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Learn Something New Every Day:

"George Washington ... so quickly tired of the infighting among his Cabinet and vagaries of public opinion that he stepped down from the presidency after a single term," says an L.A. Times article, in the course of discussing HBO's John Adams biography. And here I thought he had served from 1789 to 1797, which is to say two terms (though the first was a titch short, starting on April 30 rather than March 4).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. L.A. Times Writer Apologizes for George Washington Error:
  2. Learn Something New Every Day:
Al Goreski:
Never let the facts get in the way of history.
4.19.2008 10:23pm
LM (mail):
It was one eight year term, punctuated mid-way with an election.
4.19.2008 10:25pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
You would expect that from a blog, but not the LATimes!!! Where competant editors abound.
4.19.2008 10:29pm
Chris Newman (mail):
Clearly, they meant to say that he stepped down after a single episode.
4.19.2008 10:41pm
REPEAL 16-17 (mail):
The Media always make mistakes when it comes to the law, even when in a historical context. That writer probably learned that George Washington was the first President by watching the John Adams documentary.
4.19.2008 11:00pm
another commenter (mail):
The sad thing is that the series John Adams makes it fairly clear that he served two terms.
4.19.2008 11:25pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
When a president's term of office expires, and he is replaced by the newly elected president, in what sense does he "step down"?
4.19.2008 11:28pm
Lev:
That sounds like an AP type of mistake.
4.19.2008 11:41pm
Crane (mail):
Duffy - If I recall my high school history classes correctly, Washington could easily have won more than two terms, but declined to run again after the second. Hence the tradition of never having the same man get more than two terms - it was considered inappropriate to try to outdo old George.
4.19.2008 11:53pm
gcruse42 (mail) (www):

Hence the tradition of never having the same man get more than two terms

FDR ring a bell?
4.19.2008 11:58pm
federal farmer (www):
FDR broke the tradition and his failing health in his fourth term is what brought about the 22nd Amendment.

History ring a bell?
4.20.2008 12:01am
one of many:
In defense of the LATimes editors, it is from their television critic, and editors have traditionally not bothered with checking entertainment reporters. It could very well be that no one read the article before it was printed besides the author.

Anyone can have a synaptic misfire/senior moment/brain fart which we can charitably consider M. McNamara's gaff as - so everything in a newspaper should be checked by at least a copy editor. However copy editors cost money, and a spell check program is cheap and can do 90% of a copy editor's job, so there is an increasing reliance on them. I've seen too many of these type of mistakes in newspapers increasingly over the past 10 years to get upset about one in a television critic's article (the Wall Street Journal converted shoals to shores in a FRONT PAGE news article the other day, that I got upset about), newspapers just don't have people reading them before publication anymore. Back in the old days before it went to press an article was read by a copy editor, layout editor and a typesetter each of whom would have had a chance to catch an author's error, these days that is all done by a computer which doesn't have a general knowledge base to draw on and stupid errors make it through all the time.
4.20.2008 2:34am
Perseus (mail):
How could the L.A. Times television critic be expected to know that? After all, like Dana Perino ("Wasn't that [the Cuban Missile Crisis] like the Bay of Pigs thing?"), Mary McNamara was born after Washington was president.
4.20.2008 2:58am
Eugene Volokh (www):
One of many: I agree that mistakes happen, but I had thought that one of the advantages of newspapers such as the Times was that there were indeed editors, in all sections, that could catch the mistakes. Are there really no extra eyeballs besides the author's on the articles in the Calendar section? How about Business, or California, or other sections?
4.20.2008 3:54am
BGates:
So he confused Washington with Lincoln. What's the big deal?
4.20.2008 4:01am
David23 (mail):
No, actually, it was reviewed by a copy editor, a layout editor and a spell checker. THAT is the scary thing about it...

David
4.20.2008 4:03am
daveinboca (mail) (www):
I'm reading a couple of books about the Revolution and its aftermath. Washington really really really didn't wish to run again for president a second time. Of course, sun-stroke victim Ms. McNamara wouldn't appreciate that subtlety. GW was persuaded to go for two terms by everyone in the US Nomenklatura at that time, a cast of dozens.

The fact that he retired to Mt. Vernon after two terms is seen as one of the most unselfish, unegomaniacal actions in western political history by Alfred North Whitehead, who taught Bernard Russell almost all he knew about math &philosophy. Of course, what would a mere Brit genius know compared to persnickety Ms. McNamara, who probably flunked civics in high school?

