I enjoy reading the Corrections section of the New York Times. The paper’s corrections are revealing in several ways. Often, they show a remarkable ignorance of subjects like arithmetic, science, history and literature on the part of the paper’s reporters and editors. They also allow us to deduce the law that governs the Times’s willingness to correct its mistakes: the Times corrects errors with an alacrity that is inversely proportional to the significance of the error. Thus, if the error weakens a liberal case the paper was trying to make, getting the paper to correct it is like pulling teeth. We have succeeded in forcing the Times to correct on a couple of occasions, but in other instances they have refused even when it is obvious that what they reported was false.
On the other hand, if the Times’s mistake was utterly trivial–for example, if the society section makes a mistake on where the best man went to high school–corrections are easy to obtain. Yesterday’s Corrections section included a correction that may approach the record for both triviality and weirdness. It related to a photograph in an article on cat wrangling:
Because of an editing error, a caption on Saturday with an article about the service Catch Your Cat, Etc., a for-hire pet-cat catcher, described incorrectly a picture of the cat Vivian Grant hiding behind a sofa. It was taken after she had been corralled and released, not before.
Whew! Glad they cleared that up. Here, if you are curious, is the photo:
When the Times makes corrections of such triviality, the unspoken implication is that everything else in the paper that day was right. The howlers in columns by Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman and in the paper’s editorials, and the errors and biases that infect the paper’s news stories, are all swept away: the only thing we got wrong, the Times tells us, was the timing of the photo of Vivian, the wrangled cat. Imagine how much better a paper the Times would be if only that were true.