I am The Stranger’s in-house curator of blunders because the very first Regrets Issue, in 2004, was my idea, and I’ve edited that annual cavalcade of calamities ever since. It comes out the week of New Year’s Day. We’ve made plenty of errors so far in 2016, so this year’s issue should be a doozy. Mark your calendars!
But what about all-time errors? What are the freakiest face-plants in Stranger history? Dan Savage temporarily supported the invasion of Iraq, which is just about the worst mistake a newspaper employee could have made in the last 20 years, but according to my files, I also temporarily supported the invasion of Iraq, so let’s just move along, shall we? The mistakes below may not have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the destabilization of the region that also happens to be the birthplace of Western civilization, but they stick out in my mind because, wow, really, we did that? Seriously? Ugh.
The Time We Accidentally Ruined an Article by Dave Eggers
In the early 2000s, Dave Eggers published his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was, as everybody said at the time, heartbreaking and staggering and genius. One of the weirdest aspects of covering books for a newspaper (as I started doing for The Stranger in 2003) is that you sometimes get to meet your heroes. Eggers came to town in 2004 to promote his book of short stories How We Are Hungry. Dan Savage had started a tradition of inviting writers like Sarah Vowell and David Rakoff to write reviews of their audiences in Seattle when they came to town, and so, after the reading, when Eggers and I were sharing a cab back from the University Book Store, we talked about Chilean sea bass (I don’t remember how it came up), the Seattle skyline (it looked beautiful that night), and whether he would be willing to write a review of his Seattle audience. He agreed.
Savage was so excited when I told him, he shook my hand. He’d tried and failed to get Eggers to write for The Stranger, which may or may not have had something to do with Savage agreeing to write something for Eggers’s magazine Might in the 1990s and then Savage never turning it in. Well, Eggers never turned in his piece to me.
A year or two later, I ran into Eggers at a fundraiser for 826 Seattle (now called the Bureau of Fearless Ideas). We were backstage at McCaw Hall. The moment Eggers saw me, he remembered that piece he’d forgotten to write, and apologized, and agreed again to write an audience review for The Stranger. I didn’t expect it to happen, but the next morning in my e-mail inbox there were 1,000 freshly written words by Dave Eggers. He asked that The Stranger make a donation to 826 Seattle in lieu of paying him.
The art department hired an illustrator to start working on a portrait of Eggers to go with his piece. But when I went upstairs to sign off on that page on the day of the printer deadline, the illustration still wasn’t in. I didn’t like to approve pages until I could see the art, but the production director insisted I approve the text because we were so behind. Begrudgingly, I approved the text. Later in the day, when the art came in, the editorial designer working on that page dropped the art into its spot on the page, and while she did that she accidentally highlighted a sentence and a half and typed the letter Z, erasing the text that had been there. Because I’d approved the page without the art—never again!!—I didn’t catch the error until I read it in the printed paper and went "What?!" It made it seem as if Eggers had had a stroke between his third and fourth paragraphs, and then had regained consciousness and continued on as if nothing was amiss.
We were so embarrassed we didn’t know what to do. I called 826 Seattle’s director and apologized. We created a corrected page, printed it, and sent it to them. They sent that page to Eggers. Years went by before we told Eggers what had really happened.
The Time We Accidentally Ruined an Article by Jonathan Raban
In 2005, The Stranger was privileged and honored to publish a piece by the critically acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer Jonathan Raban, author of such literary masterpieces as Passage to Juneau, Hunting Mr. Heartbreak, Bad Land, and Old Glory. In addition to his hilarious fish-out-of-water takes on being a Brit living in Seattle (he won a Stranger Genius Award in 2006), Raban had brilliant and learned things to say about jihadists in the wake of the 2005 Al Qaeda bombings in London. In “Our Secret Sharers,” an essay that appeared in The Stranger in our August 4, 2005, issue, he pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers had "learned their brand of murderous revolutionism not in the Middle East, where they grew up, but in the West." Raban argued persuasively that modern jihad was inspired by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who "drew as much on the conservative literature of the West as on the teachings of Islamic fundamentalists" and whose writing "adroitly collaps[ed] the 20th into the 7th century." Unfortunately, when a copy editor got her hands on the text, there was a “th” in superscript (which Stranger house style doesn’t permit) next to the numeral 7, so the copy editor deleted the phrase and retyped it, accidentally typing “17th century” instead of “7th,” an error of 1,000 years. Which is how it appeared in print.
The Time We Had a Typo in a 143-Point Font
That’s right, one-hundred-and-forty-three-point typeface. A teacher at Photo Center Northwest had arranged with The Stranger to have his students create photo essays about Seattle bands, and the best set of photos would be published in The Stranger. The photographer Jack Newton got to have his photos of the band Fly Moon Royalty appear in the paper, although, unfortunately, above the photos, in the largest letters imaginable, it said, “Fly Moon Roaylty.” Those photography students sure learned a lot about newspapers, but it had nothing to do with photography.
The Time We Misspelled “Education” on an Election Cheat Sheet
In the September 14, 2004, issue of The Stranger, we ran our endorsements for that fall’s election, along with a cheat sheet, like we’ve done for all elections since. Under a bolded subheadline reading “City of Seattle Proposition No. 1 Families and Educatoin Levy,” we encouraged readers to vote no. Obviously, we meant “Education.” This wasn’t the only time we messed up a cheat sheet. Ten years later on a cheat sheet, we ran the wrong election date.
The Time I Misquoted Emily Hall
I once wrote that erstwhile Stranger art critic Emily Hall had written something that she hadn’t, in fact, written. In fact, she’d written the opposite of what I said she’d written. It’s too complicated and boring to go into, and I’m out of room, but as of October 3, 2016, at 5:45 p.m., that mistake has finally been fixed, Emily! Sorry it only took me 11 years to remember to fix it.