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…
Then, in recent months, the paper apologized to a boxing promoter, to a mother over allegations that she oversaw an out of control party for her daughter’s sixteenth birthday, and to a soccer player for fabricating quotes attributed to him. Honestly, though, this has been a rather tame year. In 2006, the paper earned Correction of the Year honors for this masterpiece:
Following our article on Princess Eugenie’s birthday celebrations, we have been asked to point out the party was closely monitored by adults throughout and while a small amount of mess was cleared away at the end of the evening, there was no damage to furniture, no revellers dived into bedrooms in search of drunken romps and to describe the house as being trashed was incorrect. We are happy to make this clear and regret any distress our report caused.
It won Apology of the Year for this:
On 13 February we published an article headed “Who bum it?” reporting that two Premiership footballers and a music industry figure had a “gay romp” in which a mobile phone was used as a “gay sex toy”. On 16 February we published a picture of Mr Cole and his fiancee headed ‘Ashley’s got a good taste in rings’.
Some readers have understood that Mr Cole was one of the two Premiership players involved in the gay sex and that Choice FM DJ, Masterstepz, was the music industry figure.
“We are happy to make clear that Mr Cole and Masterstepz were not involved in any such activities. We apologise to them for any distress caused and we are paying them each a sum by way of damages. The Sun wishes Ashley all the best for next Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final.”
And received a runner-up mention for another apology:
AN item on 2 August last year “Telly Teri’s Romps in Van” stated that actress Teri Hatcher had sex romps in her VW camper van at her home.
Although published in good faith, we now accept that the article was totally incorrect and we apologise to Ms Hatcher for the embarrassment caused.
The next year, the paper apologized to Yoko Ono:
Our May 30 story headed “Uuurrgh! My Corgi kebab is a bit ruff” said that Yoko Ono was on a radio show and “tasted” dog meat which was being eaten by an animal rights activist.
The report, which was filed to us by several leading press agencies was wholly wrong and Ms Ono did not appear or take part in the show.
We sincerely apologise to Ms Ono for the offence and distress caused to her.
And last year came this:
AN article on March 29, “Everyone off my bus, I need to pray”, stated that Arunas Raulynaitis, a London bus driver and a Muslim, asked passengers to leave his bus so he could pray and that passengers later refused to re-board the bus because they saw a ruck-sack which made them think he might be a fanatic.
The article included pictures of Mr Raulynaitis praying.
We now accept that these allegations were completely untrue.
Mr Raulynaitis is not a fanatic and he did not ask passengers to leave his bus to allow him to pray. In fact, he was praying during his statutory rest break. We apologise to Mr Raulynaitis for the embarrassment and distress caused.
With four more months of news ahead of us this year, I have a feeling that The Sun’s best efforts are yet to come. God help us all.
Correction of the Week
“Last week Sticky said the Skyhooks song Women in Uniform was on the Living in the 70’s album. Of course it was on Guilty Until Proven Insane. Apologies to police women etc, as well as guitarist Bob Spencer.” – The Age