Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Here's mote in your eye

Another in that series of curious events suggesting that there's less to journalism's alleged obsession with accuracy than meets the eye:

A March 27 story about rapper Eminem and his ex-wife Kim Mathers incorrectly said that the pair agreed in a court order not to criticize each other in public. The court order only prevents them from criticizing each other in front of their daughter, Hailie, and does not affect what they say in public.

Glad we cleared that up. If we hadn't run the story in the first place, of course, we wouldn't be wasting space on the correction, but it's hard to criticize anybody for being too accurate.

The corrections column does say "If you see a mistake, please call us or e-mail us." One suspects it really means "if you see an inaccurate detail," not "if you see a mistake that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the world works." Otherwise there might have been a small note about this goof, which the paper in question has now run three times:

David Hicks, the 31-year-old Australian who became the first person to face a U.S. war crimes trial since World War II, unexpectedly agreed to plead guilty to a single count of lending material support to terrorism in an extraordinary court proceeding here Monday night.

One is tempted to say something like "Rusty Calley?" But according to the New York Times (writing about a trial from the Panama invasion), that doesn't narrow it down much: "From 1965 to 1973, there were 241 cases, not including My Lai, that involved allegations of various war crimes against United States soldiers. Of those, 36 cases were brought to a court-martial." So we can't even say "first war crimes trial since World War II that didn't produce an alarmingly weird Top 40 song."*

And there's this:

Bill Clinton mostly ignored foreign policy in his first term, then threw himself into Middle East peacemaking as his days in office drew to a close, although he came up short.

Strangeness! A lot of us thought, like, the Arafat-Rabin thing (September 1993) and the Dayton accords (November 1995) sort of fell into the first Clinton term. What were we smoking?

Conclusion of sermon: Accuracy's nice, but it comes in different flavors. Details about the rich and stupid are one thing. Knowing what the heck you're writing about and why is quite another. Please order your efforts accordingly.

* "The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley," by C Company featuring Terry Nelson. No. 1 that week: "Joy to the World" (Three Dog Night). Also cracking the Top 40 for the first time: "Brown Sugar." Making big moves up the charts: "Love Her Madly," "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo," "Chick-a-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It)." HEADSUP-L feels very old right now, thanks.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Wow. I just Googled "the first person to face a U.S. war crimes trial since World War II" and it's all over the place!

7:01 PM, April 03, 2007  

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