Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A copy editor's error

A correction from the L.A. Times:
Live 8 Critic's Notebook - In the Critic's Notebook by Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn that ran in Section A on July 3, the term "ultraconservative" was added by a copy editor to describe Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. Hilburn, before interviewing O'Reilly about the social activism of U2's Bono, had told the commentator he would not label him in a subjective way. The adjective that was inserted did not reflect that agreement or the critic's views.
O'Reilly had been ranting on his show, calling the reporter a liar:
But last week, Robert Hilburn, the music writer for The Los Angeles Times, called wanting to talk to me about Bono and his Africa project. Now, I like Bono. He's a good man, and I agreed to talk on one condition: Hilburn was not to put an adjective in front of my name, you know, like "bombastic," "fascist," that kind of thing. They always do that.

Hilburn agreed to those terms. But he lied. When the article appeared, I was labeled an ultraconservative by this guy.

Now, do I care? No, I don't. But you should know how dishonorable people like Robert Hilburn are, and there are legions of them in the print industry.
Watch what ya change.

(Via FishBowlLA)


At 1:01 PM, July 13, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the writer didn't add a note to the story, which would've been the smart thing to do, flag it so the desk would know about the agreement.

At 3:52 PM, July 13, 2005, Blogger LoRi~fLoWer said...

This is unrelated, but does this read as a legitimate headline to you?

Bush says won't prejudge CIA case, Rove's role

That just came off the Reuters wire, and I couldn't make head nor tails of it.

At 4:18 PM, July 13, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

That's a good guess; there probably wasn't a flag, and that could have prevented the error. But copy editors shouldn't be in the habit of inserting these qualifiers when they're not necessary.

I'll try to track down the story later to see if there's a chance it *was* necessary. (Perhaps Al Franken was labeled as an ultraliberal in the graf before?)

At 4:19 PM, July 13, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Lori: That's a terrible headline! I guess it would make more sense as "Bush says he won't ..." Still hard to know what he means, but I suppose that's Bush's intention. Probably matches the story.

At 5:25 PM, July 13, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Here's the offending sentence:

"Bono has been so persuasive in his advocacy of debt relief for Africa that he has won the respect even of controversial, ultraconservative Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly."

I don't think this is as egregious as Dawn Eden's error, as has been suggested. The columnist is trying to point out how crazy it is that a conservative would support a liberal's campaign like this. It could be that the copy editor was trying to make that point more obvious. (Eden was trying to make a point more obvious, too, but it was *her* point, not the author's.)

Did that point need spelling out? Not in my opinion. Especially not by a copy editor in someone else's column. (Also, I think "conservative" would be a better adjective there than "controversial" if you're going to pick one. If you can't write the "conservative" that the sentence calls for, better nothing.)

At 10:12 PM, July 13, 2005, Anonymous Martin said...

Nicole: depends on the meaning of the word "necessary." I could see plenty of contexts where inserting "ultraconservative" in front of O'Reilly (or perhaps, to be fair, "arch-liberal" in front of Michael Moore, is "necessary," given the context. You can't reduce the role of the copyeditor to someone whose brief is only to repair outright mechanical problems -- the copyeditor is the reader's proxy, and if the word "ultraconservative" helps the text make sense, then insert it. Having said that, copyeditors should refrain from inserting political opinions into the text, but that's a different problem.

At 7:42 AM, July 14, 2005, Blogger tom said...

Yeah, well, O'Reilly shows his true colors when attacking the reporter's character even when he knows it's possible the writer is not to blame.

Wrongly calling a reporter a liar is a far more serious offense than accurately describing O'Reilly as a controversial ultraconservative, yet somehow O'Reilly presents himself as the aggrieved party.

This is the twisted magic of the partisan-media-blowhard era.

At 10:46 AM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

And I thought O'Reilly was proud to be an ultraconservative.

At 12:43 PM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

I agree, Martin, but I question whether you could argue that the insertion was necessary here. Show me a person who doesn't know that Bill O'Reilly is conservative, and I'll show you a person who didn't get that far in the story anyway.

At 2:16 AM, July 20, 2005, Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

Dishonorifics: Ultraliberal Ted Kennedy. Self-proclaimed centrist Hillary Rodham Clinton. Doe-eyed ingenue Winona Ryder. They're almost always loaded and unneeded.


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