Patterico's Pontifications

4/22/2008

Mary McNamara Shows Humor and Class in Addressing George Washington Mistake

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:48 pm

The Los Angeles Times has this correction:

HBO: A critic’s notebook in Saturday’s Calendar section that mentioned “John Adams” and other HBO shows said that George Washington served only one term as president. He served two terms.

Good enough. But better still is that the writer, Mary McNamara, has a good sense of humor about it:

Oh, if only I could claim it was all a ploy by Calendar editors to gauge readership. But when I wrote in Saturday’s story about HBO that George Washington stepped down from the presidency after serving only one term, it was just a stupid, blind error, the sort that leaves you smiting your forehead, literally and repeatedly, the moment it is pointed out to you.

For the six or seven people living in the Los Angeles Basin who did not e-mail to correct me, he served two terms, not one. And my daddy was a history teacher! Ever since the first e-mail hit my box (on Friday afternoon, about two seconds after the story went up on the website), I have been bathed in hot shame. But I want to thank you, well, most of you, for the gentle tone you took — most clever subject line award goes to: Is a TV Critic Smarter Than a 5th Grader? — though I certainly deserved all those incredulous exclamation marks as well. And yes, I did go to college. Graduated even.

Also, for the record, we entertainment writers are held just as accountable for flubbed historical references as any other journalist. The correction runs today online and in tomorrow’s print edition, and I will try to comfort myself with the knowledge that a good, strong dose of humility is always good for the soul. Especially the soul of a critic.

Well played, Mary McNamara. It would be engaging to see more human reactions like this when the Big Faceless Newspapers correct their mistakes.

One more thing, though: it’s amazing that a mistake in an item that runs on Saturday, which is noticed by the author within two seconds, takes until Monday to correct online (and until Tuesday to correct in the paper). That means the error took two to three days to correct. That’s really even more embarrassing than the error itself.

I mean, I make mistakes all the time, but they’re far less embarrassing when you catch them quickly and correct them quickly. But then, I have full control over what I publish, even after it goes up. Apparently newspapers like the L.A. Times aren’t quite so nimble — and that’s a gross understatement.

Dinosaur Media: the term works on so many levels!

9 Responses to “Mary McNamara Shows Humor and Class in Addressing George Washington Mistake”

  1. It’s easy to make a mistake but it’s not easy to make a graceful correction. Good for her.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  2. I won’t hold my breath waiting for Tim Rutten to write something as humble next time his facts are as out of whack.

    JVW (835f28)

  3. What class to not blame, fib or spin.

    An honest journalist, priceless.

    Dana (ef741f)

  4. Also good news: I’m gratified so many Angelenos know their U.S. History!

    Patricia (f56a97)

  5. A pleasantly classy response. Consequently, I’ll be watching for her byline in the future.

    It’s inexplicable, however, that the paper couldn’t have a correction up online within a couple hours of the writer learning of her mistake.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    Laura (56a0a8)

  6. where were the editors that provide the layers of fact checking?

    seaPea (480ecf)

  7. I don’t think these editors work on Sundays. In Malaysia, there are different teams that work on Sunday papers/editions as there are on the weekdays (we work Sats here).

    Plus, you’re talking about chain of command, and who the hell is gonna wake up several layers of bosses just to change a 1 to a 2? Which is what a half-sleeping fellow is gonna hear right off the bat, regardless of how major a mistake it really is.

    Now, if you were a NASA scientist, and that difference meant the Space Shuttle would burn up on reentry vs landing safely, then yeah, you’d be burning up phone lines. But an ENTERTAINMENT column? Meh. Count me doubtful.

    Gregory (f7735e)

  8. Sorry but your not getting no A just 4 Ds a F and a H you have flunked american history like most of those comming out of these public schools

    krazy kagu (85eb6b)

  9. Bummer, I was almost hoping for a weasely “Balkorrection” from the author arguing that a continuous eight-year Presidency could be thought of as one long “term,” and none of this was central to her point, blah blah blah, followed by an email from Jamie Gold explaining why no correction was needed at all since the L.A. Times is a newspaper and nothing that happened in the 18th Century is considered news. I guess that was too much to hope for, even from the Dog Trainer.

    Seriously, though, good on McNamara for handling it gracefully.

    Xrlq (b71926)


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