Newsweek: Did we mention we were wrong about that marriage stat?

The magazine's nostra culpa is its cover story.


Lynn Harris
May 30, 2006 2:51PM (UTC)

Broadsheet reported last week that in an online story observing the 20th "anniversary" of its assertion that a single 40-year-old white woman was "more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married," Newsweek had "sputtered an aside" that that assertion had been wrong. (Salon reader Carol Owens, one of the women described in the article, soon chimed in to add that her portrayal as an überspinster had been an utter "fabrication.")

Update: When it comes to its nostra culpa, Newsweek's doing more than sputtering. "20 Years Ago, We Predicted a Single 40-Year-Old Woman Had a Better Chance of Being Killed by a Terrorist Than Getting Married," reads the cover of the June 5 issue. And then: "Why We Were Wrong." The last part's in red.

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In the cover article, we learn the back story of the now-infamous "killed by a terrorist" line. Apparently, it was "first hastily written as a funny aside in an internal reporting memo" by San Francisco correspondent Pamela Abramson, and later inserted into the actual story by an editor in New York -- who, along with her colleagues, "thought it was clear the comparison was hyperbole."

What does Abramson have to say? "'It's true -- I am responsible for the single most irresponsible line in the history of journalism, all meant in jest,' jokes Abramson, now a freelance writer who, all kidding aside, remains contrite about the furor it started," reports Newsweek, extra careful this time to add the words "jokes" and "kidding."

According to this article, among the unfortunate consequences of the cheap shot heard 'round the world was this: People instantly forgot that the demographic study in question had uncovered trends relevant to marriage rates that had nothing to do with some sort of Emergency Guy Shortage. These trends included rising numbers of cohabiting couples, single mothers by choice, out gays and single women saying they're happy that way, thanks.

The article also throws in some new stuff for us to chew on. "Newer studies conclude that nowadays, a college degree makes a woman more likely to marry, not less," says Newsweek, thus catapulting the article to "Most e-mailed to John Tierney" status. "This new twist has given researchers another worry: that marriage, which confers a host of economic, tax and child-rearing advantages, is becoming disproportionately reserved for better-educated, middle- and upper-class elites."

Again, Newsweek's revisit is awfully late, but it's better than nothing. And now I'm looking forward to the 2025 Times story in which editors say they thought it was clear that that whole "women leaving the workplace in droves" thing was "hyperbole."


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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