The NY Times Leaves out Levon, Twice

It often takes me a few days to catch up to the weekend papers, so today, on glancing at the New York Times of Saturday, April 21, I was glad to see they’d featured Bob Dylan’s eulogy for Levon Helm that I also cited on this blog in Reflecting on The Band’s Break-up and Levon’s Death. Oddly, with the benefit of time passing, I often discover mistakes in the paper days after publication, as happened some months ago with Times coverage of the Romneys’ horses.  Sure enough, as I began to read last Saturday’s story I was surprised to see that the photograph of Dylan and The Band they used with their item didn’t actually include Levon in it. Clearly, others had noticed the error before me, because on the Times website I’ve found this correction accompanying the article where the erroneous photo has been removed.

Because of an editing error, a report in the “Arts, Briefly” column on Saturday about Bob Dylan’s recollections of collaborating with Levon Helm, the drummer and singer who died last week at 71, erroneously included Mr. Helm among the musicians pictured at a 1974 performance. Another drummer, who was not identified, was shown with the group; Mr. Helm was not pictured.

Richard Manuel (l.), Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan--Levon Helm, Garth Hudson not pictured

As corrections too often do, this one piles error on top of error, with the reference to “another drummer” an additional mistake. First, the bearded person seated in a hat, who the Times wanted readers at first to incorrectly assume was Levon, is not some anonymous walk-on, but actually Richard Manuel, member of The Band going back to their earliest days when they were called The Hawks. Manuel ordinarily played piano (the instrument he is actually seated at in the Times photo), but would slide over to drums when Levon played mandolin or guitar. Unfortunately, as can be seen in my photos of the item, it had no caption at all, and the Times didn’t ID any of the musicians, apparently content to let readers infer that Levon Helm was in the shot. Had the brief carried a caption this error-riddled series of cascading confusions might’ve never been set in motion, or maybe it would have anyway, since it’s obvious that whoever was editing this section of the paper knew little about The Band. To sum it up, the person vaguely implied in the Times brief to be Levon was not him, and the person described in the correction was not at the drums in the photo, but at the piano. Presumably, Levon was on stage, seated at his drum kit, out of the frame of Times photographer Larry Morris’s lens, or was cropped out of the image at some point.

As journalist and author Craig Silverman points out in his fine book, Regret the Error, which I edited and published with him in 2008, media errors are often quite avoidable, and the Times‘ multiple failures here surely fall into that category. As shown in the extensive coverage of Levon’s terminal illness and death, it is clear that there are scores of photos of Bob Dylan and The Band that include him, such as the one shown below from the Los Angeles Times. It’s a pity they couldn’t have found one like it that included Levon, either in the print edition, or at worst, even later, online where no photo now appears. An error in an obituary or a eulogy is one of the most serious mistakes a media outfit can make, and the Times royally messed up here. They owe their readers better, both in print, and online.

Bob Dylan (counter-clockwise from bottom left), Levon Helm (at drums), Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson. (Garth Hudson

5 replies
  1. Roland Doucet says:

    Great work Philip. Really frustrating the shoddiness of this kind of thing. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not either some extremely tough investigative journalism assignment:it’s just a question of…? Caring enough to go that extra 10 minutes… to make sure you’ve got it right? These mistakes happen way too much. Thanks for the correction.

    Reply
    • Philip Turner says:

      Thanks, Roland. Making an error in an obituary or reporting on a eulogy has to be one of the most egregious mistakes.

      Situation Normal. All Fucked Up. SNAFU, right?

      Reply
  2. gus s says:

    Actually, I think there is a mistake in the caption for the photo at the bottom of the article. I don’t think that’s Garth Hudson with his back to the camera; I think Garth is out of the frame sitting behind the organ to Levon’s right. This was ordinarily where he sat, and the dude with his back to the camera doesn’t appear to be playing anything.

    Reply
    • Philip Turner says:

      You may be correct, though I think Garth would have been to Levon’s left, not his right side. If the dude in the dark is seated at call it, 6:00, then Garth would more likely have been positioned at say, 4:00 PM. Is that what you figure? That’s where he was the few times I saw them live. I wrote the caption, and I don’t want to be wrong after the Times’s screw-up, but I don’t want to rush to change it either. Thanks for your help with this, and thanks for visiting my site. Please come back again.

      Reply

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  1. […] If you haven’t read my posts following Levon’s death over te past week, you may read them here and here. […]

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