Looks like the LAT's fact-checking is starting to resemble their editorial shoddiness as they hemorrhage circulation by the gallon from a jugular leak.
4.20.2008 5:52am
one of many:
EV,
There should be more people who can catch these types of mistakes, but there aren't. But the Calendar (?) editor isn't going to pay much, if any, attention to a reliable TV critic who has been with the paper for a few years, maybe a quick glance to see if the word count was right for the space. Much as we'd all like to believe that editors read everything that goes into the newspaper, many of them are perfectly willing to pass without looking a weekly article by a reliable writer. I a pretty sure the same thing does happen in the Business section of many newspapers, California probably not as it is a news section and news editors consider the articles to be whole point of the newspaper instead of filler.

It wasn't as much a problem in the past because there were eyes checking for this sort of thing, so editors could be confident that bozo mistakes like this would be caught even though they were passing stuff based upon the writer's reputation. In theory copy editors, typesetters etc don't actually read articles so replacing them with computer programs doesn't make a difference - in practice one of them would have noticed something glaring like this and brought it to the attention of the Calender editor. Certainly editors should be checking for this sort of mistake, but many of them are behind the technological curve and still behave as if technology hasn't removed all the redundancy in the system. As for the LATimes, they need (and have needed for a long time) a well informed fact checker who actually reads the entire paper, in addition to the ones who fact-check articles in rough-draft form if they are sent to the fact-checkers.
4.20.2008 5:58am
donaldk:
one of many: also possible that the WSJ writer wrote "shoals", corrected by the editor to "shores".
4.20.2008 6:14am
one of many:
Could be donaldk, I personally suspect it was a spell-check conversion, regardless of how it happened I find it more upsetting in a front page news story than an error in a TV critic's piece.
4.20.2008 6:33am
Lonetown (mail):
Probably readers of Arthur Schlessinger.
4.20.2008 7:19am
PersonFromPorlock:
But, this may very well be true in the L.A. Times's universe!
4.20.2008 9:15am
The Florida Masochist (mail) (www):
EV,

An editor check the facts in an entertainment article? How novel that would be.

For months in 2007, AP's golf writer Doug Ferguson kept repeating that the PGA Tour had played an event in the Washington DC area since 1968. In spite of these facts-

1- The event Ferguson was referring to(Kemper Open/Booz Allen) had only been in the DC area from 1980-2006. Before that it was played in MA and NC.

2- The golf course(Quail Hollow) that hosted the Kemper Open from 1969-79 now hosts another PGA event, the Wachovia. One Ferguson reports on every year.

3- At least two phone calls from me to AP's NY based sports dept. telling them Ferguson was wrong.

Ferguson blows the facts on a regular basis. Then what do you expect from a group of sports writers including one that published a book titled 'The first Sunday in April' about the Masters golf tournament when the fact is the tournament always ends the 2nd Sunday in April. Oops.......
4.20.2008 9:18am
BT:
Hell, I'm glad I read this thread, I always thought Hanna Montana was the first US President.
4.20.2008 9:46am
Bama 1L:
As a couple others have mentioned, editing art criticism usually doesn't involves the level of fact-checking that would catch this. You are looking for errors in the names of the actors, the airtimes, etc., not in the plot summary or the critic's opinion. The copy desk, layout, etc. probably zone out when reading this type of sentence and just look for spelling and grammar mistakes.

It's certainly disheartening that no one knew offhand that Washington served two terms and made the article reflect that. That's the kind of thing you shouldn't have to look up. On the other hand, it's possible that the author did know that fact, wrote it correctly, and the error was introduced by someone editing the piece.
4.20.2008 10:20am
MarkField (mail):

As for the LATimes, they need (and have needed for a long time) a well informed fact checker who actually reads the entire paper, in addition to the ones who fact-check articles in rough-draft form if they are sent to the fact-checkers.


