Monday, July 28, 2014

Washington Post reporter gets several historical facts wrong

An article in the print edition of the Washington Post on Sunday, July 27 (p. C5), includes three glaring errors that would have resulted in a failing grade on an elementary school history test, yet only one of them has been subsequently corrected on the newspaper's web site.

The article, written by Ileana Najarro with a print-edition headline "Wolf is making his last push for holiday," explains how retiring U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA10) is advancing legislation that would make Washington's Birthday a federal holiday celebrated on the actual date of his birth, February 22, rather than floating each year on the third Monday in February.

One of Najarro's errors relates to how the holiday came to be celebrated on a date other than February 22:
President Rutherford B. Hayes established Washington’s birthday in 1879 as a holiday for the District’s federal workers, Wolf said. The holiday was extended to all federal workers six years later, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it was moved to the third Monday of February as part of President Gerald Ford’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Gerald Ford did not become President until August 1974. The law was passed when Lyndon Johnson was President. Johnson signed it on June 28, 1968, and it took effect January 1, 1971, when Richard Nixon was President. Ford did sign a bill in 1975 that amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to restore Veterans' Day commemorations to November 11, regardless of its day of the week.

A second error, also not corrected, misplaces the origins of George Washington:
Sitting in his office, [Wolf] spoke of his geographical connection to the first president: Both were originally from Philadelphia, and both have held office in Winchester.
It used to be said that "every schoolboy knows" some fact about U.S. history. One such fact is that George Washington came from Virginia. He was born in the Northern Neck, in Westmoreland County near Fredericksburg. In later years, Washington made his home at Mount Vernon, just down the Potomac River from the city that bears his name. As a military officer, Washington did maintain an office in Winchester during the 1750s in a building that still stands near Cork and Braddock Streets.

Washington also served his country in Philadelphia, presiding over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and moving there from New York as President before the capital was established in its present location.

The sole error that was corrected reads, in the print edition, like this:
Although the holiday is still recognized as Washington's Birthday, it's come to be known as Presidents' Day, with several states honoring all presidents at once. Wolf said he abhors this "hijacking" because Washington's birthday is honored equally with that of President Richard M. Nixon, who was impeached.
Andrew Johnson was impeached. Bill Clinton was impeached. Richard Nixon resigned before articles of impeachment could be brought before the House of Representatives for a vote.  If any newspaper's editors should know this, it would be those of The Washington Post.

The Post's correction of this error appears at the top of the page on its web site:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that President Nixon was impeached. He resigned before he could be impeached. This version has been corrected.
The "corrected" paragraph says that Nixon "resigned in disgrace."

So... Where were the copy editors?  How did sloppiness like this make it through the Metro section's editorial process?  Will the other errors also merit corrections in print or on the Post's web site?

Note:  The web headline for Najarro's article is: "Rep. Frank Wolf’s final acts include restoring Washington’s Birthday."

(Cross-posted from Where Are the Copy Editors?)

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