as a young reporter. Among my tasks was typing lists of college graduates, and I had the wrong school for one long compilation. I also remember tapping a correction into the Atex system at The News American in Baltimore and repeating the original error, then seeing it in print the next day.

When I was public editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, handling corrections was part of my job. Dealing with them was not pleasant and led to many an unsettled, worrisome night. And that’s not to mention living in fear every time I wrote a column, terrified that I’d commit some stupid mistake.

So, I don’t take corrections lightly or revel in the misfortune of others. With a paper as distinguished as the Journal, I wondered how this could happen. Unfortunately, those in charge of the opinion pages didn’t want to discuss the subject.

A couple of phone calls and emails to Dow Jones and Journal offices seeking an interview to explore the issue resulted only in a reply from a spokeswoman. Her email told me that Paul Gigot, editor of the editorial page, was “unavailable for an interview but below is his response/comment re: corrections for the Opinion pages: ‘We publish corrections when they are warranted.’”

I sent her another email detailing the kinds of errors I wanted to discuss and the question of how readers are supposed to contact the paper. So far, no response.

I think that’s a shame. I say so as an admiring reader and Journal subscriber, off and on, for almost 40 years. Its editorial pages — regardless of your opinion of the political stance — stand out among its competitors in both quantity and breadth. Many of the nation’s top academics, politicians, commentators and scientists can be found in its columns.

And that’s why I find it disheartening to not only see these kinds of mistakes but a passive/aggressive posture toward inquiry about them. A paper that has so much for which to be proud shouldn’t duck its responsibility to give readers the opportunity to point out errors and to publish corrections for its mistakes.

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