Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WashPost's Bizarre Watergate Mistake Latest Example of Paper Not Correcting Errors Flagged by Readers

In an October 5th profile of Daniel Inouye, the Washington Post's Jason Horowitz wrote this of the Senator:
Twenty years later, with political-celebrity status attained in Hawaii, he came to national prominence by leading the 1973 Senate Watergate Committee investigating President Richard M. Nixon.
But Inouye didn't lead the committee. He was very active in the proceedings, but the committee was chaired by Sam Ervin of North Carolina.

The error was pointed out in a letter by one Peggie Lewis that the Post printed on October 9. But it hasn't been corrected.

In fact, the Post regularly prints letters (either on the editorial page or in the "Free For All" page on Saturdays) that point out errors, but then does not actually print a correction on A2 or append a correction to the article online.

For example, the Post still has "Inventory Uncovers 9,200 More Pathogens" as the headline on an article from more than a year ago. That's despite the paper printing a letter a week and a half later (6/27/09, available through Nexis) noting an error:
9,200 Vials, Not Pathogens

The June 18 headline "Inventory Uncovers 9,200 More Pathogens" was more exciting than the facts in the story. The headline inaccurately implied that 9,200 different pathogens were found at Fort Detrick, instead of 9,200 vials of pathogens, as was actually the case.

-- Daniel Michels
Silver Spring
The error hasn't been corrected.

Neither has a funny error that ran a few months later. The Post's Martin Ricard wrote of a "penitentiary in rural Pennsylvania about 50 miles east of Philadelphia..."

The error was noted soon after by letter writer Shawn McHale.

I could go on. I just saved these ones because I thought they were nice examples. They print these things all the time. The errors are rarely corrected. I haven't been able to determine where the problem is in the system (do the errors not get passed over to corrections? do they get passed over and then nothing happens?)

Andy Alexander, the Post's ombudsman, has successfully pushed the paper to make significant progress on corrections. Over the last year or two, the paper has corrected many articles that went unfixed for years. Alexander's ability to shine a spotlight on the problem had a significant effect. But some errors still go uncorrected, even front page mistakes that are brought to the paper's attention.

Will the Post make more progress? I hope so.

In May, Alexander wrote this on his blog:
And sometimes it takes too long to run a correction that should have appeared within days. For example, reader Jack Toomey of Poolesville sought a correction the day after a May 6 story erroneously reported that an Amtrak “Chicago Limited” train struck a man near Germantown. As Toomey noted, the accurate name of the train is the “Capitol Limited.” His request still lingers in the system. A correction should have run immediately.
Five months later, the Post hasn't fixed that error. When even the ombudsman's public shaming doesn't move the paper to action, it's not good.

Update: Thanks Regret the Error for the link!


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