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filmfann's avatar

Has the local newspaper overreacted?

Asked by filmfann (48228points) February 23rd, 2012

I spend a part of my day working the puzzles in the newspaper. Sudoku, crosswords, jumbles, wonderword, the bridge column, the chess problem, and, of course, the Decodaquote.
The Decodaquote is a quotation which has been cryptogrammed. Letter substitution is required to solve the puzzle, and reveal the quote.
When Monday’s puzzle is solved, it read:
“We live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.” —Barack Obama
Today, the newspaper posted a note on the puzzle page announcing that the quote was false, and the Decodaquote feature would be replaced, beginning tomorrow.
Did the newspaper overreact?
What should they have done?
How damaging is it to allow such a false quote to be published in a puzzle?

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26 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

Just from reading the question title I knew what my answer was going to be: yes. Sadly, the details didn’t change a thing. No one overreacts like the media, and here’s an example. Might as well execute Will Shortz every time he produces a controversial crossword clue. He’ll never pretend that “illin” is a five-letter word for “wack” in hip-hop again once we’re through with him!

What should they have done? What newspapers are supposed to do when they make a mistake: issue a correction next to the feature that contained the error, apologize for the oversight, and do better in the future. Puzzles make mistakes all the time. Not all Sudoku puzzles have uniquely deducible solutions. Sometimes a word search misspells a word. Fortunately, there will be another one tomorrow (or a million free ones online if you just can’t wait that long).

janbb's avatar

I think a correction and apology was in order, but it’s hard to see why they pulled the feature.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Well, it kind of depends… does your paper actually produce the Decodaquote? Because if it does, they could have said to the guy who writes it “Hey Mac, knock off the misattributed Obama quotes, willya?”

But if they don’t, then they have no control over whether the Decodaquote’s accuracy, and maybe it’s not worth it for them to have someone check it so that this doesn’t happen again. Or maybe they’ve had complaints before, and this was the final straw. Who knows.

CWOTUS's avatar

If your local paper is like some that think they have to run Doonesbury on the Op Ed page, then it’s probably not overreacting… according to its lights. They won’t want to have to feel obligated to run the Decodaquote on Op Ed, too.

But they may have reacted to the fact that this was ‘not a quote’ more than to the politics involved. Snopes has an interesting take on “the quote” anyway.

filmfann's avatar

@CWOTUS My newspaper prints Doonesbury on the Comics page, along side unfunny and politically right wing Mallard Filmore.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m trying to recall which paper I’ve read in the past ten years or so runs Doonesbury only on the Op Ed page. On the other hand, the Hartford Courant, with two pages of comics in the daily paper but no room for it there, has to run Dilbert in the business section, which I think is perfectly apropos.

filmfann's avatar

@CWOTUS I know the Redding Searchlight runs it on the Op Ed page.

YARNLADY's avatar

No, the newspaper has to make sure they cover their bottom line and are not open to law suits.

Jeruba's avatar

I would say no; they acted appropriately.

If it were my newspaper, I would have at least suspended the column for being careless with its attributions and exposing my paper to ridicule if not legal action. Due diligence ought to have led the creator of the puzzle to enough information to cast doubt on the quote. A contributor that slacks off on due diligence doesn’t get to use my pages to perpetrate ignorance and falsehood.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@YARNLADY Newspapers are not open to lawsuits just because one of their puzzles contains a misattribution—especially if they print a correction.

digitalimpression's avatar

Yes.
Next Decodaquote should have been something along the lines of “oops, we f%$##d up”.
The potential damage from the idea of falsified+published information can be subtle but dangerous. In this case, however.. not so much.

YARNLADY's avatar

@SavoirFaire especially if they print a correction. That’s what I’m saying – they are not over reacting.

Edit: Anyone can file a lawsuit, over anything. There is no limit, other than being countersued for frivolous lawsuits.

Jeruba's avatar

A newspaper doesn’t owe space to puzzle contributors. If a puzzle maker can’t do his or her job properly, why shouldn’t the paper fire them and find another contributor?

jerv's avatar

Yes, but that is what the 21st-century is all about; drama, overreaction, polarization, ass-covering, blame-passing, and a general lack of coping skills.

