‘NY Times’ Editors Explain Corrections Book

By: Ana Mantica

Despite an army of copy editors, mistakes still squeak by, and whether big or small The New York Times has gone to great lengths to prominently run corrections for the last 30 years.

Aiming to collect the most embarrassing ones, editors Linda Amster and Dylan Loeb McClain looked at an astounding 20,000 to 25,000 corrections over the course of a year-and-a-half to select almost 500 for the just-published book, “Kill Duck Before Serving: Red Faces at The New York Times” (St. Martin’s Griffin).

“While we profoundly regret every error, there was no denying that we’re human and have a sense of humor,” said Allan M. Siegal, the assistant managing editor of the Times who wrote the book’s introduction. The errors range from amusing misspellings to the re-writing of history. The book has already sold at least 4,000 copies, according to one of its editors.

Amster, the newspaper’s news research manager, said she and McClain are avid readers of the corrections section and thought it would be fun to come up with a compilation of some of the best ones. According to McClain, manager of the Times‘ business graphics department, the pair’s different sensibilities worked well together as they made their selections. “If we both agreed, we had to include it,” McClain said. “If we had disagreements, we put them aside. It went very smoothly.” Additional collaboration on the book’s selections came from Mike Levitas, the Times‘ editorial director of book development, who approved the idea for the book.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, we had so much good material,” McClain said. He added that the corrections “point to the importance the Times places on trying to get the facts straight, no matter how seemingly trivial.” Added Siegal, “The book gave us an opportunity to talk about how hard we try to avoid errors, and how conscientiously we correct the ones we learn about.”

The book suggests that the Times seems to sometimes have a problem with numbers. “In some editions of The New York Times, the White House Office of Communications was quoted as having said that 175,000 lawyers were involved in various Watergate inquiries. The phrase should have read 175 to 200 lawyers.” In one of its most famous corrections, the newspaper made it clear that Ivana Trump had purchased two dozen black, two dozen beige, and two dozen white bras — not two thousand of each. And an article about Imelda Marcos’s “appearance at an arraignment hearing in Manhattan misstated her shoe size. The size is 8 1/2.”

Geography can be a problem, too. “A map about new findings on the authenticity of the Vinland Map, said to be the earliest map showing any part of the Americas, misidentified the ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. It is the Atlantic, not the Pacific.”

Identities can easily be confused. A photo caption incorrectly identified Phyllis Diller as Lucille Ball’s guest on the TV show “Here’s Lucy.” The picture “was actually of Jim Bailey, who is noted for his impersonation of Miss Diller.”

Then there’s the animal kingdom. An article about a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art incorrectly revealed that the artist had used “cow dung” in making a collage. What he actually used was “elephant dung.”

And apparently when writing about recipes it’s important to note that what’s being cooked must be killed first. The correction that gives the book its title admitted that the paper had “incorrectly described a presentation of Muscovy duck by Michel Fitoussi, a New York chef. In preparing it, Mr. Fitoussi uses a duck that has been killed.”

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