Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech.


368 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-670-06730-5
DDC 302.23





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


Silverman, who for several years has run a website documenting “media mistakes,” offers here a sprawling study of journalistic inaccuracy. He provides a condensed history of the origins of the mass media and its record of truthful reporting, a summary of psychological theories of error-making, a long list of common media mistakes and famous blunders, an account of the decline of fact-checking, and commentary on how factual accuracy in reporting might be improved. This book is poised somewhere between simple entertainment—a compendium of media gaffes to be chuckled over—and a scholarly investigation of the causes and consequences of media “pollution.”


The evidence marshalled against the press here is certainly alarming: Silverman cites research, for instance, that suggests that “one can assume that close to half of the local news stories in most American newspapers contain at least one error.” While some of these errors might be regarded as trivial, it is the broader pattern of sloppiness in the media (and, less commonly, wilful deceit) that constitutes the genuine menace. Silverman cites the erosion in public trust in the media and provides a persuasive description of the ways in which today’s rapid-fire news cycle solicits the kinds of errors he has been tracking. The impassioned case he makes for increased interest in reducing inaccuracy is certainly well-articulated and timely, and his recommendation that mainstream news outlets begin to rely more heavily on bloggers for verifying some information seems practical.


A (rather significant) weakness of this book, however, is its slipshod organization. Silverman can seem to ramble from topic to topic, and repeats himself frequently. Moreover, the chapters alternate between examinations of a particular issue and long inventories of ostensibly outrageous and “hilarious” mistakes. The result is a text that comes to seem very bloated. This really ought to have been a much shorter book, with a more focused approach to its subject.


Silverman, Craig., “Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,