Those goofs and corrections range from the amusing to egregious. Sometimes, the names of letter writers are inadvertently switched (from the Arizona Daily Star):
The letter to the editor “Human body not an example” Wednesday on B7 was written by Robert H. Tucker of Tucson. It was not written by Garland E. Twitty of Marana and it is not his viewpoint.
Other times, errors are introduced in editing (San Francisco Chronicle):
Because of an editing error, a letter by Hal Rowland on Sept. 22 read “yellow citizens” when it should have read “fellow citizens.”
False accusations are made (Hamilton Spectator):
A Dec. 4 letter to the editor described Gary McHale in a way that was not accurate. The Hamilton Spectator withdraws any suggestion that Mr. McHale has perpetrated violence in his activities at Caledonia. The Hamilton Spectator apologizes for the error.
Plagiarism is committed (The New York Times):
On Aug. 7, we published a letter from Zachary Townsend, a student at Brown University and a columnist for the student newspaper, about Japan’s role in sex slavery in World War II, and slavery in the world today. We have now learned that the letter included material taken without attribution from an article in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, “The New Global Slave Trade,” by Ethan B. Kapstein.
The student newspaper, The Brown Daily Herald, said in an editors’ note on Monday that it had discovered after a review that several of Mr. Townsend’s columns had included material taken from other sources without attribution and that he had been dismissed as a columnist.
Reached by e-mail on Tuesday about his letter in The Times, Mr. Townsend said he had read the Foreign Affairs article but had not intended to plagiarize from it.
Had we known of the unattributed material, we would not have published Mr. Townsend’s letter.
To my knowledge, the Times hasn’t made an announcement about the results of its plan to reexamine its verification procedures, so we’ll have to wait and see what solutions, if any, the paper can come up with. It’s admittedly a unique challenge to read, fact check, edit, and verify the authorship of such a large number of letters.
One useful strategy, since so many letters now come via e-mail, would be to create an online form for letter writers similar to the Chicago Tribune’s error report form. This form would require people to fill out information such as their name, home/work and email address, home or office phone number. It would cut down on the number of people who send in letters and offer nothing more than a firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address.
The form would speed up the process of gathering identifying information, and enable an editor to quickly check if the phone number matches the address or affiliation given. Of course, one of the best ways to verify authorship is decidedly old school: pick up the phone and call them.
Apart from that, any letter that accuses someone of “brandishing dildoes and ‘doobies’ or marijuana joints” requires a genuine fact check, however painful it may be.
Correction of the Week
“Due to space restrictions, the word “vegetarian” was omitted from the description of Rabbi Arie Chark’s favourite Chinese restaurant (”It’s a tough time to be Jewish,” Jan. 2). Rabbi Chark would like to assure readers that he does, in fact, keep kosher.” – Winnipeg Sun
“A STORY in The Advertiser yesterday stated that 9030 interstate visitors spent a night holidaying in SA in 2007, with that figure forecast to drop to 8699 this year.
The correct figures were 9,030,000 total visitor nights spent in SA in 2007, to drop to 8,699,000 during 2009.” – The Advertiser (Australia)
“The article “Unified standard seen linking mobile world” published yesterday incorrectly stated that telecommunications executive Craig Ehrlich is married to Christine Loh Kung-wai. Statements attributed to Mr Ehrlich that he used the term “wife” to describe his relationship with Ms Loh were in fact not what he said. We apologise for any embarrassment this has caused.” – South China Morning Post