Recently, the Weekly Standard mocked the NY Times for confessing to no fewer than seven factual errors in its remembrance of Walter Cronkite. Then yesterday, the Times’ Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, devoted an entire column to exploring just how it’s possible for the Paper of Record to make seven mistakes in a single article. Hoyt reports,
Five editors read the article at different times, but none subjected it to rigorous fact-checking, even after catching two other errors in it…
Seemingly little mistakes, when they come in such big clusters, undermine the authority of a newspaper, and senior editors say they are determined to find fixes.
Here’s what we learn about Alessandra Stanley, author of the mistakes in question:
Stanley said she was writing another article on deadline at the same time and hurriedly produced the appraisal, sending it to her editor with the intention of fact-checking it later. She never did…
For all her skills as a critic, Stanley was the cause of so many corrections in 2005 that she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts. Her error rate dropped precipitously and stayed down after the editor was promoted and the arrangement was discontinued. Until the Cronkite errors, she was not even in the top 20 among reporters and editors most responsible for corrections this year. Now, she has jumped to No. 4 and will again get special editing attention.
I’m glad to know there are twenty writers at the Times more prone to errors than Ms. Stanley.
Although you may have sensed a bit of schadenfreude in this post, I will take note of a very different response from my wife. She found it petty for the Times to review in such detail how mistakes were made. Certainly, that approach only whets the appetite of perennial critics such as myself.
I responded that this is the only way to ensure accountability. Unless names are named and responsibility is taken, journalists will not be accountable. Politicians are accountable to the voters, to their adversaries, and to the media. As bloggers are so fond of saying, who watches the journalists?
The fourth estate is by no means as powerful as the government, but is certainly powerful enough to warrant persistent oversight. As for oversight of the blogosphere, the comment section is open.