WashPost Puts Colorful 'Facts' In Captions And Mangles History

This isn’t bias; this is just stupidity. The Volokh Conspiracy posted this amazing display of the American educational system. The WaPo ran a photo spread of the nominees for the new Seven Wonders of the World with beautiful photos and some incredibly unintentionally funny captions filled with inaccuracies and amateurish writing. Seriously, this is NOT a joke; these are the actual captions from a WaPo photo feature. According to them, Machu Picchu was founded in 1911 and the beautiful Byzantine church, Hagia Sophia, was originally built as a mosque. Really? These are the actual captions. See them at the Washington Post while you can. (My emphasis throughout):

Photo # 4: Did you know that Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan ruins—the key word there is ancient-- in Peru was “founded by Yale University professor Hiram Bingham in 1911?”

The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru were one of the top seven vote-getters as of Jan. 31, according to a spokeswoman for the New7Wonders Foundation. The ancient city was founded by Yale University professor Hiram Bingham in 1911.

The archeologists who work Machu Picchu seem to think that it was built around the fifteenth century, but what do they know? They don’t work for the Washington Post.

Photo # 10: Or that the Great Wall of China bans “partying, stunts and other ‘inappropriate behavior’” to prevent erosion?

Visitors flock to the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, north of Beijing. The wall crosses the Chinese countryside, extending for more than 4,000 miles. China has banned partying, stunts and other "inappropriate behavior" on the Great Wall to protect one of its top tourist attractions from erosion.

Dude, that's bogus! I bet there could be some tasty partying and gnarly stunts on the Great Wall of China, if only those uptight Chinese would allow it.

Photo # 16: Did you know that the Moors governed southern Spain until the Christian forces conquered them and pushed them out in 1492? Take a look at the subtle bias of who really belonged in Spain:

The Alhambra of Granada, southern Spain, was the residence of the Moorish caliphs who governed southern Spain until 1492, when the city was conquered by the Christian forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, ending 800 years of Muslim rule.

I didn’t know that it was the Christians who invaded Spain and pushed out the rightful Moorish rulers. Very interesting. One question. Who did the Moorish rulers conquer to begin their “800 years of Muslim rule?” I wonder what all of those Christians were doing in Spain before 711. Eh, what do I know, I don’t write for WaPo.

Photo # 18: Apparently, Hagia Sophia was built as a mosque in 537 BC…which is pretty interesting, considering Mohammad wasn’t even born until around 570 AD:

The sun sets over Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a church that was first built in 537 B.C. as a Mosque when the city fell to the Ottomans. When Turkish President Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum in 1935, Christian mosaics covered up by the Muslims were revealed.

Nevermind that in 537 BC, neither Islam nor Christianity existed. Even if the WaPo confused “BC” with “AD,” the text writers still didn’t get it right. The Metropolitan Museum of Art says that Hagia Sophia was originally dedicated in 360 AD by the Christian emperor Constantine…as a church. After it burned down during rioting, it was rebuilt in 537 AD. Volokh has more:

More significantly, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia is "a church that was first built in 537 B.C. as a Mosque when the city fell to the Ottomans." How many mistakes are there in that one line?

·         It was once a church, and it was once a mosque, but now it's just a museum.

·         In fact, its construction was more like A.D. 537.

·         Not much chance of its having been built as a mosque, since Islam wouldn't even exist for about another century after that.

·         And the city didn't fall to the Ottomans until about 900 years after the construction of the church (and the Ottomans arguably didn't even really exist as "Ottomans" until around 1300).

There is more, but those are the most glaring mistakes and examples of childish writing. Feel free to check out the veracity of the captions and post your findings here. We all make mistakes. I know that I sure do,but this wasn't just one or two misquotes or incorrect dates. There is a systemic problem with accuracy and quality of writing. People can make mistakes in a hurry, but this isn't a hurried story written by a reporter trying to beat the deadline; this is a long-term planned feature. I don’t claim to be an historian, but I do know that Machu Picchhu wasn’t "founded" in 1911 and that Hagia Sophia wasn’t built as a mosque.

Read it while you can, this won’t be up for long. The photos are amazing and worth the look--even without the hilarious commentary. It seems that the thank yous for this little stress-relieving bit of unintentional humor should go out to the text editors for the piece, Heather Farrell and Ilene Rosenblum. Good job ladies! Now you’re ready to write for Wikipedia!

UPDATE: The first correction is in! As GeorgeT points out, the Washington Post has corrected the caption for Machu Piccchu from "professor Hiram Bingham founded the ancient city in 1911" to "found the ancient city.

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