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L.A. Times Writer Apologizes for George Washington Error:

Her quite gracious comments:

If you want to know if anyone is reading your stories, make sure you insert a mistake about George Washington.

Oh, if only I could claim it was all a ploy by Calendar editors to gauge readership. But when I wrote in Saturday's story about HBO that George Washington stepped down from the presidency after serving only one term, it was just a stupid, blind error, the sort that leaves you smiting your forehead, literally and repeatedly, the moment it is pointed out to you.

For the six or seven people living in the Los Angeles Basin who did not e-mail to correct me, he served two terms, not one. And my daddy was a history teacher! Ever since the first e-mail hit my box (on Friday afternoon, about two seconds after the story went up on the website), I have been bathed in hot shame. But I want to thank you, well, most of you, for the gentle tone you took -- most clever subject line award goes to: Is a TV Critic Smarter Than a 5th Grader? -- though I certainly deserved all those incredulous exclamation marks as well. And yes, I did go to college. Graduated even.

Also, for the record, we entertainment writers are held just as accountable for flubbed historical references as any other journalist. The correction runs today online and in tomorrow's print edition, and I will try to comfort myself with the knowledge that a good, strong dose of humility is always good for the soul. Especially the soul of a critic.

The Readers' Representative also e-mailed me (and, I assume, all the other readers who wrote in) first thing this morning to respond to my Saturday e-mail noting the error.

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  1. L.A. Times Writer Apologizes for George Washington Error:
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ejo:
But, I thought reporters knew everything. Why isn't the substance of the piece (politicians were bad 200+ years ago) more important than the actual facts. Didn't he get it right in substance?
4.21.2008 2:29pm
Dave N (mail):
I agree it was gracious--and being able to make fun of one's own minor foibles is a very positive attribute.
4.21.2008 2:32pm
Mikeyes (mail):
She wrote a very nice apology. I hope I am as humorous when I have to do the same thing.
4.21.2008 2:33pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
She wrote a classy (and what may become classic) apology. Maybe the NYT should hire her to write its corrections.
4.21.2008 2:59pm
Hoosier:
Apology accepted. No go sit in a dark room until I say you can come out.
4.21.2008 3:00pm
rarango (mail):
Agree with those above--very classy and humorous; this lady has absolutely NO future in politics. :)
4.21.2008 3:20pm
Cornellian (mail):
"Ever since the first e-mail hit my box (on Friday afternoon, about two seconds after the story went up on the website)"

Thus, again, the awesome power of The Force Internet/Blogosphere is revealed . . . .
4.21.2008 3:29pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Would that all of the LA Times' reporters could be so gracious, and so quick to acknowledge an error.
4.21.2008 3:38pm
LM (mail):

Would that all of the LA Times' reporters anyone in a comment thread could be so gracious, and so quick to acknowledge an error.
4.21.2008 3:53pm
Dave N (mail):
OK, now I am agreeing with LM. This day is certainly one to be remembered.
4.21.2008 3:58pm
rarango (mail):
Dave N: I checked my fishing solunar table watch, and it there is an indeed a full moon! Phew!
4.21.2008 4:05pm
loki13 (mail):
I would like to add to the chorus of people who believe that this was a gracious response. It is never fun to see that you've made a fundamental error of fact.

That said, while I agree with LM, I think the level of discourse on comment threads often precludes such a gracious response. While I would like to believe in OK's 'good faith' rationale for posters, too often we see the following:

1. The grammarian post. After someone makes a substantive post, someone who ideologically disagrees with them attempts to show how vapid their argument is by pointing out some trivial spelling/grammar error. Since most posts are written off the cuff, as opposed to with deep reflection and with pinpoint cites, this seems both juvenile and asinine. Are there not better nits to pick?

2. Argument by anecdote (or, generally, ad verecundiam). Unless you're one of the few posters here who have been outed, relying on your own personal experience in an anonymous post does not 'win' an argument, or adherents to any side.

3. Winning an argument. This takes everyone (even me) a while to figure out. You don't 'win' an argument on these threads. Make your point, then get out. Don't respond to the many idiots who respond to you. Especially if they USE ALL-CAPS for emphasis. No matter how correct, or how rational, your belief is, there will be those who disagree. If you post that the sun is hot, someone will post that the sun is, in fact, cold. Just remember that others can tell by themselves that the response is idiotic; you don't need to point it out.

4. Snark feels good. If you can't be a part of the solution, become a part of the problem, right? But, uh, don't you have better things to be doing? Like a life, or something?

