It's easy, too easy, to make fun of the lowly "corrections" columns in the daily papers. When, for example, the Tribune announces, as it did in July of this year, that "The name of Richard Seaman, vice president of Evanston's Fourth of July Association, was misspelled in Thursday's Chicagoland story about fireworks celebrations," we cannot help but think that this is probably not the first time Dick Seaman has had his name misspelled.
But it's wrong to consider the corrections columns merely as a source of mirth. Errors, as Freud taught us many years ago, are rife with meaning, and they can have real-world consequences, sometimes dire. In the following table we offer a salute of sorts to the heroic efforts of the after-the-fact fact checkers, and speculate on some of the possible reasons for errors made in the city's two major dailies over the past year.
The Ever-Changing World in Which We Live:
Correction: (Saturday, June 17, Tribune) "A map that ran Friday incorrectly identified an area in Croatia as Western Slovenia. It should have been identified as Western Slavonia."
Possible Reason for Error: Tribune editors confused by ingenious, if somewhat whimsical, CIA disinformation campaign.
Correction: (Friday, September 1, Tribune) "A map on the front page Thursday identified Romania as Bulgaria."
Possible Reason for Error: Overreliance of Tribune staff on expertise of Ann Landers on all matters Slavic.
Correction: (Thursday, May 25, Tribune) "A graphic on Wednesday's front page incorrectly indicated the direction of the Earth's rotation on its axis. The Earth rotates on its axis in a counterclockwise motion."
Possible Reason for Error: In a world of digital clocks, notions of "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" have become arcane knowledge, of relevance only to specialists.
Correction: (Tuesday, February 7, Sun-Times) "A photo caption in Monday's paper was incorrect. The International Bakery in Bridgeview is owned by Bernie Estrada, who is not Arab-American."
Possible Reason for Error: Reporter mistook baker's hat for a turban.
Correction: (Saturday, February 25, Tribune) "A review in the Feb. 19 Tribune Books section referred to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt as 'a soon-to-retire book critic for The New York Times.' Mr. Lehmann-Haupt is not about to retire."
Possible Reason for Error: Wishful thinking on part of overly ambitious reviewer.
Correction: (Wednesday, August 30, Tribune) "A story Thursday about Cook County State's Atty. Jack O'Malley included in the category of important convictions the slaying of a North Shore 'dentist' by a white supremacist. Jonathan Haynes did not in fact kill a dentist, but a plastic surgeon (Dr. Martin Sullivan), whom Haynes considered a purveyor of 'fake Aryan beauty.'"
Possible Reason for Error: Reporter thought the term "white supremacist" referred to those with a passion for clean teeth.
Correction: (Tuesday, October 3, Tribune) "In the last line of an item in Sunday's 'Chicago this week' column, Judge Eugene Wojcik's name was mistakenly substituted for that of convicted murderer Guinevere Garcia. Garcia faces execution by lethal injection on Nov. 21. The Tribune regrets the error."
Possible Reason for Error: Ann Landers filling in for regular columnist.
Inquiring Minds Want to Know:
Correction: (Tuesday, September 19, Tribune) "An answer to the first question of the News Quiz in Perspective Sunday was partially incorrect. The bones discovered at a Chicago construction site indeed were human, but the bones discovered in Will County belonged to a mastodon, not a dinosaur."
Possible Reason for Error: Hey, one petrified bone looks like another.
Correction: (Wednesday, May 24, Tribune) "A concert review in Monday's ArtsPlus contained an error: Bad Brains vocalist H.R. broke the nose of the Bad Brains' road manager, not guitarist Dr. Know."
Possible Reason for Error: Unconscious belief that anyone calling himself "Dr. Know" deserves to have his nose broken.
Correction: (Saturday, May 20, Sun-Times) "A story in Friday's editions incorrectly referred to Northeastern Illinois University provost Salme Steinberg as a man. Steinberg, a woman, was named acting president of the school effective Sept.1."
Possible Reason for Error: Vicious whispering campaign by Steinberg's rivals for the job.
Correction: (Wednesday, September 27, Tribune) "A portrait in Tuesday's Tempo section was incorrectly identified as that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The portrait was of George Frederic Handel."
Possible Reason for Error: Photo captioner thinks dead white male musicians all look alike.
Correction: (Tuesday, February 7, Sun-Times) "A story in Monday's paper incorrectly identified Buster Porch. He is mayor of Calumet Park."
Possible Reason for Error: Reporter confused Buster Porch with Buster Bloodvessel, lead singer of legendary ska band Bad Manners.
Correction: (Friday, September 15, Tribune) "Because of a production error, R. Bruce Dold's name and picture were placed on Maureen Dowd's column on Thursday's Op-Ed Page."
Possible Reason for Error: Well, R. Bruce Dold writes like a girl.
Correction: (Friday, June 9, Tribune) "A headline in some editions Thursday indicated that Hinsdale was considering purchase of a sludge pond. The village already owns the site and is looking at ways to reclaim it for other uses."
Possible Reason for Error: Tribune editors roped into an elaborate scheme to inflate sludge-pond prices through media-disinformation campaign.
Matters of Sense and Sensibility:
Correction: (Wednesday, May 31, Tribune) "Due to a late, unannounced program change, a musical work was mistakenly identified in a review of the Kronos Quartet that ran in some editions of ArtsPlus on May 23. The comments about 'Mach' by John Oswald actually referred to Harry Partch's 'Barstow,' as arranged by Ben Johnston."
Possible Reason for Error: Understandable error, especially since two members of the quartet didn't know about the change themselves and went on playing "Mach" anyway.
Correction: (Tuesday, January 31, Tribune) "In some editions of Sunday's Home section, the third paragraph of a story on blending styles of furnishings did not appear. That paragraph reads: Color coordination is a must. In a room filled with various elements, a unifying force is needed, and color will do the trick. Select only a few colors, and repeat them often for constancy throughout the room."
Possible Reason for Error: Infighting among Home editors over decorating preferences.
Facts Are Stupid Things:
Correction: (Wednesday, June 28, Sun-Times) "Morningline results on Monday's question, 'Should the cat that attacked a toddler last week be killed to determine if it has rabies?' were: yes, 71 percent; no, 29 percent. The results were incorrect in Tuesday's paper."
Possible Reason for Error: Ingenious cat in Lincoln Park had learned to work the autoredialer on its master's phone.
Correction: (Wednesday, July 26, Tribune) "The story in Tuesday's Metro/ McHenry section about a proposed berm at a Spring Grove gravel pit misstated the estimated amount of asbestos-containing material in the 45,000 cubic yards of soil that would be used for the earthen wall. The correct amount should be 5 cubic yards instead of 5,000 cubic yards."
Possible Reason for Error: No one in office sure what a "berm" is or how much asbestos you need to make one.
Correction: (Saturday, September 16, Tribune) "A story Friday misstated the path of a bullet that killed Vicki Weaver, the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver. The bullet, fired by an FBI agent during the standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, struck Mrs. Weaver and lodged in the chest of family friend Kevin Harris."
Possible Reason for Error: Misapplication of "single-bullet" theory.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Peter Hannan.