The Times ‘Fesses Up

On April 25, the New York Times published an article on the airlines’ efforts to regain profitability that was headlined: “One Day, That Economy Ticket May Buy You a Place to Stand.” The Times trumpeted the claim that Airbus is promoting standing-room-only seating on its jets:

The airlines have come up with a new answer to an old question: How many passengers can be squeezed into economy class?

A lot more, it turns out, especially if an idea still in the early stage should catch on: standing-room-only “seats.”

Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none have agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to experts who have seen a proposal.

The article included a graphic that ostensibly showed Airbus’s standing-passenger plan:

Airbus474.jpg

On Tuesday, the Times ran a correction that acknowledged a fundamental error:

During preparation of the article, The Times’s questions to one aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, were imprecise. The company now says that while it researched that idea in 2003, it has since abandoned it. The article also misstated the capacity of the Airbus A380 superjumbo jet. The airliner can accommodate 853 passengers in regular seats; standing-room positions would not be needed.

This was one of those “oops, never mind” corrections. As we have repeatedly noted (here, for example), the Times sometimes corrects errors, but fails to acknowledge the fact that the correction negated the whole point of the article. Now, however, for the first time, as far as I’ve seen, the Times apparently agrees that a standard correction is not sufficient when that correction undermines the whole premise of the article. Today, this Editor’s Note appeared among the Times’ corrections:

A front-page article on April 25 about seating options that airlines are considering to accommodate more passengers in economy class referred incorrectly to the concept of carrying passengers standing up with harnesses holding them in position. During preparation of the article, The Times’s questions to one aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, were imprecise and did not make it clear that the reporter was interested in standing-room “seats.” As a result, the article said the company would not specifically comment on the upright-seating proposal. The company now says that while it researched that idea in 2003, it has since abandoned it.

A correction of the article appeared on this page on Tuesday. It should have acknowledged that if The Times had correctly understood the history of the proposal, the article would have qualified it, and would not have appeared on Page A1.

We applaud the Times for moving in the direction, at least, of acknowledging the significance of the error to the original story. We hope this will become a standard practice at the Times; so standard that it will apply even to stories about the Bush administration.

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