Jimmy Orr: Slavery and Sodomy, The Perils of Spell-Check

Editor Jimmy Orr writes: "Spellcheck nearly cost me my job at the White House. I will forever be skeptical."

Annaliese Wiederspahn

August 24, 20214 min read

Jimmy orr la times headshot
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Jimmy Orr, Editor

Spellcheck. Yeah, it’s a nice thing to have but it’s not infallible.

In fact, the “proofreader” nearly cost me my job at the White House.

Some journalists (including me) feel they’re better than spellcheck. They look down on it. They hold on to that title of seventh grade spelling champ with honor.

And then when instances come up where spellcheck has failed them, they point to those as evidence of the limitations of the automated fixer.

Anyone who has mistyped the word “public” and received no admonition can attest to this.


On Tuesday, we published the most popular daily sunrise photo since we began the feature last spring (using Facebook analytics as our judge).

Easy to see why.  J. Sheehan’s pastoral photograph of the sun lifting above the Little Snake River Valley dotted by cattle on the green fields is gorgeous.

The faint blue melding into intense yellows and oranges over the lush greens is beautiful.

What could ruin this beauty?


It recommend — no it changed — the location.

What was once Savery, Wyoming, turned into Slavery, Wyoming.

That kinda takes the romance out of the picture.  It destroys what was great.

Spellcheck be damned.


That version never made it on to our page because I’ve been burned before.  And as The Who sang and as President George W. Bush later mangled, “[ I ] Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

By the way, the president’s version was: “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”  Awesome.

Back when I was working for the White House, spellcheck nearly got me canned.

In charge of all digital communications, it was up to me to update the White House website.

On March 19, 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq.

I placed the president’s video, remarks, and a photo of the televised speech on the website.

I wrote the caption for the photo on the homepage.  

I mentioned the leader of Iraq:  Saddam Hussein.

Microsoft’s “Word” had an issue with the name “Saddam” and said: “Do you mean Sodomy?”

Not paying attention and just clicking on “yes” — which is what happens when you don’t proofread spellcheck — the caption on one of the most significant days of George W. Bush’s presidency, was — to say the least — incorrect.


It was discovered by a producer at Good Morning America.

The White House operator called me at 5:15 a.m. Eastern and connected me to the kindly producer who just gave me a heads-up about the misspelling.

I was able to change it and no one noticed.  The producer, instead of playing “gotcha journalism,” was just being decent.

Today, it would be international news. There would be a big siren on Drudge screaming that the White House intentionally did this.

I fessed up to my boss. She was great, as she still is today.

But I did get a warning. This was a Defcon 5 mistake. Absolutely it was.

From then on, I never just clicked on “ok” when spellcheck recommends a change.

You could say that sodomy changed my life.

(Not gonna lie, that last sentence made me laugh out loud).

Jimmy Orr is a Wyoming native who was on the masthead at the Los Angeles Times as the Managing Editor, Digital. Orr served as a spokesman for the White House, directed digital strategy for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Orr co-founded Cowboy State Daily in January, 2019.

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter