Regretting the errors of the summer sillies

So many retractions, so little time

So many retractions, so little time

It is a mystery that only the Gods who lord over the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate may explain: Why is it that during the year’s slowest, silliest news season, editorial corrections seem to bloom like algae on a summer pond?

The Globe and Mail printed six of them in one day this week. Some were funny. All were the necessary.

“A July 27 news feature on Georgian Bay water levels incorrectly quoted Diane Ross-Langley saying it would cost $20,000 to fix the docking area,” one declared. “In fact, it will cost $200,000. In addition her husband’s name is Philip Langley, not Larry Langley as incorrectly published.”

Another reported that “A Saturday theatre review incorrectly said that in 1985-86, greenhouse gases ‘ripped a hole in the ozone layer.’ In fact, the cause of the breakdown in the ozone layer was CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) which were eventually banned.”

Then there was one correcting an assertion that “Ray Donovan” appears on HBO (it’s actually a Showtime product); one that retracted a statement that Canada is home to 14 million pets (the number is closer to 26 million); one that set the record straight on the headquarters of Berkshire Investments (Netherlands, not Boston); and even one that redfacedly admitted the paper got the name of one its writers wrong in the byline (sorry Christie, not Christine, Day).

I shouldn’t crow. Once, when I was barely a month past my probationary term at the Globe, I wrote a stock market item for the Report on Business section. The correction that followed was one column inch longer than the original piece.

Still, when the news is either non-existent or horrible (a kid-killing snake in Campbellton, N.B., has lead the front pages from Halifax to Vancouver all week), reading the squibs editors craft for damage control can be an oddly pleasurable way to pass the time.

The Huffington Post’s “Comedy” section makes an ardent study of them as they appear in newspapers across North America. Here, in no particular order, is a sampling from its archives:

“The Earth orbits the Sun, not the moon. Incorrect information appeared in a story on Page A1 in Wednesday’s Citizen.”

“Due to a typing error, Saturday’s story on local artist Jon Henninger mistakenly reported that Henninger’s bandmate Eric Lyday was on drugs. The story should have read that Lyday was on drums.”

“In the September profile of Chelsea Clinton. . .Dan Baer was mistakenly identified as an interior designer. He is a deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour at the U.S. Department of State.”

“On page 27 of Express’ May 6 issue, we conflated the superheroes The Atom and Ant-Man. The Atom’s alter ego is Dr. Ray Palmer, not Dr. Hank Pym. Ant-Man, whose alter ego IS Dr. Hank Pym, can talk to ants; The Atom cannot.”

“Readers many have noticed that the Valley News misspelled its own name on yesterday’s front page. Given that we routinely call on other institutions to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes, let us say for the record: We sure feel silly.”

Absolutely, and so you should. Still, you can take solace in the fact that you are not, and never will be, alone.

Consider the correction that followed a piece on The New York Times website last year: “An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker. It was five decades, not centuries.”

Consider, further, the hay Vanity Fair laughingly made with the blooper:

“An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of books Joyce Carol Oates has published. It is more than 40, not more than 40 million.”

“An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of good books written by Jack Kerouac. It is zero.”

“An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of Newt Gingrich’s marriages. It is three, not infinity.”

All of which may only prove the truth in the adage, “To err is human; to forgive is bovine.” Or, something like that.

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