We all know the New York Times is going to hell in a handbasket, but it now appears to be a handbasket on gigantic wheels, complete with a 530 hp turbo-charged engine.
What latest affront to journalistic standards has the quondam “newspaper of record” committed? For that I turn to Gregg Easterbrook, the author of the ESPN.com’s weekly NFL season blog, TMQ, Tuesday Morning Quarterback.
Why to Easterbrook? Because his column yesterday performed a task that would try the patience of a saint: he actually studied the corrections pages of the Times for the past six months. For this alone, the man deserves a Pulitzer Prize for public service. Easterbrook’s Calvinist diligence allows the rest of us to soak in the hot-tub of schadenfreude that this fallen giant evokes in many who remember its more centrist days.
Now, the costly leftist rag ($2.50 for a weekday edition — a single copy! — when the far more informative Financial Times costs the same and doesn’t need a corrections page — you can actually depend on the facts you read in it) has unwittingly become the stuff of Onion–eque risibility. No, that’s unfair to a great publication. The Onion is serious. The Times isn’t.
Here are just a few of Easterbrook’s findings and comments on some of the corrections he ferreted out, which, at this rate, will soon engulf an entire section of the birdcage-lining daily to contain the ballooning vastness of just its known mistakes. He reports:
In the last six months the Paper of Record has, according to its corrections page:
• Referred to the former Baltimore Colts quarterback as “Johnny United.”
• Said “millions of Americans” retire each week. At that pace the entire country would be retired by 2013.
• In an article deep inside the paper, said a black hole named Sagittarius A* will swallow the entire Milky Way. A correction reported the black hole threatens only a distant gas cloud: “It is not the case that Sagittarius A* will consume everything in the galaxy.” If a black hole was in fact about to devour the galaxy, shouldn’t that have been on the front page?
• On the same day published four separate corrections concerning the World Series.
• Said the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that ran aground off Tuscany, carried “half a billion gallons” of fuel. That amount is 45 times the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Correct was half a million.
• Got the wrong title for a theatrical performance that was untitled.
• Confused Snow White with Sleeping Beauty.
• Confused thousands of dollars with millions of dollars — reporter responsible, would you like to be chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee?
• Confused a million dollars and a billion dollars — reporter responsible, would you like to be CEO of Fannie Mae?
• Confused drachmas with euros — reporter responsible, would you like to be finance minister of Greece?
A serious PJM reader might well ask, “Isn’t this like shooting fish in a barrel?” Yes.
A second might ask, “Isn’t it praiseworthy that (a) the Times owns up to its sloppiness and (b) makes the corrections?” No-ish and no. No-ish because there are far more factual errors than the Times ever bothers to correct, so that actual corrections page is but a drop in the mega-vat of errors the newspaper publishes everyday. And no, it isn’t praiseworthy that the newspaper runs the corrections they do because the biggest, most flagrant errors are not those pertaining to individual facts — as egregious as they are — but rather the intentional bias of the entire news coverage by the Times, as reported by TimesWatch, CAMERA (Committee for Middle East Reporting in America), The Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights, The Daily Caller, Reason.com, MediaMatters.org, BoycottNYTimes.com, inter alia.
Yet another PJM reader might inquire, “How do errors such as those listed above, as well as hundreds of other factual mistakes, make it into the newspaper in the first place?”
There are five main causes:
(1) There exist no known penalties at the Times for making whopping errors. A careless reporter may continue to work as… a careless reporter.
(2) Therefore, the incentive to check one’s facts is…zilch. Just wait for the corrections page to correct your sloppiness. No biggie.
(3) Newspapers, like many industries, are unionized. How easy is it to fire a reporter with a penchant for getting his or her easily-checkable facts wrong? It isn’t. It’s simpler, cheaper, and less litigious to run corrections than to mess with the Newspaper Guild of America, a division of the AFL-CIO.
(4) The diminution in size and quality in the ranks of copy-editors, men and women who, as recently as 40 years ago, began their workdays at 4 P.M. and spent entire evenings, often well past midnight, in a noble effort to ensure that factual, grammatical, orthographical errors — or the reporter’s or the publisher‘s personal political opinions — didn’t accidentally creep or slither into the news columns of the once-august publication.
(5) American education is now in so pitiful a state that none of the staffers or editors at the newspaper even notice the mistakes until elderly readers, well-educated in New York City’s once-magnificent public schools and universities, call the newspaper to point out the glaring errors.
They are the unpaid fact-checkers of today.
Once they pass from the scene, though, the Times staff and publisher will be home alone with no adult supervision. The newspaper’s descent will swiftly accelerate. When it does, all five boroughs of New York City, all 50 of the United States of America, as well as the world at large will become entirely dependent for its news on PJ Media.
Worse things could happen.