Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 16, 2003

Retractions, hoaxes and miscommunications

Retractions, hoaxes and miscommunications seem to be the order of the day.

The venerable New York Times recently revealed that a reporter had allegedly filed numerous stories with far-flung datelines and dramatic quotes – but had apparently never left the New York City area and hadn’t spoken with many of the people he quoted.

I’m sure the papers’ employees cringe when the New York Times is the punch line for jokes on late-night television. But they’re not alone in being, pardon the pun, the butt of jokes. Microsoft Corp.’s plans for the iLoo, a portable toilet with Internet access, drew great media and comedian attention.

As I looked at a detailed drawing of the iLoo, my first reaction was that I wouldn’t want to touch that keyboard. I didn’t see much market demand for the iLoo, because anyone who really needs to check their e-mail or surf the net while answering Mother Nature’s call probably already owns a laptop.

David Letterman cracked that he didn’t remember anyone clamoring for an excuse to linger in portable toilets.

A spokesman in Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. headquarters said Monday that, oops, it was a hoax; our U.K. engineers, those zany Brits, pulled a fast one on us. This, the Associated Press noted, was despite confirmations that iLoo was legitimate that AP reporters obtained from a Microsoft representative and two Microsoft public relations firms.

Then, Tuesday, a Microsoft spokesman changed the company’s story again. Yes, iLoo was a real project, she said, but after all the negative reaction, there was some internal “miscommunication.” She added that the iLoo had since been canned.

One thing’s clear after the iLoo hullabaloo: Microsoft has flushed a lot of its credibility.

Even the Bay Area got into the act. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted minutes from a Department of Parking and Traffic meeting in which the deputy enforcement chief allegedly exhorted supervisors to write 40,000 tickets in the next 45 days to increase revenue.

Almost immediately, people cried foul. Tickets are for parking control, not city revenue generation, and quotas are illegal, they cried. Mayor Willie Brown quickly took to the airwaves saying DPT supervisors would be making no special efforts to issue parking tickets.

Whatever you say.

There are few South Valley snafus that officials might consider handling with similar tactics, starting with the planned $25 million Gilroy police station.

“You took that seriously, in these tight economic times?” a high-placed Gilroy official might ask incredulously. “What a knee-slapper! There’s no way we could justify spending that kind of money during this economic downturn. We’re actually planning to build a modest but perfectly serviceable station costing around $12 million.”

Paying $25 million for a GPD station ought to be a hoax.

Then there’s the design for the county courthouse planned for Morgan Hill: A soulless gray and white box with a tacked-on, drum-shaped lobby. I’d love to see a press release from the county saying the architect’s design was a result of a miscommunication.

“The architects thought we wanted to evoke Hedding Street,” the statement might explain. “They’re now working on a design that will blend with the notable architecture found in Morgan Hill.”

The Gilroy High School leadership committee that voted 6-4 recently to oppose weighted grades could blame, let’s see, a miscount. It was really 4-6, we just reversed the ayes and nays in our minutes, they might say. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

It’s hard to justify non-weighted grades considering that, according to some parents of AP students, weighted grades have been Gilroy Unified School District board policy since 1991, despite a former GHS principal’s unilateral decision to drop them, a committee member might tell GUSD trustees.

Mistakes are only human. Frequently, they are evidence of important effort and differing approaches to complicated problems.

But let’s have a little less of Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt (“I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong”) and a little more of author Dale Turner (“To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character”) when errors are made in South Valley.

It’ll be good for all of us.

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