Thursday, 3 February 2005

Great Moments in Journalism

From the New York Times of Monday 31st January :
The thing is certainly big - 30,000 tons heavier and 16 feet taller than a Boeing 747, with wings 50 feet wider. Its upper deck stretches the length of the plane, making room for as many as 840 seats, compared with a mere 416 in the 747. But is big still so beautiful? The biggest ship sank a long time ago, the fastest jetliner is retired, and the tallest skyscrapers don't have the same glamour since Sept. 11, 2001.


Correction: Feb. 2, 2005, Wednesday
An editorial on Monday about the new jumbo Airbus misstated the weight of the airplane. Its takeoff weight, fully loaded with passengers, freight and fuel, is hundreds of thousands of pounds heavier than the Boeing 747, depending on the configurations, not 30,000 tons heavier. It's an aircraft, not an aircraft carrier.
Tons, Pounds, what's the difference? Still, 10/10 for the self-deprecating good humour.

But what about the "biggest ship sank some time ago"? According to CBS, it's the Queen Mary 2.
World's Biggest Ship Debuts
Of course, that's CBS, so checking is needed. According to Cunard, the owners, she's only 150,000 tonnes. Currently, the largest ship in the world is the Knock Nevis, a Supertanker (VLCC - Very Large Crude Carrier) of 647,955 tonnes gross weight. And indeed, she was sunk.
It was built between 1979 and 1981, sunk by the Iraqi air force in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq War, and refloated in 1991.
Her plates have been worn too thin to be used in her original capacity, and she's now a floating oil storage depot.

So the NYT is, for once, right. The biggest ship *was* sunk some time ago. What the NYT doesn't say though is that she was re-floated. Either because they didn't know, or because they they were referring to the RMS Titanic, or simply because they never let inconvenient facts interfere with the point they want to push. Never mind.

From The Guardian, of the 2nd of February :
A militant group in Iraq claimed last night to have kidnapped an American soldier and threatened to kill him if Iraqi prisoners were not released within 72 hours.

The group posted on the internet what appeared to be a photograph of a soldier sitting in front of a black banner with a gun pointed at his head.

A statement posted with the picture said a number of other soldiers were killed when the hostage was kidnapped and suggested the group was holding other soldiers. The group did not say where the incident happened and there was no independent confirmation of the kidnapping.
The Command Post of the 1st of February has the photograph in question. Along with a relevant second photo.

Action Figure Held Hostage

Still no correction.

It's not as if I don't make mistakes. For example, I took what the BBC said as gospel not that long ago, without checking it. My fault. But I have readers who (politely) told me I was full of it, and updated accordingly, less than 24 hours later. Is it so much to ask of newspapers staffed by so-called "professionals" to do the same?

I guess it is. It took the Blogosphere less than 24 hours to not merely state that the photo was of an "Action Figure", but to identify the exact type, the maker, and post a photo showing all the accoutrements, the knee-pads, the grenadier's jacket (with grenades still in) etc. But the Guardian still hasn't caught up - or if it has, has decided to keep the old story anyway. Incompetence or Mendacity? We Report, You Decide.

UPDATE : As at 4th February, the Guardian didn't alter the original story, but instead put in Bold Friendly Letters at the top, the following:
Note: The photograph purporting to be a kidnapped Amerian soldier, published on the internet, was subsequently revealed to be a military action doll, as discussed further in our Newsblog posting here.
Kudos for them doing this, I can't think of a better way of handling the situation.

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