New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt devotes his weekly column to an account of how Alessandra Stanley’s error-filled retrospective on Walter Cronkite came to be published on July 22. Hoyt explains that “even a newspaper like The Times, with layers of editing to ensure accuracy, can go off the rails when communication is poor, individuals do not bear down hard enough, and they make assumptions about what others have done.”
A lot of editors worked on Stanley’s story. Hoyt writes: “Five editors read the article at different times, but none subjected it to rigorous fact-checking, even after catching two other errors in it. And three editors combined to cause one of the errors themselves.” You will be relieved to know that the Times is bearing down harder. It has implemented measures to prevent a recurrence. Stanley is to receive special editorial attention. Gawker piles on Stanley.
In my view, Hoyt rightly characterizes the mistakes as “little.” One of the errors, for example, involved a reference to United Press International that should have been United Press. As others have observed, the problem with the Times’s correction of such little mistakes is the implication that the rest of the paper can be trusted.
PAUL adds: Blogging has taught me that it can be difficult to get all the details right when writing quickly. I have produced mid-size blog posts that contained two factual errors and seem to recall having hit the trifecta once. But then, we don’t have all of those wonderful levels of review that the MSM likes to tout.
Hoyt characterizes Ms. Stanley as “a prolific writer much admired by editors for the intellectual heft of her coverage of television.” I’ve never read Stanley’s tv coverage, but can’t help wondering whether “intellectual heft” in this context means liberal bias. Maybe our readers can confirm or rebut my suspicion.
In any event, the more salient characterization of Stanley comes when Hoyt refers to her as “a television critic with a history of errors.” In fact, her error rate was so high in 2005 that she was assigned a single editor with responsibility for checking her work; thereafter, her error rate declined significantly. Given this history, it’s difficult to understand how, after the Cronkite obit fiasco (Hoyt says Stanley’s original story contained two additional errors that were caught), she still has a job at the Times, “intellectual heft” or not.
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