With apologies to all

December 30, 1998|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- As 1998 races breathlessly toward its demise, I approach my annual true confession column in a state of great humility. How can my meager assortment of mistakes, misstatements and errors measure up to the ones committed during this late and unlamented year of the Monica.

I was not the one who predicted last January that President Clinton would be out of office by February. Nor did I say the Democrats would get a political shellacking in November.

Of course, I did regard the tale of the blue dress as wholly incredible. But then, it was incredible. It just happened to be true.

Nevertheless, in the popular spirit of atonement, in an era when truth is a technicality, I once again wipe my slate clean. To wit, my own private Media Culpas.

To the foremothers

Let me begin with deep apologies to my foremothers. In a column on the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., I said that none of the women who attended in 1848 lived long enough to vote in 1920. Let me introduce you to Charlotte Woodward, a glovemaker from Waterloo who was 19 when she went to the convention and 91 when she voted.

I also said that women couldn't go to college in the mid-19th century. Tell that to the graduates of Mount Holyoke, not to mention Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga.

Remember when 40-year-old Elizabeth Oliver became the first woman to give birth on the Internet? I criticized her for invading her own privacy. Well it turned out that Ms. Oliver was good at keeping secrets. The Internet mom had an outstanding warrant for writing 25 bad checks. They found her in cyberspace.

Now from bad checks to fact checks, or the lack thereof. I compared the Lewinsky scandal to the spot that kept spreading in a Dr. Seuss book. The wrong Dr. Seuss book. As reader Andrea Wise poetically pointed out:

"Your citation, while cute

Is Off! Not astute!

For the spot that you note

Is not as you quote

From that wily 'Cat in the Hat'

But more accurately

From the 'Cat in the Hat Comes Back' "

That little literary error is nothing compared to sci-fi error. When describing Dr. Richard Seed's desire to clone himself, I waxed on about all the little Dicks bearing his entire "genetic code." Well, assorted biologists explained, we all share the genetic code. The clones would get dad's "genome."

Now for the word police. When Karla Faye Tucker was executed, I received a lot of outraged mail. Not about her death mind you, or even the death penalty, but about my use of the word "hung" to describe an earlier execution. The word police reminded me you use "hanged" for an execution. Technically true, but I think we have a hung jury on that.

Needless to say, I am entitled to my opinion. However, I am not entitled to entitle a book. I said a book about a new cancer therapy was "entitled 'Conquering Cancer.' " Alas, it's "titled."

Mis-titling isn't quite as bad as mis-authoring. I attributed Mary Cantwell's book, "Speaking with Strangers" to Mary Ann Cantwell. Scratch that Ann.

Finally, lest you think that we in the media are immune from culpas, we are not. This November, in a very kind Central Maine Morning Sentinel article, my book "Value Judgments" was referred to as "Vague Judgments."

With that, all I can do is wish you a well, you know, like, sort of, happy (or not) New Year. I guess. Whatever.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 12/30/98

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