All that said, if a fellow-poster does point out an error in fact you have made, it is best to follow the example above and be gracious. Don't just move the goalposts.
4.21.2008 4:40pm
John (mail):
It's nice to see mainstream reporters picking up the self corrective attitudes of the blogosphere! Who needs editors?
4.21.2008 4:40pm
theobromophile (www):
Didn't he get it right in substance?

(Small voice): she?

Lovely apology. That's something to aim for in our own lives. Thank you, Ms. McNamara.
4.21.2008 5:07pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
I prefer snark. It feels good.
4.21.2008 5:33pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Much more gracious than some of her more over-the-top critics. Sometimes a dumb mistake is just that: a dumb mistake. However, it is really something that this got past an editor.
4.21.2008 5:45pm
rarango (mail):
AAAAARGHHHH--now the final seal has been opened, and I have to agree with Crazy Train--it is the end of the world that we know.
4.21.2008 5:54pm
Dave N (mail):
Rarango,

TWICE in one day (maybe 3 if you count each of his last two posts separately)--at least for me. CrazyTrain doesn't live up to his moniker after all.

That said, I would add a small caveat to his statements about expertise.

There are some posters, myself included, who, though while anonymous, have shared personal knowledge--and I trust that person's expertise (even if I don't agree with it) unless I am shown evidence to the contrary.

To pick some regular posters at random, I believe Neurodoc really is a neurologist and when he is speaking as a medical doctor, I figure he knows what he is talking about. MDJD2B is in the same boat, though I don't know that person's medical specialty.

Kovarsky is an expert on habeas corpus; Anderson knows criminal law and Mississippi culture; Whit is (or at least was) a police officer, and when he is speaking about police procedure, it is clear that he has a professional background.

So, while I may disagree with these people some or most of the time, I do think that if an anonymous poster has established his or her bona fides, that poster does have extra credibility when he is discussing his or her field of expertise.
4.21.2008 7:09pm
Dave N (mail):
And here is a perfect example of Loki13's axim. I confused him for CrazyTrain. They have similar views much of the time, and I confused the two in my last post.

So, if Loki13 is offended at accidentally being confused with CrazyTrain, and if CrazyTrain is offended that I confused him with Loki13, I apologize to both of them.
4.21.2008 7:11pm
Dave N (mail):
And having read back, my second mea culpa in 3 posts. I actually agreed with the last comments of BOTH Loki13 and CrazyTrain.

It is the end of the world. And I am losing my mind.
4.21.2008 7:13pm
LM (mail):
In the spirit of Ms McNamara's grace and humility, I'll stipulate to whatever trollish views are required to restore the Universe to its proper state.
4.21.2008 7:44pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
On ESPN News last night, Cindy Brunson said Lorena Ochoa was born after the Equal Rights Amendment became law. I don't think its a "law" when Congress passes a Constitutional amendment that is never ratified.
4.21.2008 7:53pm
Dave N (mail):
LM,

I may disagree with you more often than not, but you are assuredly not a troll.
4.21.2008 8:02pm
LM (mail):
Dave,

Thanks. I didn't take it that way. I was kidding.
4.21.2008 8:17pm
Dave N (mail):
LM,

I figured you were, but I have had more than a little fun today (across 2 threads no less) in honestly agreeing with posters with whom I generally disagree (though I do hope without being disagreeable).
4.21.2008 8:30pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
This reporter's reputation will actually get enhanced by this gracious apology. I've found that people will easily forgive you for being wrong so long as you own up to it. Those who think they should never admit a mistake and attempt to cover it with obvious lame excuses don't get forgiven.

Are you listening Hillary?
4.21.2008 8:52pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Nice apology. Sure beats hell out of trying to maintain some stupid excuse. All the tension goes away.
That said, this is an example of not knowing what you don't know.
4.21.2008 9:29pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Woops. New 'puter. Sensitive.
It looks as if her emphasis on the nastiness of Washington's first term led her to believe that he would have stepped down.
He didn't. Maybe the emphasis was overdone.
All the time he was absorbing with his famous stoicism the slings and arrows, he was also considered a demigod by many of his fellow citizens. Maybe that offset the political nastiness.
4.21.2008 9:32pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
"I agree it was gracious--and being able to make fun of one's own minor foibles is a very positive attribute."

A woman who can admit error, and with humor ... if I was single and in her area I'd be trying to figure out how to (a) determine if she was married and (b) if not, how to arrange an introduction.
4.21.2008 10:12pm