Very few newspapers or other media outlets provide me with better material for my errors and corrections Web site than The Sun, a British tabloid. The paper is perhaps the most consistent supplier of false allegations and titillating stories that later become egregious, amusing apologies and corrections. The errors and corrections beat would be a darker place without The Sun.
Among newspapers that will actually acknowledge a falsehood, and there are many British tabloids that won’t, The Sun offers the most entertaining corrections in the world. Sure, The New York Times and The Guardian publish more corrections per day than The Sun. But what The Sun lacks in volume, it makes up for with quality. Why trudge through four or five mundane corrections a day when every few weeks you can be treated to an apology like this July offering from the paper:
SURREY Police have not blamed gipsies for an attack on their force helicopter, no staff in their operations rooms were threatened by gipsies and no gipsy site was being targeted for a raid as we reported on May 14. We apologise for the mistakes and are happy to set the record straight.
I have to confess that I crack a smile anytime I see a Sun correction or apology pop up online or in Nexis. I know I’m for a treat. At the same time, I realize that a person, organization, or entire ethnic group has had to suffer a damaging story in order for me to receive the correction bounty. A jaw-dropping apology or correction requires an equally jaw-dropping story, and that usually means someone has been falsely accused of something nasty.
The Sun has been known to put a good story ahead of the facts, but one British media expert says it’s by no means the worst offender in that part of the world.
“The Sun generally does better than some of its national newspaper colleagues when it comes to accuracy,” wrote Martin Moore, the director of the Media Standards Trust, in an e-mail to me. “And, from people I’ve spoken to, the paper is more prepared to engage with those (e.g. charities) who can show it where it’s getting things wrong or misrepresenting someone/something. Coupled with its commitment to entertain and amuse its readers, this means the Sun generally does not do nearly as badly as some of its competitors when it comes to egregious errors and engaging with unhappy readers.”
That makes me feel a little less guilty about enjoying the paper’s apologies and corrections. So please sample this popular 2005 apology:
IN an article published on The Sun website on January 27 under the headline “Gollum joker killed in live rail horror’ we incorrectly stated that Julian Brooker, 23, of Brighton, was blown 15ft into the air after accidentally touching a live railway line. His parents have asked us to make clear he was not turned into a fireball, was not obsessed with the number 23 and didn’t go drinking on that date every month.
Julian’s mother did not say, during or after the inquest, her son often got on all fours creeping around their house pretending to be Gollum.
Also, quotes from a witness should have been attributed to Gemma Costin not Eva Natasha. We apologise for the distress this has caused Julian’s family and friends.
It seems to me that fantasy and naughtiness are part of the paper’s appeal. Its scantily-clad Page Three girl first appeared when Rupert Murdoch relaunched the paper in 1969. A year later, she lost her top completely. Mixed with the daily dose of bare breasts, celebrity gossip, and sports news are bingo games and other contests and prize opportunities for readers. The paper has also been known to have its fun with public figures, running a 1987 mock editorial against Labour leader Neil Kinnock entitled, “Why I’m Backing Kinnock, by Joseph Stalin.”
So perhaps it’s not such a surprise that the paper sexed up its story about Brooker, though you have to feel for his family and friends.
This year, The Sun has issued five notable apologies, including the gypsies regret above. Things started with a columnist offering an apology to Sharon Osbourne:
IN my column on August 22 I suggested that Sharon Osbourne was an unemployed, drugaddled, unfit mum with a litter of feral kids. This was not intended to be taken literally. I fully accept she is none of these things and sincerely apologise to Sharon and her family for my unacceptable comments. Sorry Sharon…