My Little Pony?

02.03.12

Best New York Times Corrections Ever: 'The Shining,' Twilight Sparkle & More

In honor of the viral New York Times correction on 'The Shining,' Josh Dzieza rounds up more treasures—to be read in your best 'serious Times voice'—from a 'My Little Pony' mixup to ‘furtive man-on-man action.’

Inside the front page of each day’s paper, The New York Times scrupulously corrects mistakes from past editions. Usually it’s a dry affair—dates are fixed, names respelled, locations changed. But sometimes the corrections section turns up a gem, like this one, in a story about the many theories fans have about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. 

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described imagery from “The Shining.” The gentleman seen with the weird guy in the bear suit is wearing a tuxedo, but not a top hat.

The best thing about this correction, for a fan of The Shining, is not only seeing the paper of record address Shining minutiae but the prim way it sidesteps what’s actually going on in the scene: the gentleman in the tuxedo “seen with” the weird guy in the bear suit is giving him a blow job.

Last month a similarly fussy—if more PG—correction went viral.

An article on Monday about Jack Robinson and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.

Jim Romenesko had the backstory. Amy Harmon, the reporter, said multiple readers brought the error to her attention, but that Kirsten Lindsmith herself hadn’t requested a change. Nevertheless, said Harmon, “the passage was clearly unsettling for someone with her penchant for both ponies and accuracy,” and it risked making it look as if Lindsmith had made the error, “which I worried would cause other pony devotees in her online forums to give her grief.”

She made the correction, and soon it was heralded as “the best NYT correction of all time.” But is it? Greg Brock, the editor responsible for handling corrections at the Times, has another nomination.

April 30, 2011: A report in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in “The Hobbit.” Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo Baggins’s sword was called Sting.)

Part of the fun is imagining the corrective letter, but it’s also just funny to hear pop-culture quibbles addressed in the Gray Lady’s formal language. For example, this from Oct. 26, 2011:

The Books of The Times review on Saturday, about “Steve Jobs,” by Walter Isaacson, described “Angry Birds,” a popular iPhone game, incorrectly. Slingshots are used to launch birds to destroy pigs and their fortresses, not to shoot down the birds.

Or this, from Oct. 1, 2006: An article on Sept. 17 about the abundance of satire in American culture referred incorrectly to an episode of “South Park.” In it, the character Cartman tricks another child into eating his own parents in a bowl of chili; Cartman himself does not eat them.

Some are best if you haven’t read the original story. One of Brock’s picks, from Oct. 29, 2011: The Barrow Journal article on Oct. 17, about the fall subsistence whale hunt in Barrow, Alaska, misstated a greeting exchanged between the captain of a crew that killed a whale and a crowd onshore. They shouted “aarigaa” at each other—an Inupiaq word meaning “very good.” The captain did not shout, and the crowd did not respond, “Ah ah ha!”

“When I quote it to people, I always emphasize the ‘not’—not two thousand of each,” says Brock. “An indignant ‘not.’”

Or Feb. 6, 2011: An article on Jan. 16 about drilling for oil off the coast of Angola erroneously reported a story about cows falling from planes, as an example of risks in any engineering endeavor. No cows, smuggled or otherwise, ever fell from a plane into a Japanese fishing rig. The story is an urban legend, and versions of it have been reported in Scotland, Germany, Russia and other locations.

And this snowballing case of mistaken identity. Another of Brock’s favorites.

Sept. 17, 2008: A film review on Sept. 5 about “Save Me” confused some characters and actors. It is Mark, not Chad, who is sent to the Genesis House retreat for converting gay men to heterosexuality. (Mark is played by Chad Allen; there is no character named Chad.) The hunky fellow resident is Scott (played by Robert Gant), not Ted (Stephen Lang). And it is Mark and Scott—not “Chad and Ted”—who partake of cigarettes and “furtive man-on-man action.”

The same goes for this old correction from The New York Times Book Review, tweeted out by book critic Dwight Garner over the weekend, which turns a correction to a review of a Kiran Desai novel into surreal microfiction.

Aug. 9, 1998: A review on July 19 about "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard," by Kiran Desai, misspelled the name of the novel’s hero. It is Sampath, not Sanpath. The same review incorrectly identified the character who falls into a vat of broth; it is a spy from an atheist organization, not a monkey or Sampath in the form of a guava.

Here's another cascading correction, from Aug. 16, 2009, one that saves the punchline for last: An article on Aug. 2 about older alumni who have been helped by university career counselors referred imprecisely to comments by a 1990 graduate of Lehigh University who lost his job in February when his company was downsized, and a correction in this space last Sunday misspelled his surname. As the article correctly noted, he is David Monson, not Munson, and he was speaking generally—not about himself—when he said that newly unemployed people sometimes mope around the house in sweatpants.

Here's one amending a surprising quote from the editor of The New Yorker.

Feb. 22, 2010: An earlier version of this post misquoted Mr. Remnick on his comparison between the book and a New Yorker article he had previously written. He said the book would not be a “pumped up” version of the article; he did not say that it would not be a “pimped out” version of the article.

Brock says the corrections are best read in “the serious Times voice.”

For example, Oct. 22, 2000: An article about Ivana Trump and her spending habits misstated the number of bras she buys. It is two dozen black, two dozen beige and two dozen white, not two thousand of each.

“When I quote it to people, I always emphasize the ‘not’—not two thousand of each,” says Brock. “An indignant ‘not.’”

As for the best correction of all time, it’s hard to say. Brock says the old book of Times corrections, Kill Duck Before Serving, is overdue for an update. “We should definitely update that book—or start a Hall of Fame,” he writes. “I kick myself daily because I have not kept copies of my favorite ones through the years.”