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Why does NYT critic Alessandra Stanley get away with making so many errors?



It's a sure route to jinxland, pointing out the errors of other journalists (don't think I haven't forgotten how every typo on this blog seemed to stand out after I made fun of the local TV channels for their graphics typos).

Still, I don't think I have ever seen a professional critic makes as many high-profile errors as the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley -- at least, not one who still has a job.

Cronkite Columbia Journalism Review has a piece about Stanley's latest mistakes -- an appreciation piece about recently departed TV anchor legend Walter Cronkite on Saturday that contained a staggering seven errors. One, admittedly, was an editing mistake, but the six Stanley-committed mistakes included mistating easy-to-check facts, such as the date the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and the name of a well-known communications satellite.

I wrote about Stanley's accuracy problems back in 2005, when she wrote that Fox News star Geraldo Rivera nudged a rescue worker out of the way to get a better camera shot during Hurricane Katrina's aftermath; the newspaper's public editor determined she was wrong. Back then, the NYT resisted Rivera's insistence that the newspaper run a correction, bruising their credibility in defending her mistake.

The recent CJR piece does a great job of outlining her past problems, which are many. After her accuracy issues became a running joke among some media writers, she found a way to tone them down.

But I remain astonished at how many corrections she earns in a year and how high profile many of them are. I can recall, in my early years as a reporter, almost getting fired from a job because I made two significant errors in a year's time -- both, by the way, based on not being adequately trained on how to use quotes and information from old news stories.

I know reporters who live in fear of racking up more than a handful of corrections in a year. How does Stanley earn, by CJR's count, 23 corrections in 2005, down from 26 corrections in 2004? That year, she not only kept her job, but drew the paper's executive editor into defending her mistake regarding Rivera.

TV critics can be a clubby bunch, so when my friends on the beat began grousing about a NYT critic who didn't seem to know TV well, I shrugged it off. But several of her errors, especially years ago, seemed to come from not knowing television particularly well -- an odd fault for a columnist whose primary job requirement would seem to be expertise in covering TV.

I'm sure this reads like sour grapes from a writer who doesn't work for the highest-profile newspaper in America. But I remain baffled at how a paper as consistently good as the New York Times could allow such levels of inaccuracy from one of its highest-profile arts columnists.



[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:00pm]


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