A brief look at the Penn State scandal via media corrections


PORTSMOUTH, Va. —
 Here are some of the published corrections earned by media outlets covering the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

I offer them without comment. Mostly.

Here’s a correction appended Sunday, Nov. 6, to The New York Times‘s story “Former Coach at Penn State Is Charged With Abuse;” the photo at issue shows police with Sandusky:

A photo caption with an earlier version of this article misidentified Jerry Sandusky. He is at right in the photo, not center.

Then the The Toronto Star:

As of Nov. 8, Joe Paterno remained Penn State’s football coach. A Nov. 8 headline accompanying an article about the alleged sexual abuse of eight young boys by Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, misstated Paterno’s position.

The International Business Times reported on Nov. 10 that three particular members of Congress took back “their nomination of Paterno for the Presidential of Freedom less than 24 hours after Paterno was fired as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.” The story, largely based upon an accurate report by The New York Daily News, was two-thirds accurate in the Business Times rewrite job:

A previous version of this article stated that Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) was among three Congressional representatives to rescind Joe Paterno’s vote for the Presidential Medal of Freedon [sic] on Thursday. However, according to Thompson’s communications director via e-mail, Thompson did not rescind his nomination. The story has been changed to reflect this. The error is regretted.

However, Thompson came around later, according to his website. In a letter to President Obama, he wrote that “the nomination at this time only serves as a distraction from the most important issue — supporting the victims, their families and our community. At this time.

Some corrections say more about the referents used to provide perspective to a matter than they do about the matter itself. Here’s a Thursday, Nov. 10, correction from The New York Times, regarding Jonathan Mahler’s column, “Grand Experiment Meets an Inglorious End“:

A Sports of The Times column on Wednesday, about the inglorious end of Joe Paterno’s so-called Grand Experiment, his campaign to prove that football excellence and academic integrity could coexist, misspelled the surname of a former communist dictator in referring to efforts to cling to a sense of normalcy. He was Nicolae Ceausescu, not Ceasescu.

Same day, same newspaper, different column:

In some editions on Wednesday, Maureen Dowd’s column about the sexual abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University used the wrong shorthand in the headline and the final paragraph for the name of the school. It is Penn State, not Penn.

Here’s The Associated Press with a little perspective the correction doesn’t relay:

University of Pennsylvania students are upset with The New York Times for confusing their school with scandal-plagued Penn State.

Some print editions of Wednesday’s newspaper include the headline ‘Personal Foul at Penn’ for a Maureen Dowd column that actually blasts Penn State. The column’s last line refers to ‘Penn scoundrels.’

And then there’s TV. Which sometimes bases reports that Sandusky supposedly was recruiting for Penn State (in Greer, S.C., as per this story) as recently as last year on something some high school kid says to them. But, hey: TV doesn’t do “corrections;” TV does “updates,” even when they finally get around to “fact checking” that story they “already ran,” you know, the one that probably “should be corrected,” and, yes, I know I’m not really “quoting anything from a story at this point,” but just “typing the way some TV guys talk in my head”:

Friday Update: WYFF News 4 has called and emailed Penn State to find out if Sandusky was still scouting or recruiting for Penn State recently in the Upstate. No one from the University has commented.

Ah Ching’s coach, Greer High School’s Will Young, says he is not aware anyone representing Penn State attended a spring game.

Ah Ching stands by his story that Sandusky was in the stands.

Trusting high school student, by the way, is something some high school students know better than to do.

Steve Myers, writing at Poynter, had a good post on Nov. 10 about the use of “sex scandal” in reporting on the situation, including in headlines by ABC News, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Associated Press. Myers writes:

The difference between sexual abuse and a sex scandal, Audrey Ference writes at The L Magazine, is that a sex scandal involves consensual sex. ‘Calling rape a sex scandal,’ she writes, ‘reinforces the idea that it’s equally bad to get caught messing around on your wife as it is to rape someone.’

Interweb sites such as …Logy. did not want to be left out of the correction game; their correction is in parenthesis, while my suggested edits are in brackets:

President Obama (correction, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney) told the press on Thursday that his thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this [alleged] systematic and long-unaddressed abuse by Penn State’s former defensive coordinator. He did not address what seems to be the evidence of a cover up by Paterno and the Penn State University brass. He did, however, say that if the allegations made in the grand jury’s indictment [are true], they are “outrageous.”

Here’s the grand prize winner. It’s Error in Fact 101. From the Monday, Nov. 14, online story of an exclusive Bob Costas TV interview with the accused, bylined to Jessica Hopper, Rock Center With Brian Williams, NBC:

In an earlier edition of this report, we mistakenly identified a location of Sandusky’s alleged sexual encounters as Paterno’s home. According to the grand jury report, it was Sandusky’s home.

Last one is a doozy. But say what you will about reporters making mistakes. At least most of these problems were corrected before too long.

Hat tip: Deadspin, after Ben Jones of Black Shoe Diaries, for chasing down the WYFF4 story.

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One thought on “A brief look at the Penn State scandal via media corrections

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