Before newspapers eliminated proofreaders to save money, those literate, skeptical guardians were our last defense against libel and error, whether journalistic or typographical.
Unlike computers, they distinguished between Army Air Corps, Army Air Force and Air Force, infer and imply, presently and currently, homicide and murder, its and it's and, locally, between Clifton and Corryville. No hunter enjoyed bagging a 10-point buck more than proofreaders who caught journalists' pratfalls.
Of course, proofreaders were not perfect.
One Veterans Day, Enquirer proofreaders failed to challenge a story about a local vet's claim to have landed on Okinawa just after Americans dropped the A-bomb there.
Another time, on Christmas, we wrote about local people for whom the day was a downer. Enquirer proofreaders missed the typo in one unhappy person's name in boldface upper case/capital letters at the top of the local front page. It should have said TUCKER.
Thousands of copies were en route to rural readers before I saw a page proof. For once in 40-plus years, I shouted, "Stop the presses."
A foreman then used his penknife to mutilate the offending F on the printing plate to resemble a broken T. I suspect more people enjoyed a laugh on the Tower of Typos than were offended.
All of this came back when I read an Enquirer story Sunday on the local page and Web site. Text under the photo said Jesus Ramirez "recently became a legal U.S. citizen." The story said he "has started the process of becoming a citizen."
Such mistakes usually involve confusion at the source, a mistake by the photographer or reporter and too many editors in too big a hurry to check one text against the other. Catching that sort of error was why we valued proofreaders.
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· Voters benefited richly from Enquirer political reporting by Howard Wilkinson and critiques of campaign ads by Greg Korte.
· The morning paper's family portrait of candidate Phil Heimlich never explains the substance of his "pariah" brother Peter's challenges to their father's fame (see "Heimlich Family Feud" on page 22). Too bad, because there are valid questions about Dr. Henry Heimlich's research into AIDS therapy, his eponymous institute's promotion of the Heimlich Maneuver as a response to near-drowning and the American Red Cross abandonment of the Heimlich Maneuver as first response to choking.
· Local news media could have done better when a Cincinnati appeals court allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to continue warrantless wiretapping. The Enquirer put it on page 3; The Post and local broadcasters appear to have skipped it altogether. The story involves Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's order telling NSA to quit that eavesdropping on electronic communications between people in this country and abroad.
"There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution," she says, rejecting Bush's claim it was legal and constitutional because he says so.
The administration said it would appeal. More important, it persuaded Cincinnati's U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to let NSA continue during the months or years the appeal will require. Albeit temporary, the appeals court granted the stay only because it believes Bush will win the full appeal.
· Stories missing from local news media: 1) The American Red Cross in Cincinnati arranged 1,145 emergency family communications and a total of $44,883 financial aid to 40 local families in the year ending June 30 after a breadwinner was activated for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 2) The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Avondale treated 1,015 men and women for wounds/injuries/illnesses connected to service in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. 3) The Red Cross now recommends "five back blows" as first response to choking victims, followed by "five abdominal thrusts." No more mention of the Heimlich Maneuver, although it involves abdominal thrusts.
· When Phil Heimlich's buddy lawyer, Chris Finney, heckled David Pepper during a press conference, the Enquirer Web page says Finney called the Democratic county commission candidate a "rich f———- —-hole" and invited him to "kiss my a—." The print edition, however, spares generally older and spelling-challenged readers, saying Finney erupted in a "profanity-laced tirade." Post refers to a "curse-laden rant" and uses (explicative) to indicate deletions. CityBeat's blog says Finney calls Pepper a "rich, fucking asshole" and invites Pepper aide Bridget Doherty to "kiss my ass."
· The Enquirer rightly quotes the ruder parts of Nikki Giovanni's Fountain Square poem. In a public forum where protesters vilify Jews and Klansmen erect their cross, calling the GOP candidate for governor a "son of a bitch" is small change.
· An English inquest says it was an "unlawful killing" when U.S. soldiers shot British TV newsman Terry Lloyd in the head near Basra in 2003. Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker says Lloyd first was wounded when American tanks, engaging Iraqi forces, blasted Lloyd's two Independent Television News vehicles. Lloyd probably could have survived had Americans not shot him again when a makeshift ambulance picked him up and tried to drive away, the inquest says.
· USA Today says Georgia lawyer Rafe Banks won a $50,000 libel judgment against blogger David Milum, who accused him of bribing judges on behalf of drug dealers. Media Law Resource Center in New York, which tracks litigation involving bloggers, says Milum is the first U.S. blogger to lose a libel suit.
· Must reads: 1) Robert Novak in the Oct. 16 Weekly Standard settles scores in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair. 2) Arthur E. Farnsley II in the October Christianity Today pricks conventional wisdom about conservative, evangelical, biblical literalist "values voters" whom he studies . . . at Indiana flea markets. 3) Senior BBC managers admit BBC biases in The (London) Mail on Sunday on Oct. 21 and Daily Mail on Oct. 25, including anti-Americanism, political correctness, cultural liberalism, etc.
· Little Gem News Service, invented by an earlier generation of Cincinnati Post newsmen, creates humorous stories for real headlines. Here is the latest challenge, from the The Post: "First we must acknowledge the Ohio River Valley is real." I'll run the best story next month. Entries: [email protected].
Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.