Sun corrections: Fessing up

The April 15, 1912 Evening Sun falsely reported that all Titanic passengers were safe.
The April 15, 1912 Evening Sun falsely reported that all Titanic passengers were safe. (File photo)

Enraged at a Sun article that he thought misrepresented him, a gentleman named Rudolph Handel marched up and down Calvert Street for years in the 1970s and 1980s bearing signs that read "SUN LIES" and "SUN ERRS." We admit to the latter, but not the former. Some examples:

•When the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860, The Sun headline identified him as "Abram Lincoln."

•On Christmas Eve in 1873, the skeleton staff producing the paper locked the door to keep drunks from wandering onto the premises. When a servant of a local doctor arrived to deliver a message to the newsroom, he was turned away. Thus the next morning it was in the pages of the American rather than The Sun that Baltimore learned of the death of Johns Hopkins.

•In the editions of Monday, April 15, 1912, The Evening Sun, relying on early, erroneous reports, went to press with this headline on the front page: "ALL TITANIC PASSENGERS ARE SAFE TRANSFERRED IN LIFEBOATS AT SEA."

Any newspaper's past includes a history of mistaken judgments and outright blunders. It is errors of fact — misspelled names, incorrect dates and the like — that we are scrupulous about correcting.

The Sun once ran a recipe for a "hearty cheese soup" and subsequently published a correction about the omission of one ingredient: the water. It would have been a hearty soup indeed.

Not all errors merit correction. Errors in grammar and usage, for example, are not ordinarily subject to public correction or apology.

An Evening Sun food page article on home canning and preserving produced a legendary headline, "You Can Put Pickles Up Yourself." There's no writing a correction for that.

Many journalists believe it is impermissible to repeat the original error in writing a correction, a belief that may have risen from an apprehension about repeating a potentially libelous statement and incurring further liability. But in many cases the result is an opaque statement, as in a correction that read, "In early editions of The Sun yesterday, the wrong sea turtle was pictured being released in Virginia." Your guess is as good as anyone's about that one.

And, one sighs to see it, a check of our electronic records shows that we have, more than once, misspelled "misspell" in published corrections.

The Sun regrets the errors.

John McIntyre, The Sun's night content production manager, has edited copy, and written corrections, for the paper for more than a quarter-century.

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