Friday, December 29, 2023

Whoops! Mistakes, we’ve made a few in our 75-year history

     This is the final piece in the yearlong series I've been writing for the 75th anniversary of the Sun-Times. I'm proud to have thought up the topic of highlighting our errors, and proud that the paper happily — and prominently — published it. And grateful for my colleagues who spoke candidly about their mistakes, as all good journalists must do. The funny thing is, we were double-checking facts and pulling out flubs and typos until about 10 p.m. Thursday night. I think we got them all but really, if a mistake or two slipped by, well, that would be somehow fitting. 

    National party conventions do not respect deadlines. With their carefully planned spontaneous demonstrations and endless stem-winding speeches, the quadrennial presidential campaign gatherings are famous for running into the wee hours.
     Newspapers do not have that luxury. They must hit their deadlines. Particularly for their print editions. The presses are waiting. The trucks, waiting. If thousands of subscribers are to receive their newspapers at dawn, as expected — no, demanded — then those stories better be written on time and edited on time, so the presses can roll. On time. 
     On the evening of July 16, 1980, Republicans at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit argued over who would run as vice president with Ronald Reagan. Jack Kemp? George Bush? Or former President Gerald Ford? It was a choice designed to add political heft to a candidate whom many considered a lightweight, an actor, co-star of “Bedtime for Bonzo.” A consensus built.
     “I had guy after guy come up to me and say, ‘It’s all settled. It’s Reagan and Ford,’” recalled the nominee’s brother, Neil Reagan. “It’s signed, sealed and delivered. The governor has left the hotel with Ford.”
     Sun-Times reporters on the scene thought official word was coming at any moment.
     “People we have every reason to believe would have known,” said Ralph Otwell, the Sun-Times editor at the time. “It was a matter of going with a story a few minutes before it was made official or missing the edition and not getting the news to our home-delivery subscribers.”
     A decision was made. The row of mighty Goss presses in the basement of the Sun-Times Building at 401 N. Wabash roared to life, printing out 147,000 issues of the paper’s three-star edition with the headline, “It’s Reagan and Ford.”
     Only it wasn’t Reagan and Ford. George H.W. Bush was chosen to run and, eventually, win as Reagan’s vice president. An instant collector’s item was created, though without a gleeful president holding it up, the way Harry Truman displayed the Tribune’s notorious “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN,” the Sun-Times gaffe didn’t become nearly as famous. Gerald Ford did frame a copy on his study wall.

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  1. "I think we got them all but really, if a mistake or two slipped by, well, that would be somehow fitting."

    I haven't seen the print edition yet to see what's actually in the paper, but the 17th Ward alderman's name is Allan Streeter, not Allan Street.

  2. Great column! Confused by this one though and will likely feel stupid when explained. Some mistakes are open to interpretation.” In 1990, pitcher Danny Jackson was signed by the Cubs. His previous teammates nicknamed him “Jason,” like the killer in the “Friday the 13th” movies. The sports desk thought it would be fun to superimpose a Jason mask over Jackson’s photo, and deputy managing editor for sports Alan Henry approved it. Clever illustration? Or unacceptable deception? Editor Dennis Britton obviously thought the latter; he fired Henry.”
    Deception? People ( or some people) thought ( or might have thought) it was an actual photo of Jackson? Really?

    1. It's hard to overestimate the gullibility of people. Perhaps "deception" was the wrong word choice, but I was trying to imagine why, then, Alan would be fired. Maybe "fabrication" would be a better word. I think it is — I'll swap it in. Thanks.

  3. I've seen the physical paper. That was a big column!

  4. Allen Streeter, now there's a truly idiot alderman to remember. When gang members were vandalizing street light control boxes, Streeter's brilliant [not really] idea was to place on top of 10 foot poles, I still see a few around today.
    Of course the feds got him, convicted him & sent him to prison for corruption, a typical Chicago alderman taking bribes, one of the 38 in the last few decades.
    The worst thing about Chicago aldermen is just how appalling stupid they are, taking bribes for stuff that no ordinary person would ever think of needing a bribe & how petty they are, they take bribes of under $100!
    And then there are the truly idiot ones that somehow manage to pass the stupidest laws around, such as requiring people to get a permit for a garage sale from their crooked alderman. That happened because two people in the q9th Ward on the Southwest Side held a garage sale every week, so they were actually running a mini-flea market. So what was alderwoman Ginger Rugai's brilliant idea to stop it, that's right, garage sale permits.
    Instead of a simple law limiting the number of garage sales to two or three per year, that moron & control freak came up with permits, which the rest of the crooks & morons on the city council approved & the mayor, dimwitted Richie Daley signed into law.
    Just a couple of months ago, yet another moronic idea came up, ban the Little free Libraries from the parkways, like this was so important!
    And then a couple of weeks ago, the pro-Hamas regiment tried to get an anti-Semitic & anti-Israel resolution passed condemning Israel for defending itself. Let Congress deal with foreign policy you disgusting hate filled morons!

  5. Nicely done, obviously the result of many hours of research, deftly rendered in Steinberg's signature style. Hope there's no call to rework it into an obituary.


    1. Thanks John. Not sure what your obituary remark is supposed to mean.

  6. The Markey/Feder error is quite funny. I just started reading the Sun-Times every day around that time and missed it. Your blog is great, the story is clear and I can read it. In the hardcopy of the newspaper I cannot. When I read it, it sounds like it should be dated April 1st, 1987. I just start reading and laughing looking at his picture Bug knowing he never sounds like this. What did Judy think, "Bob stole my story"...I remember the Danny Jackson story but didn't realize someone got fired over it. Seems a little excessive to me. But we all make mistakes but usually very few people know. In this case, quite different.

  7. In today's print edition, the "Celebs We Loved and Lost" article includes a photo of Tina Turner performing in 1985, but there is no mention of her May death anywhere in the article. That would be the fault of Associated Press, I assume.
    Your article today was so amusing and interesting! I hope you don't plan to retire until you are at least 95 years old.

  8. I had no idea of the backstory of my Bernardin obit. Holy shit. I don’t know the details of the mistake but thanks to Joyce Winnecke for taking the heat. Knew you were cool the day you arrived in the Sun-Times from Indiana. Great stuff Neil.


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