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Post Misdemeanors

By Andy Alexander

A reader wrote about Thursday's story on a proposed Potomac River ferry that could average “30 knots an hour,” and he suggested a newsroom pool on the number of readers who raise questions about it. Actually, he was the only one I heard from. But he is correct that a “knot” is, in itself, a unit of velocity and is not measured in miles per hour. That’s explained in The Post’s Stylebook: “A nautical knot is a measurement of speed: 6,076.1 feet an hour, or 1.15 mph. A ship sails at 10 knots, not 10 knots an hour.”

Reader Adele C. Schwartz wrote about a Monday story on preventing flu outbreaks at colleges. She was stopped by a reference to “a racking cough and a fever.” Let’s make that a “hacking” cough. “Has the Post fired all its copyreaders?” she wondered. No, but a few must have been out sick that day.

Journalist and tech innovator Dan Gillmor wrote on his new “Mediactive” site about a Post correction that compounded an error by media writer Howard Kurtz. In his Monday column, Kurtz had mistakenly referred to Kenya as President Obama’s “native country.” Actually, Obama was born in Hawaii. His father was born in Kenya. In his weekly online chat, Kurtz acknowledged the mistake after it was raised by a reader.

It took some time, but this correction eventually ran on the Post's Web site: “An earlier version of this column online also mistakenly referred to Kenya as President Obama’s ‘native country’ instead of this ancestral homeland."

Actually, Gillmor noted, Obama has two ancestral homelands because “his mother is from the Farm Belt, and her forebears go back generations in the U.S. Middle West.”

Finally, a Bethesda reader e-mailed about a headline on a Tuesday story about the murder of Yale graduate student Annie Le, whose body was found stuffed inside a wall of a laboratory building on the campus. “I love puns, and would grant some leeway to headline writers to push against the envelope,” he wrote. "However, I felt that the headline... crossed well over the line of respect and sensitivity.”

The headline read: “Clues Point to Inside Job in Yale Student’s Killing.”

Headline writers like to have fun, but they also usually know where to draw the line when dealing with a tragic death. In this case, the reference wasn’t intentional. Thankfully, no other readers complained.

By Andy Alexander  | September 18, 2009; 4:43 PM ET
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That was probably a "wracking cough."`

Posted by: lowercaselarry | September 19, 2009 2:15 AM | Report abuse

As long as we're being really picky, a knot is a measure of speed, not velocity. Velocity has a direction as well as a magnitude.

Posted by: steve_wildstrom | September 22, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

racking cough...a dry unproductive cough... as in in to rack one's brains.

Posted by: ebaymjf | September 24, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

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