The Washington Post’s correction policy has some elegant turns of phrase, including “Preventing and correcting mistakes are two sides of the coin of our realm: accuracy.” But it says nothing about apologies. Could that be because “The Washington Post doesn’t apologize”?
That quote was attributed to a Post editor in an e-mail published by the Washington City Paper this week. The email was written by David Winer, the managing partner of EatWell DC, a restaurant group in the Washington area. He sent it to members of his company’s mailing list to respond to a scathing review published in the Post. Winer also contacted the paper to raise questions about the critic’s conflict of interest. As a result, the Post published this Editor’s Note:
Critic Tom Sietsema should have recused himself from reviewing the Commissary, a restaurant featured in the Oct. 29 Food section. He and one of the restaurant’s owners had earlier had a personal relationship. The Washington Post regrets that he reviewed this restaurant, and will remove the review from its online archive.
Here’s how Winer’s e-mail described the conversation with Sietsema’s editor, Tom Shroder:
Mr. Shroder, understanding the ramifications of Mr. Sietsema’s actions offered a settlement; kill the story on the web immediately, print a retraction in Sunday’s paper, and that neither Mr. Sietsema nor any member of The Washington Post food team would ever write about any Eatwell DC restaurant again. What they would not do is apologize for the harm caused by Sietsema’s spurious comments. “The Washington Post doesn’t apologize” but “we will say we regret”.
I’m not aware of any other media organization that has a “no apologies” policy. Plenty of other newspapers have no problem apologizing. Some have even apologized for things that happened decades or even centuries in the past. But it’s true that the Post almost never apologizes.
A Nexis search turned up Post articles offering advice on how to apologize, as well as editorials and columns that judged other people’s apologies. The closest I came to a recent apology was a letter to the editor published in September of last year, written by by an op-ed contributor who wanted to apologize for an error:
I apologize to MSNBC talk-show host Joe Scarborough and to The Post for the cutting description of Mr. Scarborough in a Sept. 7 op-ed, “Guilty in the Duke Case,” by me and KC Johnson about the Duke lacrosse case. I wrote that description on the basis of transcripts of “Scarborough Country” programs early in the Duke case. My attention has since been drawn to transcripts of several subsequent programs, and I realize that Mr. Scarborough was one of the handful of journalists who deserve credit for calling attention early in the case to the emerging evidence of innocence.
I am very sorry that because of insufficient research, the op-ed suggested otherwise.
In September, Tom Sietsema, the food critic at the center of the controversy, offered a correction and apology while doing a chat with readers on the Post’s Web site. Here’s the exchange:
Point of Correction: Jared Slipp was the GM at the late and much missed Nectar. Danny Boylen was the notable GM of Notti Bianche in the same space.
Tom Sietsema: Right you are. My apologies.
But that’s not the same as an apology made by the paper. In order to find an example of the newspaper making a formal apology for an error it had committed, I had to go back to an article published on July 17, 1977. The headline was “An Apology and a Salute To 2 Pilots Named Stinson”:
Katherine Stinson is not dead, even though her photograph was prominently displayed on The Washington Post’s obituary page yesterday,” it began. “And even as The Post apologizes for its error, it salutes the achievements of both Katherine Stinson and the subject of the obituary, Katherine Stinson Otero. The two women shared not only names, but also remarkable aviation careers in a time when no one had heard of a women’s liberation movement.
That appears to be the only relatively recent example of the paper giving an apology the headline treatment, though there have been other variations on the theme. “Apologies to Monty Bessicks of Cushman & Wakefield, whose name was unrecognizably mangled in a recent column item about his job switch from Galbreath Co.,” read an August 1997 correction.
“WE WISH to correct an error in yesterday’s observations here on the consolidation that is rapidly changing the defense industry,” read a March 1994 editorial. “We should have said that it was Loral Corp. (not Martin Marietta Corp.) that bought LTV’s missile division two years ago. We got it wrong, and we apologize.”
There were a few other examples where the word apology appeared in a correction, but nothing was more recent than the 1994 editorial. And in the end, they were corrections, not apologies. So, given the example from 1977, perhaps the correct way for the editor to have described the paper’s policy would be: “The Washington Post doesn’t apologize anymore.”
Correction of the Week
“Because of an editing error, an article on Tuesday about Senator Barack Obama’s comments on the hip-hop style of sagging pants and exposed underwear misstated the year that Bill Clinton was asked whether he wore boxers or briefs. The error also appeared in an article on March 8 about an interview Mr. Obama gave US Weekly. It was in 1994 that a member of an MTV audience asked President Clinton the question — not in 1992 while Mr. Clinton was campaigning for president. (For those who may have remembered the year but have forgotten Mr. Clinton’s answer, he preferred briefs; Mr. Obama refused to answer the question when asked by US Weekly.)” –The New York Times
Please Continue Enjoying Your Chicken Pot Pie
“There is no salmonella outbreak involving Banquet turkey or chicken pot pies. The information appearing in the newspaper summarized a 2007 incident.” – The Lima News
“Editor’s note: In a handwritten letter from Joreen Ludeke of Burkburnett, the Times Record News mistakenly translated her statement, “My mother who was very savvy about politics …” into “very sorry about politics.” We regret the error.” – Times Record News