The Wrath of Khan

Hell hath no fury like a Trekkie scorned

Hell hath no fury like a Trekkie scorned. Or a comic book collector scorned. Or a Star Wars geek scorned.

When reporting on these areas of extreme fan devotion, you better get the facts right. Hard core fans are merciless to ordinary humans unaware of the difference between a Klingon and a Romulan. Mistakes invite the Wrath of Khan. (Please, lord, let that be a correct reference.)

Several newspapers have already had their matter rearranged thanks to errors about the new Star Trek film. Imagine the fury unleashed after the Daily Press of Virginia made the mistake cited in this correction:

In Friday’s Ticket section, a caption about the new “Star Trek” movie misspelled the name of the character Spock.

I wouldn’t want to be reporter who misspelled “Spock,” nor would I want to be the person responsible for reviewing letters to the editor. For a taste of what happens when you anger up the Trekkie blood, read this recent correction from The Guardian:

Yesterday’s rave review of the new Star Trek film referred to the “hateful Klingon Nero” (Take it to the bridge, page 9, Film & Music). Numerous readers got in touch to say how very wrong this was. Here is an excerpt from one of the emails that corrected us in a stern yet graceful way: “Dear Guardian-shaped people, Uber-bad-guy (and part time CD burner) Nero is not a Klingon, he is a Romulan. I’m not normally picky about this sort of thing (which is, as you can probably tell, a complete lie) but he is referred to as a Romulan about a dozen or more times in the film, aside from the obvious giveaways like the lack of speaking in Klingon, and the absence of lumps on his forehead. Hope that helps.” (Column editor’s note: apparently there are, disappointingly, no Klingons at all in this film. There is speculation that Romulan facility in time-travel is very useful not only to Romulans, but also to the sequel franchise … ).

Other papers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also made recent Star Trek errors. (Read the corrections here.) The superfans deserve credit for being so diligent and outspoken. They seek out mistakes contained in the far reaches of every newspaper and set their emails to stun. And they’re on the hunt at all times, as evidenced by a 2005 correction from the Star-Ledger:

Attention, Star Trek fans: No more calls or e-mails, please! Captain Kirk did not often “cloak” the Starship Enterprise to make it invisible, as was erroneously reported in the “Biz Buzz” feature in yesterday’s Business section. In fact, the first known use of cloaking technology was by the Romulans in 2266, according to “The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future.” Kirk and Commander Spock were sent on a mission to steal a cloaking device from the Romulans in 2268 during the first Star Trek series. And Klingons used cloaking in the movie “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” This prompted theories of a Romulan-Klingon alliance, in which the Romulans may have traded their cloaking secrets for warp drive, reports The Star-Ledger really, really regrets the error.

Star Trek is the franchise of the moment, but The New York Times dealt with an onslaught of upset comic book fans just a few years ago. In early December 2004, the paper published this correction (as noted by Gawker):

A report in the “Arts, Briefly” column on Nov. 16 about a new Marvel Comics monthly series featuring the superhero Black Panther misstated his ethnicity and cited a precedent incorrectly. While many of his adventures take place in the United States he is African, not African-American. He would not have been the first African-American hero in comics in any case; the Falcon held that distinction.

Then, less than a week later:

A report in the “Arts, Briefly” column on Nov. 16 about a new Marvel Comics monthly series featuring the superhero Black Panther misstated his ethnicity and cited a precedent incorrectly. While many of his adventures take place in the United States he is African, not African-American. The first African-American superhero in comics was the Falcon, not Black Panther. A correction in this space on Wednesday misstated the timing of their debuts. Black Panther indeed preceded the Falcon.

And in early January:

An obituary of the innovative comic-page illustrator Will Eisner yesterday included an imprecise comparison in some copies between his character the Spirit and others, including Batman. Unlike Superman and some other heroes of the comics, Batman relied on intelligence and skill, not supernatural powers.

Writers and editors everywhere: may the facts be with you.

(Yes, I know that’s not a Star Trek reference!)

Correction of the Week

“A headline on page one of the Toronto Sun yesterday was both inaccurate and misleading. In fact, as the story reported, the mother of a boy involved in a high school fight in Keswick said her son “said something stupid.” She did not say nor imply he was stupid. The Sun regrets the error and apologizes to the boy and his family.” – Toronto Sun

Birds of a Widow

“Owens Lake: An article in Section A on April 19 about a bird census conducted at Owens Lake identified a bird sighted as a dowager. The name is dowitcher.” – Los Angeles Times

Parting Shot

“An item in the PriceWatch page in yesterday s edition, concerning value for money on tuna, made reference to the Spanish stealing Irish tuna. No Spanish fishermen have been charged with illegal fishing of tuna in Irish waters.” – Irish Times

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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.