Case 12: Say what you mean

12th April 2002

Filed by: Officer Taylor

The Offence

On 7th April 2002, the Sunday Times published an article, with the rather stupid title European Cup: Smiles Better, about Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier's recovery from a heart operation. (The article is available on the web, but I can't give you a link, because the URL is a closely guarded secret. It's true. Even if you go through their awkward and intrusive registration process to gain access, their software jumps through hoops to prevent you from showing it to anyone else.)

Anyway, the article includes this paragraph:

One patient in five dies during the kind of operation that Houllier underwent to have his aortic walls repaired with man-made tubing. If the manager had not been taken ill when surrounded by doctors and physios, he would almost certainly be dead.

How careless is that?

The Verdict

What the Sunday Times meant to say is, of course, that Houllier would have died had he been taken ill elsewhere, and so been unable to obtain swift medical attention. What they've actually said is that he would have died if nothing had happened; but fortunately for him he was taken ill, which saved him.

In a daily newspaper, you might excuse this carelessness: deadline pressure can be intense, and checking for this kind of thing is one of the luxuries that sometimes goes out the window. But this was in a Sunday paper. It comes out once a week. It was a feature article which had no doubt been worked on for weeks or even months. Certainly the illness and operation that the article describes took place nearly six months before it was published.

So the Sunday Times needn't even think about appealing. The Grammar Police would throw them out of court faster than you can say ``''.

The Sentence

We sentence the Sunday Times to hire a full-time sanity checker. If the authors of their articles can't read their own material closely enough to catch this sort of blunder, then a dedicated position is the way forward.

We also impose a fine of 9000 since we are a bit short of readies at the moment.

Next case!

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