In the newspaper business we sometimes make mistakes that call for corrections or, at the very least, clarifications. Some blunders are worse than others, but they are all bummers from our point of view. They damage your credibility. We put the corrections right there at the beginning of the letters and this week we have a minor one there about who owns property near the university. No big deal, really. No one got hurt. But when you are the person who’s been harmed by the mistake, no matter how small, it’s a big deal. Like the property owner who alerted us to the mistake we made this week—it matters to him. I’ve experienced that burn. A few years ago I was at the City Council chambers covering a debate on Prop. 215, the medical marijuana initiative that eventually passed, but led to heartache and jail for hundreds of people because of the measure’s vague wording and society’s irrational fear of pot and the people who smoke it. Anyway, also covering the debate, which featured local cops, the county D.A. and pot promoter Ed Rosenthal, was Tim Bousquet, publisher and editor of the Chico Examiner. People used to get us mixed up all the time—Tim and Tom, French last names, each in the newspaper business—completely understandable.
At the beginning of the debate, Bousquet walked to the lectern and pointed to Chico Police Capt. Mike Maloney and objected to the fact that he was wearing a gun under his suit coat. I didn’t find that unusual. My dad was a cop and every day I saw him head to work with a gun under his coat. It was just a tool—no different than a carpenter taking his hammer or a plumber lugging a wrench. But Bousquet saw it differently and said so. Repeatedly. I remember sitting in my seat wishing Tim would knock it off and let the debate begin. The next day the Chico State University paper, The Orion, ran a front-page story about the debate that mentioned Bousquet’s diatribe against Maloney. But the reporter identified Maloney’s haranguer as me. I was horrified and immediately called the paper to demand a correction. A week later I got one, buried inside and really small—kind of like what we do. I learned a lesson.
All of the above leads to this: The Enterprise-Record acknowledged a couple of its own mistakes recently that I found, well, curious. The first was the misspelling of a letter writer’s name. Karen Duncan, who writes to the paper on a semi-regular basis, went off on the mayor and accused him of being a greedy, yet impotent politician. The letter was published Jan. 26. The next day the paper’s correction box, located on page A-2, said this: “Karen Duncan’s name was misspelled on her letter to the editor in Thursday’s Enterprise-Record. Her letter runs in its entirety, with her name spelled correctly in today’s paper.” Why, I wondered, wouldn’t the paper simply note the misspelling? Why would it re-run the entire hateful letter knocking the mayor? Simple: In the original, Duncan’s name was misspelled “Dunce.” If it had been misspelled as Dincan or Dunken or anything that didn’t bring to mind a dullard sitting in a corner and wearing a pointy cap, I think the correction would have been enough. Mistakenly labeling someone as a dunce obviously calls for a greater response. I would have offered the offended party $20 as a token of our remorse rather than print the repugnant letter two days in a row.
Then on Tuesday the E-R posted this correction: “A relative called the Enterprise-Record to dispute an article Monday in which someone stated the deceased Garrison Patrick was not a good farmer. The relative said Patrick was indeed a good farmer.” Once again, my curiosity got the better of me. The story in question, “Nuts to be celebrated during February,” by Heather Hacking, employed this description of Farmer Patrick: “Her husband grew almonds, but it’s said that he wasn’t all that skilled of a farmer.” In this case the E-R didn’t bother to rerun the entire story with the correction. I think that is for a number of reasons. First, the law says you can’t libel a dead person. Beyond that, the late farmer’s skills are really just a matter of opinion. I think this correction was more of a way to placate the angry relative than set the record straight.
And for the record: There is nothing worse than making a mistake in a correction. And I really hope there are no mistakes in this column. I know Bob V. and Miles J. are checking.