Monumental muckups memorialized

When former New York Times Executive Editor Abraham “A.M.” Rosenthal died in May 2006, his obituary lauded his numerous accomplishments during his 56 years at the newspaper.

He had won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting and led the paper through coverage of the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers. He also was credited as initiating the now industry standard practice of running corrections in a fixed spot for readers to find. The New York Times chose Page 2 for its corrections, and many newspapers followed. He and the Times began the practice in 1972.

It is perhaps then both ironic and a tribute to Rosenthal’s insistence on accuracy that his own obituary needed a correction the next day in the paper’s main competitor. The Washington Post’s obituary remarked on Rosenthal’s rela­tionship with the late NYT publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Sulzberger, who died last year, was very much alive at the time of Rosenthal’s passing.

Other corrections have endured to become classics in newspaper lore and beyond:

• Once the New York Times jumped into the business of running correc­tions each day on Page 2, the “Corrections” column quickly became a must-read. No detail was too trivial to escape correcting in the name of accuracy. One of the more famous ones ran in April 1981: “An article about decorative cook­ing incorrectly described a presentation of Muscovy duck by Michael Fitoussi, a New York chef. In preparing it, Mr. Fitoussi uses a duck that has been killed.” The correction became the title of the book “Kill Duck Before Serving,” pub­lished in 2002. It is a collection of some of the more unusual corrections to run in the New York Times.

• In July 2004, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader ran a Page 1 correction apologizing for failing to cover the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It led off a package of stories on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

• In 1987, advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, a.k.a. “Dear Abby,” offered advice to an Iowa farmer who had been hiccupping nonstop for 65 years. She said the man found temporary relief through “carbon monoxide.” The next day she corrected that to “carbon dioxide.”

• In May 2008, the Washington Post misspelled the 1987 winning word – “serrefine” – in an article about that year’s National Spelling Bee.

• In a recent story, the San Diego (Calif.) Tribune, in a correction titled “Missing-dog story proved incorrect,” said that the paper “incorrectly reported that a guide dog owned by a blind 7-year-old boy was missing. The boy, Rob­ert Maurice, son of Lila Maurice of Ramona, is not blind, and the dog, which does not belong to the boy and is not a guide dog, has been found. The story was based on a police report and from information provided by a relative. The Tribune regrets the errors.”

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