Star Trek Insurrection

Commenters force news site to admit “Patrick Stewart is a handsome man”

“We’re sorry for claiming Captain Kirk was in command of Captain Picard’s starship,” reads the headline on a rather remarkable apology issued this week by, the Australian news portal owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Look just below the headline and you’re treated to a grainy image of the venerable Captain Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise flipping the bird. (Unintentionally, mind you). Yes, there’s something special about this apology. It also includes a shout-out to a commenter named Your Mum’s Lunch, the admission “that Patrick Stewart is a handsome man,” and the sincere expression that “Any damage to the Star Trek brand incurred by the use of the term ‘hyperspace’ is regretful.”

The apology was necessitated by an inaccurate article about the publication of a new owner’s manual for the USS Enterprise. The article’s author, technology editor Peter Farquhar, committed a few errors in the course of his reporting, which inevitably unleashed some very surly Trekkie/Trekker commenters. (See my previous column about how dangerous it is for journalists to mess with Star Trek, comics, and other stalwarts of geek culture.)

Rather than publish a hidden, sheepish correction, Farquhar’s responded with an amusing apology that continues to by passed around the far reaches of the online galaxy.

I contacted Farquhar by e-mail this week to see if he could offer a bit more detail about his apology. Our exchange is below.

Was the reaction to the offending article limited to the comments, or did you hear from people in other ways as well?

Peter Farquhar: Mostly. There’s a lot of Facebook feedback and Twitterers calling for my head. From my POV, the best outcome was that I outed a few Trekkies in the office.

How did this reaction compare to your previous experience with mistaken articles?

PF: You learn pretty quickly that there are some things you just don’t mess with. I also nervously press the button on Warcraft stories, quantum physics, and anything which requires me to run a picture of an airplane.

Why did you choose to go with a more, shall I say, lighthearted correction rather than a straightforward one?

PF: I actually thought a straightforward approach would also prove to be lighthearted. With minor embellishments…

What was your goal with it?

PF: In all honesty, I didn’t like the fact I’d upset the fans in my original story. It was a small piece and they deserved a bit more respect. My goal with the apology was to provide a laugh on a slow news day, nothing more.

Have you ever written a correction in that way before?

PF: I didn’t see it as a correction at all. It was an acknowledgement that I’d messed up and that the fans knew more than I ever could.

The image choice for the correction is a bold one. Can you comment on the message it’s sending? And whom is the finger directed at?

PF: The finger’s directed at me. It’s a reminder that no matter how frightening Trekkies can get, I’m still yet to deal with Patrick Stewart.

Why the comment about the handsomeness of Captain Picard?

PF: Some commenters made the observation—weirdly, without any prompting. I thought it was a fair point.

What kind of reaction have you received for the correction? Anything stand out?

PF: So far we’ve approved 471 comments and declined 18. Most people simply enjoyed it, but the hardcore fans obviously weren’t impressed with the addition of two new starship classes—the NNC and the Galaxy Class Enterprise-E. Actually, a lot of them have now forgotten about me and are arguing amongst themselves.

Not that I’m proud of that, by the way. The Federation’s worked hard to bring peace to the galaxy and I go and mess it up with a couple of misplaced capital letters.

Was the addendum in fact added after publication, or was it there from the start (with the assumption that people would find other errors)?

PF: The addendum was added ten minutes after I published it. Admission—I caved in when I realized the piece was perhaps a little too subtle without it. Even so, I had to add the poll a couple of hours later to cool things down a bit more. These are the luxuries of internet reporting—apologies to my horrified print colleagues.

What lesson have you learned regarding coverage of anything related to Star Trek?

PF: I’ve promised my editor I won’t wind up Star Trek fans any more than twice a year from now on.

Correction of the Week

“The Butte County District Attorney’s Office clarified that Oroville mini-storage stabbing suspect Zachary James Ragan does not have a horn tattooed on his forehead. Rather, he has devil horns tattooed on the sides of his forehead.” - Chico Enterprise-Record

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Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star. Tags: , , , ,