Errors & Omissions: Two sentences can sometimes be better than one
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at King's College, London, and at Queen Mary University of London. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Saturday 07 January 2012
Dashed long: On Monday we inflicted a 49-word sentence on readers in our report that Gordon Brown's emails were "hacked" when he was Chancellor.
We said: "He told Sue Akers that three senior Sunday Times journalists, whom he named, were aware of the 'blagging' techniques used to access his personal details." That would have been fine, except that we inserted a 24-word explanation of who Ms Akers is between dashes after her name. Two sentences are usually better than one. We should have said "the police" rather than "Sue Akers" and then explained, in a separate sentence, that she is "the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner who is leading the phone-hacking and email-hacking investigations along with Operation Elveden, into corrupt payments to police officers".
Ancient confusions: Half a sentence in our feature "Battle of the Bulge" on Tuesday prompted Keith Giles to write. Referring to "regimes" employed to lose weight, by which, as Mr Giles says, we properly meant "regimens", we wrote about "the writings of the Greek physician Galen, a follower of Hippocrates, who was helping people achieve bikini bodies in 2BC – 2,000 years before the bikini was invented". It is not clear whether it was Galen or Hippocrates who was helping people to achieve this peculiar goal, although, as Mr Giles also says, "it doesn't really matter, because neither of them was alive in 2BC". Hippocrates of Kos is usually dated from 460 to 370BC and Galen of Pergamon was around from AD129 to about 217. Both prescribed diet and exercise as ways of losing weight in terms which would be easily recognisable today, says Mr Giles, "although Galen considered fresh fruit to be a common cause of illness and advised against it". As for "bikini bodies", probably the less said the better, but Mr Giles does point out that, although the name of the atoll on which a nuclear bomb was tested was taken in the 1950s, "pictures from Pompeii show young ladies wearing an identical garment almost 2,000 years ago".
Divided by the aisle: As a British newspaper, we should try to use language familiar to British readers when reporting news from other countries, which often have stock phrases of their own. Indian politics, for example, is full of ousters, and caucus means something different in Australia. Rupert Cornwell failed to translate from American political jargon on Thursday when he wrote about the background of Rick Santorum, who emerged as Mitt Romney's main rival for the Republican nomination in the first votes of the presidential election in Iowa. We said that in 1996 Santorum "worked across the aisle to secure passage of the Republican-sponsored welfare reform that was signed into law by Bill Clinton". Not everyone knows that the aisle in each house of Congress separates the two parties from each other.
Mountain pass, or fail: A spellchecker-proof error slipped through in our report on Thursday about an Italian drive against tax dodgers. We said "a lorry carrying 13 tonnes of gold was stopped as it attempted to pass over the boarder to Switzerland". Sadly, we failed to tell the reader whether the pupil, at what was presumably a finishing school, survived.
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