The New York Times Issued Its Best Correction Ever, Probably the Best Correction of All Time

New York Times corrections 12 Years a Slave

Probably one of my favorite parts of reading the New York Times (which, yes, despite my occasional NYT content-inspired outrage, is still the paper I read) is checking out the corrections that needed to be made. But the New York Times has outdone itself with its latest correction, one that fixes a 161-year-old error.

After the film 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture this past Sunday, the New York Times tweeted a link to its review of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, which demonstrates not only the Times’s multi-decade liberal bias (of course, back then, having “liberal” sympathies meant you were a Republican), but also that for as long as the Times has been in business, it’s been making mistakes. Although, of course, isn’t that really all of our stories? To exist is to make mistakes. And so it goes.

But! Because all of us have to own up to our past mistakes at some point, the Times issued a correction today on its 161-year-old error, writing:

An article on Jan. 20, 1853, recounting the story of Solomon Northup, whose memoir “12 Years a Slave” became a movie 160 years later that won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, misspelled his surname as Northrop. And the headline misspelled it as Northrup. The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives. (The errors notwithstanding, The Times described the article as “a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared.”)

Which, you know, we get it! Spellcheck didn’t exist back then, and we sometimes misspell names even today! Sure, we don’t generally use two different misspellings of the same name within the same article, but nobody’s perfect. And at least in the original Times review, there’s nothing too embarrassing about it, and the reviewer is, in fact, very sympathetic to Northup’s plight, noting that Northup was “compelled to perform acts revolting to humanity, and outrageous in the highest degree.” With strong opinions like that, it’s no wonder the Times headquarters were a target of the angry mobs during the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. Oh, America.

Interestingly enough, there’s one other 12 Years a Slave correction in today’s paper. The Times apologizes:

The Carpetbagger column on Friday, about the competition for the Academy Award for best picture, misidentified the relatives of Solomon Northup, on whose memoir “12 Years a Slave” is based, who were introduced during the campaign for that film. They are his descendants, not his ancestors.

In other words, no. Time travel is not yet possible. That was just a mistake. Or maybe in another 161 years, we’ll find out that they really were Northup’s ancestors? And time travel is possible? Only time will tell.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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