BROOKE GLADSTONE: For some readers of the august New York Times, there's nothing more perversely-satisfying than catching an embarrassing gaffe in its pages. Yes, the Times does make mistakes. Actually an average of 7 a day. That's about 2500 a year. Times editors Dylan Loeb McClain and Linda Amster collected some of their favorite errors and put them in a new book called Kill Duck Before Serving. I had to ask them -- why so many mistakes?
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: There are 138,000 words every day in the paper [LAUGHTER] on average, and at 317,000 on Sundays and when you have obviously - you're publishing so much, it's almost a given that you're going to make at least some errors, because everybody -- we know everybody makes mistakes. We just put it in a place where everybody can see them. [LAUGHS]
LINDA AMSTER: And actually I think that after the Times started putting its corrections in a specific place every day and made it a regular part of the paper that was easy to find, other papers followed suit, so in a way we were, we were -we spearheaded that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Given that all of these - the numbers you have are fluid, what is the most common error? Is there one?
LINDA AMSTER: I'd say probably spelling.
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: It's got to be spellings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And what is the most common misspelling?
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: Well I think the-- Edgar Allan Poe was [LAUGHS] up there.
LINDA AMSTER: Allan and Allen Poe.
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: Yes. We also got Philip Morris [sp?], the name of the company wrong--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's a question of one L in the Philip or two?
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: Yes, exactly. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
LINDA AMSTER: Yes, exactly.
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: We counted up 128 times, and that's not necessarily all of them; that just means at least that many.
LINDA AMSTER: Another correction that - pattern that we find is in terms of a chapter Sorry, Wrong Number.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You want to give me a handy example?
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN:The one that's - begins the chapter is one of our favorites which is the Ivana Trump one. An article about Ivana Trump and her spending habits misstated the number of bras she buys. It is two dozen black, two dozen beige, and two dozen white -- not 2,000 of each. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know I saw that. That was the subject of some considerable conversation in certain circles in New York. [LAUGHTER]
LINDA AMSTER: When you saw it without the correction you mean.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Exactly! People said can this be true?!
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN:Another one which is one of my favorites in that chapter is a chart listing the projected cost of closing the Air Force laboratory in Rome, New York misstated the October 13th, 1994 estimate of how much space would be needed for a new location for the lab. It is 328,000 square feet, not 0.328. [LAUGHTER]
LINDA AMSTER: And I'll just give you one more. It was about the size of Leonard Bernstein's -- the dimensions of his Bosendorfer grand piano, and we had to hasten to say that it was 7 feet 4 inches in length, not in height. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Some of the, some of the mistakes are so just plain wack-- you, you really can't understand how they could have been made. This is one from June of 2001. A column about restaurants in Beijing mis-identified Chen Chuang Hai [sp?], owner of the home that is now the Bamboo Garden Hotel, site of the Drunken Beauty Veranda Restaurant. A reader's e-mail pointed out that Mr. Chen was a prominent businessman and government official. He was not the King Dynasty palace eunuch who designed the gardens.
LINDA AMSTER: So close. So close! [LAUGHTER]
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: Sometimes they're a little hard to explain. [LAUGHS] We excised in most cases the reasons why sometimes corrections get delayed and compiled them in the last chapter. The New York Times tries as quickly as possible to get a correction put into the paper so that people will hopefully see it who have read the article recently. Sometimes for a variety of reasons the corrections are not put into the paper as quickly as they should be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you happen to remember offhand what is the longest delay between an error being made and it being corrected?
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN:Funny you should mention that one. That's actually one of my absolute favorite ones. June 17th, 1969 there was a special edition of the, of the paper put out to commemorate the landing on the moon, and as part of that special section there was the following which was labeled a correction. On January 13, 1920, topics of the times, an editorial page feature of the New York Times dismissed the notion that a rocket could function in a vacuum and comments as follows: Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well my goodness, though. That sounds like a commentary, and if the Times set out to correct all prognostications there would be no Times. It would all be-- all be corrections.
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: Yes, true. Knowledge does change, but I think there was also something -- something wonderful about the idea that the paper is able and willing to kind of go back into its own history and, and see what the paper has said before and say, you know, we weren't quite right. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want to thank you both very much for coming up and talking to us about Kill Duck Before Serving.
LINDA AMSTER: It's a pleasure. Thank you.
DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Linda Amster and Dylan Loeb McClain are the authors of Kill Duck Before Serving: Red Faces at the New York Times. This is a compilation of the Gray Lady's more memorable mistakes.