To Those I May Have Offended
and To My Readers
Okay. Here we go . . .
In this place, Dear Reader, there was for a year or so an essay with the title "Ben Johnson, Canadian."
The subject was Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who was disqualified in the 1988 Seoul Olympics for having stanozolol in his system.
The essay concerned his career, his character, and the issue of drugs in sport, among other things.
I have taken down this essay -- "for an indefinite time."
# # #
A month or so ago a reader, Thomas A. Geoghegan, e-mailed me a polite note saying that the essay contained several errors. He was right. I made some corrections. I intended to post the corrected version on my site -- but somehow got busy and pretty much forgot about it.
Then another reader, Brenden Woligroski, e-mailed me about many of the same errors. He was quite irate.
Thanks to Brenden, it finally got through to me that I had made an absolutely embarrassing number of mistakes for such a short essay.
# # #
Furthermore, one error (at least) was more serious. One was a horrendous factual mistake about a person, probably even a libellous mistake . . . I had mixed up this person (Canadian runner Angella Issajenko) with another person, and had therefore accused Issajenko of something she just had not done.
There was another sentence -- referring to still another person (let's call him B) -- which I honestly believed to be true. But I realized I wasn't absolutely certain I had written the truth. At least one word, an adjective, appeared to be at least stupidly chosen. Perhaps it might even be false . . .
And if the sentence were false, it would be libellous as well.
# # #
So it finally got through to me that
- I had made at least one serious, potentially grave mistake that could not only damage my reputation (and perhaps had), but potentially -- conceivably -- could lead to court action against me; and
- I might have made another.
While all my mistakes had been good-intentioned (well-intentioned?), even the serious one, they had been boneheaded.
# # #
The root of these mistakes, alas, was relying overmuch on my memory.
When writing these essays I refer to numerous books and periodicals, but I also rely on my memory. But in recent years my memory has been getting bad.
When the errors were pointed out to me I realized that they had come about through trusting my memory rather than looking it up.
I had by now posted a somewhat corrected version of the essay . . . with a brief apology.
But I continued to think about the matter. After several days, I realized that a "corrected" version wasn't good enough. Instead, I had to, I ought to, take down the essay.
# # #
I'm deeply embarrassed -- almost to the point of feeling humiliated -- by my errors. While quite a few were trivial, one at least was huge. And the other one, the possible grave error about one person, B, means I have no choice but to rethink the piece completely, entirely checking every fact.
At this point I don't know how long this will take, or whether the piece will ever see the light of day again.
I'd like to apologize to Angella Issajenko, the runner I inadvertently confused with another, for mixing her up with that person and therefore accusing her of having taken drugs. I am abjectly sorry. I have no reason to believe Angella Issajenko did take drugs. And if I seriously mischaracterized B, I hereby deeply and sincerely apologize to him.
It's even possible I was unfair to Ben Johnson. I characterized Johnson with a figurative word which is not, perhaps, literally accurate. I doubt if I overstepped the law, but perhaps I overstepped permissible literary licence by calling him the word. If so, I apologize to Ben Johnson.
I realize that these apologies and my removing the essay do not make up for publishing the original errors. My actions may also not save me from eventual lawsuits.
But they genuinely seem the right thing to do.
Finally, I apologize to you, my readers, if any of you who read my original essay were misled by my misinformation and my mischaracterization(s?).
Believe me, I'm going to check things more carefully from now on.
# # # # #
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Written: 4:55 PM 06/03/2003