Thoughts on Post's Bungled Headlines

A reporter's notebook

BOSTON—As the night editor for today’s issue of The Crimson, I can state with great confidence that what appeared on the cover of the Washington Post’s Democratic National Convention supplement this past Monday is a proofreader’s worst nightmare.

In bold, capital, one-inch-tall lettering—as large as “The Harvard Crimson” banner on the cover of this newspaper—the top of the front page of the Washington Post supplement distributed to journalists and delegates at the convention says: “ELECTION 2000.”

This wouldn’t be so bad if the date of the issue weren’t July 26, 2004.

So on 10,000 copies of the paper, in letters large enough to be read from 50 feet away by someone with good eyesight, the Post declared its reporting four years out of date.

At the FleetCenter, a police officer cringed when he saw the error. The word among convention-goers was that the Post was destroying as many of the copies as it could.


These reactions seem to indicate that the gaffe is important. This conclusion is incorrect. Is the mistake embarrassing? Sure. But important? That’s a different story. After all, is the credibility of the Washington Post—one of the nation’s most respected newspapers—really hurt by the misprint?

That’s exactly the question that the newspaper wants us to ask. The Post published an article the next day entitled, “Washington Post Makes Printing Error.” Not a reporting error, or a Jayson Blair-esque fabrication of fact. Just a printing error.

The Post resorted to humor to try to play it down. “Those who say The Washington Post is out of step with the country just got a new round of ammunition,” the article began. And the story also states that “The Post isn’t...confiscating copies” since, as Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said, “Even though it’s an embarrassing mistake, it’s not a mistake in substance of stories.”

Newspapers with the name “Post” have had difficulty remaining error-free in their election coverage. On July 5, the New York Post—a newspaper not nearly as renowned for its coverage of national politics as its Washington counterpart—became the laughingstock of the media world for a few days when it reported that “KERRY PICKS GEPHARDT” to be his running mate.

An error such as the Washington Post’s banner becomes problematic when it is part of a trend of careless mistakes and incorrect reporting. It may be a proofreader’s worst nightmare, but only in the sense that a dropped fly ball in a meaningless game is an outfielder’s worst nightmare. It gave the people at the FleetCenter a reason to laugh, but it’s not all that important.

You can be sure, though, that I’ll check the date on the front of tomorrow’s issue of The Crimson at least 15 times.

—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at