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03-01-05, 09:33 AM
My Newspaper Is Funnier Than Yours

February 28, 2005

by Burt Prelutsky


It is once again time to check in on my hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times. Because it regards itself as one of the nation’s great newspapers, a few years ago it changed its look to more closely resemble the New York Times. Nobody was fooled. It’s like Hillary Clinton’s getting that face lift in hopes of looking young and vibrant, and simply winding up with those protruding eyes that she can’t quite blink.

Some time ago, my paper initiated a policy of correcting its mistakes every day on page 2 in a black-bordered section it calls For the Record. I commend the Times for its honesty while simultaneously marveling at the chutzpah of a paper that never seems to learn from its mistakes.

The Times has ongoing problems with names, places and numbers. In recent weeks, it placed the Adirondacks of northeastern New York in the western part of the state. It claimed that California makes up 8% of the nation’s population; it’s really 12%. It stated that Vince Carter had just become the 41 st player in NBA history to score 10,000 points. He was actually the 264th.

The Times said that the New York Jets promoted Pep Harris to wide receivers coach. They meant Pep Hamilton. I guess all those Pep boys look alike. The paper claimed that USA Rugby has 30,000 members. It has 60,000. But inasmuch as the 30,000 number was published two days in a row, they almost got it right. According to the Times, Pete Rose was banned from baseball in 1991. It was 1989.

In reporting about the Honda Ridgeline, the pickup truck was said to have a wheelbase of 122 inches and an overall length of 106 inches. Those numbers, as you may have guessed, should have been reversed.

In a story about Michael Jackson, it was announced that he had had the most number one hits of any male singer in history. He had 13. It seems Bing Crosby had 38. Dancer Susan Gladstone’s name was changed to Susan Glandstone. Doctor, it sounds serious.

In a story about the No Child Left Behind law, the Times declared that Congress had authorized $20.5 million in 2005, eventually appropriating $12.7 million. Both those numbers were supposed to be billion!

Geography is a constant puzzle to the paper. In short order, it confused Laguna Beach with Newport Beach; Kern County with San Bernardino; Tacoma, Washington, with Vancouver; Dayton, Tennessee, with Memphis; Long Beach with the city of Commerce; South Bend, Indiana, with Pittsburgh, PA; and, for good measure, Los Angeles with Miami! It’s a wonder these people find their way to work in the morning. Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris had his name confused with Broadway star Robert Morse, and Mad Magazine cover boy Alfred E. Neuman was identified as Alfred E. Newman.

The Times reported that Emma Hart was in debtors’ prison from 1913 to 1914. Actually, she served her time between 1813 and 1814.

In reporting on the weekend box office receipts of the movie, “The Phantom of the Opera,” the paper announced it had played in 2,201 theatres and averaged a puny $1,801 per venue. In fact, it had screened in 622 locations and averaged $6,434 per screen. Do these people simply draw numbers out of a hat?

One day, it claimed that the first U.S. Forest chief, Gifford Pinchot, and Theodore Roosevelt had been college classmates. Well, not exactly. Pinchot went to Yale and Roosevelt went to Harvard.

In an article about sleeping pills, the Times declared that Lunesta costs 75% more than Sonata and Ambien. Clearly somebody was asleep at the switch. The drug, it turns out, is only 28% more expensive than Sonata, 10% more expensive than Ambien. The Times confused an Oldsmobile Alero with a Honda sedan.

The paper said that boxing champ Jack Johnson died at the age of 58. He was 68. In a review of “Kafka Fragments,” they said that Gyorgy Kurtag was 50 when he composed the work. He was 60.

It stated that the National Geographic Society offered $500,000 to fund an expedition to measure the Falls of Tsangpo, in Tibet. They were only willing to pony up $40,000.

In an obituary of Elizabeth Janeway, the Times broke the news that her name at birth was Jane Hall. Not true. It was Elizabeth Hall.

The paper confused the Baltimore Ravens with the Indianapolis Colts. In a story about real estate loans, the Times informed us that a change from $1,167 to $2,184 was an increase of $917. It’s really $1,017. I guess you’ll know where to go for your next loan.

| In a column about the Nation, it was stated that its circulation was 28,000 when Victor Navasky took over as publisher. It was 83,000.

Washington State basketball player Thomas Kelati was identified as Brandon Burmeister. Making it a twofer for the Times is the fact that Burmeister doesn’t even play for Washington State; he plays for the University of Washington. It turns out that the horse that was put down after a fall at Santa Anita was Unusual Sunrise, not Carano.

A photo caption of Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall in a scene from “The Letter” identified Marshall’s character as her lawyer; he played her husband. A special screening of “Sideways” that was reported to be taking place at the Egyptian theatre in Hollywood was actually screening at the Aero, in Santa Monica. After a scary report about raw sewage washing up on the beach near the Aquarium of the Pacific, it turns out that not only is there no beach at that location, but there was no raw sewage.

After reporting that Mayor James K. Hahn did not reappoint Bernard C. Parks as L.A.’s police chief, the Times realized that it’s the Police Commission, not the mayor, that makes such decisions.

The Times identified Liam Neeson as an Oscar-winner for “Schindler’s List.” He lost out to Tom Hanks.

The paper reported that the Valentine’s Day massacre took place in Cicero, Illinois. Anyone who’s ever seen “Some Like it Hot” knows it took place in Chicago. At least, for once, they got the state right.

On top of everything else, the Times has a real problem with sexual identity. Lang Ping, the new coach of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, was identified as a man. A girls’ water polo tournament was called a boys’ basketball tournament. And Stuart Riskin, the spokesman for the L.A. County Dept. of Children and Family Services, was re-named Susan Riskin.

I, for one, am grateful for the Times casual approach to names, facts, and figures. With a comic page packed with such heavy-handed political propaganda as Boondocks, Mallard Fillmore, La Cucaracha, Prickly City, and Doonesbury, the funnies are what some of us call the whole rest of the paper.

Burt Prelutsky