As a regular reader of the LA Times, I can strongly agree with this. I get pissed off when I read blatant factual misstatemens in the Letters; finding them in articles is inexcusable. But it happens far too often.
4.20.2008 11:46am
MarkField (mail):
I also get pissed off by spelling errors. "Misstatemens"? Sheesh.
4.20.2008 11:47am
Eugene Volokh (www):
BT: Dude, Hanna Montana was the first state.
4.20.2008 11:55am
BT:
EV: That's funny. Thanks.
4.20.2008 12:31pm
CWuestefeld (mail) (www):
@daveinboca:

Yes, GW really didn't want the second term. I seem to recall hearing of a resignation later (apparently never sent), but I can't find a citation for that here. Here's about the strongest statement that I can locate:

For Washington, a more immediate and personal problem was the approaching presidential election of 1792. Early in his first administration he had made the decision to retire at the end of a single term, and wishing above all else "to return to the walks of private life," he balked at reversing it, the more so since for the moment the foreign scene appeared serene and domestic developments, particularly the success of Hamilton's economic program, gratifying. But would the rift in his official family oblige him to reconsider his earlier decision to retire? Pressure to do so crowded in from every quarter, from north and south, from private citizens and official colleagues. Among the latter, none were more importunate than the principal rivals of his cabinet, who suspended their acrimonious disagreement on everything else political to urge the president to stand for reelection.

Neither Hamilton's nor Jefferson's pleas, nor those of many other prominent Americans, had any effect on the president's unwillingness to announce his candidacy for reelection. Nevertheless, over the months following his return to Philadelphia from Mount Vernon in October 1792, Washington continued to remain mute. Predictably no rival candidate presented himself, and there was not even a whisper that one would. Aware that he was in a field of one, Washington certainly knew that the electorate would take his silence for assent, and it did. On 13 February 1793 the electoral college unanimously elected him to a second term. His running mate, John Adams, was also returned to office, although by a vote of only seventy-seven to fifty. To Washington, now past sixty and in poor health, what others saw as an electoral triumph was rather another four-year sentence to what he described to Jefferson as "the extreme wretchedness of his existence."


Anyway, what's really odd about this is the asymmetry of the reporter's statement. On one hand, the writer is claiming to have an intimate knowledge of Washington's motivations. On the other hand, he doesn't know what every 3rd grader knows.

It makes me wonder what other reporting I've accepted because the level of detail gives the look of research, when the higher-level content is nonsense.
4.20.2008 12:58pm
CWuestefeld (mail) (www):
Oops, should have included the reference for my quote.
Here it is.
4.20.2008 12:59pm
Bleepless (mail):
That's "Schlesinger."
4.20.2008 3:31pm
catullus (mail):
Anyone can have a synaptic misfire/senior moment/brain fart

Just ask Hillary about Bosnia.
4.20.2008 4:22pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

in what sense does he "step down"


chooses not to run.
4.20.2008 5:18pm
Roscoe (mail):
Everybody thinks this is funny (and it is) because everybody already knows that Washington served two terms (except this McNamara lady, apparently). But what if one is trying to use the LA Times for a newspaper's traditional purpose, i.e. finding out about stuff that you don't already know? Good luck with that.
4.20.2008 7:22pm
Dave D. (mail):
...The Times should face the music and make sure that McNamara's Banned.
4.20.2008 8:10pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
He resigned after a single second term.
4.20.2008 9:16pm
Smokey:
Functionally illiterate editors chosen for their political views. That's why they're the Ass. Press.
4.20.2008 9:33pm
Jason F:
The fact that he retired to Mt. Vernon after two terms is seen as one of the most unselfish, unegomaniacal actions in western political history by Alfred North Whitehead, who taught Bernard Russell almost all he knew about math &philosophy. Of course, what would a mere Brit genius know compared to persnickety Ms. McNamara, who probably flunked civics in high school?


Now there's some irony for you.
4.20.2008 10:53pm
Hoosier:
BT and EV: BOTH wrong!

Hannah, Montana is the location of Mt. Rushmore. Which, by coincidence, has a likeness of President Washington--as well as Adams, Lincoln, and of course President Rushmore.
4.21.2008 12:55am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It was an intersting time, as in nobody was exactly sure what to do next. How do you president the US? Nobody'd ever done it before. Nobody had ever presidented any nation. When do you stop?
Washington's officers formed "The Society of The Cincinnati", presumably to reassure their fellow citizens who had not a shred of the educational opportunities we have today that they, too, would put down the sword and return to the plough, even though nobody was going to make them do it and it had rarely happened before.
We owe those FF and many others of lesser fame BIG TIME, for making decisions in the absence of precedent and direct experience which could have gone disastrously wrong if they'd done what, up to that time, generally came naturally.
4.21.2008 11:21pm
WHOI Jacket:
The Deciders!

With multiple layers of editors and fact-checking....
4.22.2008 2:19pm
markm (mail):
Typos happen, so that doesn't bother me much - but was no one with even the most rudimentary knowledge of American history proof-reading?
4.23.2008 12:02am