The Wednesday Journal, a weekly newspaper covering Oak Park and River Forest, devoted what seems like half of last week’s issue to apologizing. “Reckless and unsubstantiated charge. . . . Extraordinarily serious lapse in editorial judgment,” says editor and publisher Dan Haley in a page-one statement posted online December 7 and in print December 13. “Gigantic error. . . . This newspaper offers no excuse or rationalization for this serious mistake,” says Haley in a column on page four.

“I screwed up. My defense? There is none,” says features editor Ken Trainor in a column on the editorial page. And these admissions barely begin the Journal’s exercise in self-flagellation.

The December 6 Journal had carried a letter (since taken down from its Web site) by an Oak Park resident concerned about a campaign to install lights at the Oak Park and River Forest High School football stadium. Referring to a nine-month-old Wednesday Journal photo of an interracial group of students marching in favor of lights, he suggested that a black youth at the front of the march was flashing a gang sign, and wondered, “What if the proponents to the lights at OPRF noticed this and realized that lights will likely bring this player’s fellow gang members or rivals to their neighborhood?”

That was the “reckless and unsubstantiated charge.” The Journal‘s “extraordinarily serious lapse in … judgment” was to run the old picture with the letter. High school superintendent Susan Bridge hotly informed the paper that the student, a member of the high school football team, is known as a “fine young man with a clean discipline record, superb attendance, and a good scholar.”

Appropriately, the Journal reeled. But newspapers are unparalleled at finding the silver lining. The headline over one of Haley’s mea culpas read, “Journal’s error stokes worthy, necessary dialogue.”