Oops! Sorting through the goofs and gaffes of 2003

December 25, 2003|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON - Now before the year runs out, we once again present our media culpa column, an annual accounting of the errors of our ways.

we made along the path of 2003.

We - the editorial we - almost skipped this ritual cleansing of the keyboard this year. After all, our culpas are measly compared with the big culp-rit Jayson Blair, the serial plagiarist who lied his way out of a job at The New York Times and into a book contract.

As for mishaps, ours pale beside the mistake of folks who put that "Mission Accomplished" banner behind the president in the May 1 flight deck photo op. Nor did we allow Pedro Martinez to continue pitching in the fateful eighth inning of the seventh game of the Red Sox-Yankees playoff series.

Nevertheless, we are old-fashioned. We worry, we check, we wake up in the middle of the night wondering if we got things right. We correct, therefore we are.

So, to begin with, we blush to recall our belief that the Terminator's campaign was terminal. On the morning after a debate in which Arnold Schwarzenegger wrestled with Arianna Huffington, we wrote, "Things are not looking good, pal." No, they weren't looking good. They were looking fantastic! Neither our gripes nor his groping stopped Arnold's surge toward Sacramento by a 17-point margin over his nearest competitor.

We also lost another election. When Seattle was considering a latte tax to pay for child care, we predicted, "Brother, Sister, can you spare a dime on a $3 latte? Of course you can." Well, of course they couldn't. About 68 percent of the voters said no. Time for us to wake up and smell the double nonfat espresso macchiato.

Or better yet, time to lift a glass of wine. First, however, check the label. In a column about the American boycott of all things French, we asked, "Do the folks dumping Bordeaux wine know that the grapes come from the California rootstock that once saved the French vineyards?" Well, it turns out that the French vines were saved by rootstock from Missouri. Later, the Franco-Missouri were reimported to save California crops. Buy local, drink global.

If geography eluded us, math also had its problems. Watching the run-up to the Iraq war, we compared the TV audience with the civilian spectators who rode out to watch the first major battle of the Civil War at Bull Run: "Hours later, there were 3,000 Union soldiers and 1,750 Confederates dead." Well, those were casualties, not deaths. The number of dead varies, but one good source put it at 387 Confederate and 460 Union.

Casualties? Did we say casualties? When Rush Limbaugh went into rehab, we went into therapy for "wimpathy." We noted how many liberals - why, even Al Franken - were restrained to the point of gentility. Just minutes after this left our hands, Al sank his teeth into Rush's ample ankles. No genteel man he.

As for Rush himself, we had the temerity, uh, timidity to suggest that while he was in rehab, he might learn to walk a corridor in somebody else's shoes. Wrong. Rush didn't even make 12 steps. Barely back at the microphone, he's back at the grind: "Let's pretend that Saddam Hussein is a late-term fetus and we're just going to abort him. Does that make it easier for you liberals?" We recant our wimpathy.

We also recant our vanity. In a piece about Carol Moseley Braun's run for the White House, we criticized The New York Times for calling it a "vanity affair." We snidely quoted Shakespeare: "Vanity, thy name is woman." Alas, Will actually wrote, "Frailty, thy name is woman." And frailty, thy name is a Braun candidacy.

Education? Did we say education? The secretary of education, Rod Paige, took us to task for conflating two quotes of his. No, he did not offer his prayers to people who disagreed with his preference for Christian colleges. He offered them to those who thought the Bush administration was too religious. Ooookay, we concede the point. Now will he concede that his "Houston miracle," the model for the No Child Left Behind Act, was a Houston mirage, based on fuzzy math?

Now thanks to the vigilant grammar and word police. We deeply regret asking "Wherefore art thou, Thomas Jefferson?" Yes, yes, "wherefore" means "why," not "where."

As for the column saying Mr. Bush "curried to the right"? It turns out that he can curry favor with the right or he can cater to the right, but he can't curry to them. No matter how much he tries.

Finally, we rue the modifier we misplaced. In a column about the equal rights amendment, we wrote: "A natural born radical, my house already had co-ed bathrooms." Aaargh. Our house, built in 1850, doesn't have any politics. May it remain neutral in 2004.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays and Thursdays in The Sun.

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