As 2007 draws to a close and we look ahead to a new year full of campaign-related misdirection, plus the usual complement of typos, numerical errors and just plain "you gotta be kidding me" mistakes, we turn once again to Craig Silverman, founder and editor of the website called regrettheerror.com, a compendium of media gaffes.
As he noted in his new book of the same name, both his website and the book were born of a single remarkable clarification that appeared [LAUGHS] in 2004 on the front page of Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader. Craig, tell us what you read. CRAIG SILVERMAN: The clarification read, "It has come to the editor's attention that The Herald Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission." BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Let's talk about your best correction of the year. You note that a sure way to win is to write a scandalous article filled with salacious untrue allegations. Last year's winner was in a British publication, and this one was too, right? CRAIG SILVERMAN: That's right. I have to give the Brits credit, that they really do write remarkable corrections. They really do [LAUGHS] write remarkably incorrect stories. And, of course, that's sort of the equation.
This year's correction of the year was in the Independent Saturday Magazine which is published as part of The Independent, which is obviously a newspaper in the UK. And the correction read, "Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21st April in the Independent Saturday Magazine, Ms. Blair's representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] CRAIG SILVERMAN: They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms. Blair has never shared a shower with Ms. Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms. Caplin - BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] CRAIG SILVERMAN: - or anyone else, and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms. Caplin. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oops! [LAUGHS] CRAIG SILVERMAN: Quite remarkable. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now for the Error of the Year, the Russian Titanic. CRAIG SILVERMAN: The background on it is that the Russians sent a mission to the Arctic, a submarine mission, to plant their flag there and sort of make a claim over that territory. And a Russian sort of state-owned TV station had one really striking image of a submarine kind of climbing into the depths of the ocean.
The story ran. Reuters picked up that image. It was distributed all around the world, on websites and different places. NBC Nightly News ran with it. And then a few days later, it started sort of appearing that, well, this was not actually from the real mission. In fact, it was an image from the film Titanic - BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] CRAIG SILVERMAN: - where they actually have the sort of present-day scenes and they have the submarine mission to the wreckage. And so, we see in today's media environment how fast an error can spread.
The other part is, well, how did it get corrected? It wasn't a submarine expert. It wasn't a news outlet. It was a teenager in Finland who happened to have watched the movie a ridiculous amount of times - BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] CRAIG SILVERMAN: - and spotted the similarity. [LAUGHTER] BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] So now, although you don't really have a category for biggest political victim of media mistakes of the year, you do note right at the top of your 2007 roundup that Barack Obama appears to have been a magnet for press errors. CRAIG SILVERMAN: I saw in the past year twice, in two different reports, CNN actually referred to him as Osama instead of Obama. These were largely in sort of the TV graphics that go on while somebody's narrating.
The New York Post also did that. The Houston Chronicle referred to him as a Republican. The Hartford Current has misspelled his first name on six different occasions dating back to 2004, and two of them came this past year. And then The New York Times actually corrected an article where they were talking about his decision to run, and they had initially reported that “Barack and Michelle fought long and hard about this decision.” Well, in fact, they had thought long and hard about the decision.
So all of a sudden you have his name and his political affiliation [LAUGHS] being mangled, and then you also have his marriage sort of coming into question. So he just seemed to be a really unfortunate victim this year, and it was well worth noting, especially if he continues on in his drive for the nomination. And if he gets it, we can probably expect to see [LAUGHS] more of these. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, Craig, I have to say that the errors of 2007, as annoying as they may be for the many people mistakenly labeled as drunks or pedophiles or dead by the newspapers, aren't as a rule as serious as last year's errors, when the first prize went to misreporting that the miners trapped in the Sago Mine had survived when, in fact, mostly they hadn't.
The same goes for a lot of other of these errors. They seem almost — quaint. Do you think things are looking up? CRAIG SILVERMAN: I would agree with you that when you compare the Error of the Year of this year to — I had a tie last year, there were two that were so bad — there was the Sago incident and then there was The National Post in Canada doing a huge front-page spread reporting that Iran was going to make Jews and other religious minorities wear badges on their clothing, which was completely incorrect.
So when I looked at this year's roundup, I definitely agree that there wasn't sort of the huge catastrophic error this year, as compared with last year.
Does it mean we're getting better? It's tough to say because I still think there are a lot of challenges in terms of the way we're actually reporting and verifying and even correcting information. I would love to think that we were pretty good this year, but I also think that we were definitely lucky, as well. BROOKE GLADSTONE: This time, I think, for the first time ever, you offer a tribute to a retiring corrector [LAUGHS]. This is the readers' editor of The Guardian, a man named Ian Mayes who retired in March.
As reported by The Press Gazette, you note, "Mayes dealt with 90,000 complaints, 14,000 corrections, endless phone calls from abusive readers, and two months in physiotherapy due to work-induced [LAUGHING] repetitive stress injury." So I guess this is a more dangerous job than one might have assumed.
And you offered a couple of examples of his work. The one that I liked the most was, "We spelt Morecambe, the town in Lancashire wrong again on Page 2, G2, yesterday. We often do." CRAIG SILVERMAN: He actually made the corrections page of The Guardian a destination for people. He is probably one of the most highly-respected people to ever hold that position. But the way he handled corrections was really to elevate it to an art form.
And, you know, another example that I really enjoyed was, "In a misplaced outbreak of politeness - BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
CRAIG SILVERMAN: - the Weather Watch column, page 39, November 1st, described average temperatures in Tromso and Bergen as being zero Celsius and three Celsius, respectfully.” BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Thank you very much, Craig. CRAIG SILVERMAN: Thank you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Craig Silverman is founder of regrettheerror.com, the website, and author of Regret the Error¸ the book.