Many of you may recall the stories I wrote July 21 and 29 about Jason Noble, The Star’s former Jefferson City correspondent.
Noble made four significant errors in an attempted “gotcha” story about a Republican state senator from St. Joseph.
Noble wrote the story on the way out the door, apparently after he had accepted a job with The Des Moines Register, where he started early last month.
If it’s any solace to Jason, he’s not alone in the multi-correction arena.
Even the very best reporters sometimes manage to litter their stories with errors. Take, for example, John F. Burns, The New York Times’ London bureau chief.
Burns, 66, has won two Pulitzer prizes. He appears frequently on PBS, and Wikipedia says he has been called “the dean of American foreign correspondents.”
If Burns was flying high lately, he came crashing down to earth recently after the Times published a 781-word story by Burns about CNN talk show host Piers Morgan’s possible involvement in the telephone-hacking scandal in England.
The story ran on Aug. 5.
Yesterday, Aug. 31, The Times published a 271-word correction that consumed 6.5 column inches. That’s a half inch less than Noble’s infamous correction.
Actually, the printed correction should have been longer than it was because the online version of the correction tacked on yet another screw-up in the story. (Maybe the final error was discovered after Wednesday’s paper had gone to press.)
If I’m reading the correction — the online version — correctly, Burns made seven errors in the story.
The errors ranged from incorrectly naming the newspaper (The Daily Mirror, not The Mirror) that Piers Morgan once worked for to reporting incorrect details about an alleged hacking of a phone message from Paul McCartney to his former wife, Heather Mills.
Burns, whose name I’ve seen in The Times but whose work I’m not particularly familiar with, has some controversy in his background.
He was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for his “courageous and thorough coverage of the destruction of Sarajevo and the barbarous killings in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
However, the Wikipedia article about Burns says: “Some of Burns’s reporting in Bosnia and Herzegovina was later put in doubt for using questionable sources. Within the book “Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting Journalism & Tragedy in Yugoslavia,” Burns is criticized extensively, accused of journalistic malpractice by its author Peter Brock.”
Burns won his second Pulitzer in 1997, that time for “his courageous and insightful coverage of the harrowing regime imposed on Afghanistan by the Taliban.”
Burns joined The Times in 1975 as a metropolitan section reporter. Wikipedia says he “has been assigned to and headed several of The Times’ foreign bureaus.”
It’s pretty disturbing, don’t you think, that a reporter with that much experience and such lofty credentials could be so casual and careless?
You know, I love The Times, and this doesn’t change my opinion a bit. But it goes to show you that even the best, when they “mail it in” — as Burns obviously did — can fall in the deepest of mud puddles.
Today, Burns has mud caked all over him, and it’s going to take him a long time to clean up.