To Err Is Pulpish

Occasionally I point out errors in the local newspapers, but today it's time to hoist myself on that petard.

In my column this week, I write about Deerfield Beach Mayor Al Capellini hiring a private investigator to tail his chief political rival, Commissioner Steve Gonot. Based on video the detectives shot in Daytona and Orlando, Capellini thought he had caught Gonot breaking the law and turned the case (such as it is) over to the State Attorney's Office, which is investigating the matter.

Breaking news? Check. Socially and politically important? Check. Entertaining material? Check. Here's the problem: I call Gonot the Vice Mayor. Commissioner Gonot is actually the former vice mayor and hasn't held that position for two years. It's a classic error: I had it in my head that Gonot was the vice mayor for some reason and simply failed to check it. It's such a benign and non-controversial bit of information that it slipped right under the radar.

It would be easy to write off as an insignificant "oops." The vice mayor post, after all, is just a rotating title that has little to no significance. The mistake has no bearing on the meaning of the story. Average readers wouldn't detect the error and wouldn't care about it if they did. Hey, it's no big deal, right?

Wrong. They call them "gross factual errors" in journalism school for a reason, folks. And when you write hard-hitting stuff, they can and will be held against you. Your critics will bring up any mistake you make as a reason for people not to trust anything you write at all. It's already happened in this case. Capellini booster Chris Tauber takes a shot at me in his "Deerfield Advocate" blog. Tauber writes: "If Norman can't get his facts correct in his opening comment what else has he gotten wrong? Makes you wonder, huh?"

Textbook. And I certainly don't begrudge Tauber for it. It's exactly the kind of vague innuendo any reporter invites by making such an error (though I am interested to see what "leaps of logic" he's going to conjure up). And unfortunately the error continues to sit online as I write this, as the New Times firefighters didn't manage to extinguish it yesterday, when we were made aware of it. You can see it here in all its glory.

So there you have it. There's no lesson, really, except not to make stupid mistakes. And unfortunately it won't be the last one I make, just hoping they'll be few and far between.

While I'm on the subject, though, another blogger in Deerfield, Chaz Stevens, has also pointed out what he believes to be an inaccuracy in the story. You can read his beef here. I'm not going to get too far into details here, but I believe this comes down to semantics. The truth -- according to Gonot and his attorney -- is that Gonot doesn't receive a salary from his brother's firm, but bills him by the hour each week.

I know what your thinking: There are two political bloggers in Deerfield? You didn't think that quiet seaside town of 80,000 people had enough going on to sustain two of them, did you? Well, Deerfield has a damn interesting political life, and the dual (and sometimes dueling) bloggers have a lot to do with that. While Tauber is basically a Capellini mouthpiece, he serves a function and actually writes a fairly entertaining blog. Stevens (who has some political ambitions) is an incendiary activist who has criticized both Capellini and Gonot with a vengeance (and gotten criminal investigations started on both of them). For a time the pair were in cahoots going after Gonot but Stevens recently, as he put it, threw Tauber under the bus. The posts on both blogs are often way-inside baseball, sometimes a little strange, and occasionally interesting as hell.

(One more thing: Michael Mayo has a very good column this morning that I recommend you read).

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman