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Clive James: ‘A misprint in my new book made me feel I was contemplating the ruins of 60 years’ work’

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Getting things out of proportion is an occupational hazard for anyone whose occupation is over

It was either in the teleprompter script or in the crawler along the bottom of the screen – probably the latter – that NBC News conveyed the following information: “Isis fighters are shaving bears and hiding in civilian homes to avoid airstrikes.” The reason I can’t be absolutely certain is that I read the line quoted somewhere in the blogosphere, where mistakes made by the traditional media are a constant source of glee. A satirical website with a staff of two young male deadbeats and a woman in a hat can thus rejoice in ridiculing a television outlet with a budget of millions.

And so the shaved bears pass on into history. The day might come when some unusually clueless scientific group is inspired to publish a landmark paper about the shaved bears (“Climate change makes more bears lose hair, says new study”) but it’s more likely that the misprint will continue to be seen as a mistake. It’s the best that any writer can hope for: that the misprint will be flagrant enough to look like one, instead of subtly changing his meaning.

Related: Clive James: ‘Bob Geldof dropped the F-bomb in his show about Yeats’

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