@YARNLADY That puzzle was not written by the local paper. Therefore, the paper has no real liability, and if a lawsuit is filed over it then the town is probably a lost cause and the OP should escape while he can.

cazzie's avatar

SOMEBODY was responsible for it’s inclusion. Talk of law suits is completely ignorant. Who would take the time to sue?

I would say the embarrassment factor should be rather large on the newspaper’s end. I would say that what they wrote as an apology was more a result of red faces than lawyering up. How ridiculous. Not an over reaction. They bought a product to include in the newspaper and they found out it was a dog. I would be horribly embarrassed if I did it in a one of my newsletters.

jerv's avatar

@cazzie Who would take the time to sue? Look at some of the other stuff clogging our courtrooms; people have died for far less. Also now how irrational some people are; I know some people who boycotted a local paper because they printed a story about VT legalizing same-sex Civil Unions. Apparently, they thought that by boycotting the paper, the could get the state legislature to undo the laws they just passed :/
My point is that people do some crazy shit.

cazzie's avatar

@jerv My point is that some moron may try, but it would be tossed. Suing a newspaper for epeating a lie found on the internet that does no personal damage to yourself? My gosh, that person must be damn busy. Boycotting a news paper and being a nutter and convincing a lawyer nutter to write up some papers is pointless and would NEVER bother the newspaper.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@YARNLADY Anyone can file a suit against anyone, I agree. But it would take slightly less than 10 minutes to get a case over this dismissed as a nuisance suit.

@Jeruba One mistake. I agree that the newspaper does not owe space to anybody. That doesn’t mean they didn’t overreact by doing this. I don’t owe my students any particular grade, and I technically have the right to fail them if they miss more than two classes. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be an overreaction to fail a really good student who missed three classes (even if it was a stupid accident they should have been able to avoid that kept them from coming). Having the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do so.

jerv's avatar

@cazzie And my point is merely that I have seen crazier shit fly.

cazzie's avatar

Who would take the time to sue?

I suppose I need, when referencing the litigious nature of the USofA is to say, ‘any REASONABLE, SANE person’, then.

jerv's avatar

@cazzie That I can agree with.

Jeruba's avatar

@SavoirFaire, disagreeing with my opinion is one thing. No problem there. Calling my opinion a mistake is another. I don’t care much for that.

I’ve been the editor-in-chief of at least seven publications over a period of decades, ranging in circulation from 50 to 50,000, and I know where I stand on most editorial matters. I would not keep a puzzle contributor who screwed up like that.

I would also be slow to compare a classroom situation, where (paying?) students go be educated and work to earn grades, with a paid (or unpaid) contributor peddling his wares to a commercial outlet seeking an audience. I don’t think there’s much common ground there other than that of a person in charge who has discretionary authority.

MadisonPaige's avatar

The newspaper could be sued for libel. That’s always a risk to newspapers from syndicated material. It’s more likely that the syndicate would be liable, but the paper had to pull the comic to reduce the risk of it happening again.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Jeruba “One mistake” refers to the fact that, for all the question tells us, the puzzle maker has only made one mistake. I was not accusing you of being mistaken. The point was that you were equating the puzzle maker making this one mistake with the inability of the puzzle maker to do her job. I disagree with that implication. A single mistake does not entail incompetence.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think this “variance with the truth” rises beyond mere error to “falsehood”. That is, a “misquote” could be attributed to error. This is a political statement built on a lie. No mere error.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS The quote has been widely (mis)attributed to Obama. Moreover, the author of Decodaquote uses quotes from political and civil history every Tuesday, and almost always quotes with a conservative slant. Do I think that the author’s political bias kept her from exercising due diligence in this case? Yes, I think that it probably did. But I still don’t see why this could not have been fixed with an apology and a correction. Maybe I’d agree with cutting the feature if she did it again (or committed some other serious mistake), but for now I’m willing to stick with Hanlon’s razor.

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