The New York Times‘ City Room blog has a fascinating post about an obituary that the paper corrected 112 years after publication. When the Times received a letter from the great-nephew of Lt. M.K. Schwenk informing the paper that his great-uncle’s name had been Milton, not Melton, as the Times wrote in an obituary published in 1899.
The paper hastened to correct the error, and in looking into Schwenk’s life, discovered several other errors in the obituary: For instance, his hometown and graduation date from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis were both incorrect not just in the Times‘ article, but in other New York-area publications from the same era. This raised, for the contemporary Times writer looking into these issues, the question of how accurate we can presume primary sources to be, even supposedly reputable ones:
It is never too late to set the record straight. If journalism is indeed the first rough draft of history, there is always time to revise, polish and perfect, even if pinning down the details about Lieutenant Schwenk after so many years turned out to be less than straightforward.
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