Why do major media only make SOME corrections?

The New York Times is supposedly fastidious about making corrections, and yet in two instances recently, where I submitted corrections, or at least alerted them to errors, the errors have gone uncorrected for months.

Case in point: A photo essay in the Metro section on October 3, 2004, about the delivery of a new Torah scroll to Congregation Khal Chasidey Skwere in Brooklyn, shows a photo of a bearded man using a magnifier to look at an etrog, an Israeli-grown citrus fruit that plays a central role in the Jewish festival of Sukkot. The etrog must be considered perfect to be used in the festival, and the man is examining it for the required features, mainly the pitot or stems, that must be intact on either end. The Times’ caption says in part, “Yitzchak Mayer Youngeworth, bottom left, examined a fruit for its adherence to dietary laws last Sunday at a stand in Borough Park.”

Pardon me, but the Times of all papers ought to know that etrogim are not eaten, so “dietary” laws have nothing to do with this examination.

Two emails and a voice mail left with the Times’ corrections desk have never been answered.

You can’t find the photo essay on the Times website. I have a copy if you want to see it.

Second case: A December 2004 article about “an odd series” of money transfers out of the World Jewish Congress, describes a bookkeeper for the WJC as having done the transfers because of advanced dementia, but nowhere does the article offer the bookkeeper or his family any opportunity to rebut this terrible allegation, and the article gives no indication that any effort was made to get such a reaction.

Again, a call to the corrections desk has gone unanswered.

It would seem that only the news the Times thinks is fit to correct gets corrected.

2 Comments on Why do major media only make SOME corrections?

  1. Daniel Okrent, the public editor of the New York Times, has responded to my blog posting.Here’s his response:Dear Mr. Lubetkin, I can’t speak for the paper, only for myself. The first example you give seems, on the face of it, to call for a correction. As I can only propose, and do not dispose (that’s left to the editors of the paper itself), I am forwarding a copy of this to the corrections editor, as he may have a different view of it. The second matter does not seem to me to be cause for a correction. It may be that the reporting was inadequate, but you can’t have a correction without a factual misstatement, and none is apparent from your description. This is not a comment on the fairness or completeness of the article, only on the appropriateness of a correction.Yours sincerely,Daniel OkrentPublic Editor====================…and I’ve responded to Mr. Okrent as follows:Dear Mr. Okrent, Thanks very much for the reply, the first I’ve received from the Times on either of these questions. I completely understand that the determination to publish a correction is up to the editors, but I think you will agree that to the reader, these decisions seem to approach the quixotic. The editors will use half a column inch to explain that a person’s last name was rendered incorrectly, or that an event happened on Saturday, not Sunday. And yet, a demonstrable error like the examination of the etrog, will be completely ignored. To this reader, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. As to the second article (and I apologize for not having saved the clip, and for being unwilling to shell out $2.95 to dig it out of the online archive), I agree, it’s not a correction that’s required. It appears to be a case of careless reporting/editing that permitted the direct quotation alleging an individal was “severely demented” to be left unrebutted. Nevertheless, there should be consideration of an Editor’s Note to acknowledge that this doesn’t live up to the Times’ requirements for balanced coverage, don’t you think? Again, thanks for the initial response. I look forward to hearing how the corrections editors choose to deal with these concerns.========================Stay tuned!

  2. Following up on the email posted from Daniel Okrent, the New York Times’ public editor, here’s feedback from the Times’ corrections editor, Bill Borders:Dear Mr. Lubetkin:Dan Okrent has passed along your correspondence about the two instances in which your communications with The New York Times went unacknowledged. I apologize for this discourtesy, in both cases. We try to answer all mail that finds fault with what we do, but too often we slip up.As to the substance of your letters –As Dan explained in his e-mail message to you yesterday, the article about the World Jewish Congress doesn’t really present us with an error that needs correcting. I think we could have handled the matter better in the first place, though, and wish we had.The caption on Sukkot, on the other hand, was a clear error, and I have flagged it in our electronic archives, to prevent its generating a repetition of the error about the etrog some time in the future, by a reporter consulting the files. It does not seem to be that we need to print a correction in the paper, especially since the error was printed five months ago. If the error had done harm to a named individual, we would correct it no matter how old it was, but in this case just correcting the archive seems sufficient.Thanks so much for writing, and for holding The Times to a high standard. We welcome the scrutiny of careful readers like you because it helps us to do our job.Best, Bill Borders, senior editor, The New York Times.

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