If you want to know if anyone is reading your stories, make sure you insert a mistake about George Washington.My criticism Saturday was aimed more at the Times for letting that howler through than it was at poor Ms. McNamara. We all make mistakes, and, unlike President Bush, I certainly do not pretend omniscience about what I do not know. But a good newspaper (unlike a blog) is supposed to have people whose job it is to catch that sort of thing, and having a staff with diverse interests and backgrounds should mean that someone who knows how many terms Washington served is around to catch such mistakes.
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Also, for the record, we entertainment writers are held just as accountable for flubbed historical references as any other journalist.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.
April 21, 2008
If we could all be so gracious when we err: