Play-By-Play: The Self-Loathing NYT's Ultimate Alessandra Stanley Flogging

We've made fun of her time and time again for her absurdly error-filled columns, but this takes it to an entirely new level: the New York Times publicly addressed The Alessandra Stanley Problem today in Clark Hoyt's Public Editor column.

Stanley must be having the worst two weeks of her life. Hoyt — who's been on an absolute roll lately, taking on the mystical algorithms of the Weddings and Celebrations as well as the mysteries behind the Times' law-breaking, public-nuisance creating photographs — must've had something close to a coronary after seeing Stanley's now legendary Walter Cronkite appraisal, which was corrected not once, not twice, but three unbelievable times. Even Katie Couric laid into Stanley for utterly disgracing the memory of one of America's legendary news anchors at the Gray Lady. So Hoyt was next in line. And he gives Stanley's career an appraisal that basically amounts to something just short of "What the fuck were we all thinking?" in this week's public editor column, entitled How Did This Happen? Mr. Hoyt, the bamboo cane is yours:

The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not. But a more nuanced answer is 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. 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.

To the bullet points! Other choice quotes:

  • Sam Sifton - the Times culture editor - calling Stanley's appraisal a "a disaster, the equivalent of a car crash."

  • Stanley's full-on mea culpa: "'This is my fault,' she said. 'There are no excuses.'"

  • The secret rankings of fuckup NYT writers. Like Mediaite, but obviously way better: "Until the Cronkite errors, she was not even in the top 20 among reporters and editors most responsible for corrections this year."

  • The number of people specifically implicated by name in all of this: Lorne Manly, her editor. Copy editor Janet Higbie. Late-shift editor Nicole Herrington. Standards editor Craig Whitney. And Douglas Martin, who'd written the Cronkite obit before he died.

  • Chip Cronkite — who'd actually warned the Times off of certain possibly-going-be-made errors before they were made — laughing it off: "Chip Cronkite seemed philosophical about all the errors. He said his parents had a joke ashtray with the inscription, 'Just give me the facts: I'll mix 'em up when I quote you.'"

  • The public talk about Stanley's personal editor that she's been assigned, and now, has again. Back to those rankings: "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...Now, she has jumped to No. 4 and will again get special editing attention."

  • Finally, the kicker: Clark Hoyt telling us how absolutely not-funny this is: "To The Times, this isn't a laughing matter. Whitney said: 'We cannot tolerate this, and have tightened procedures to rule out a recurrence. I have spoken with those involved, and other senior newsroom editors and I will monitor the implementation of these measures.'"

Actually, it's pretty hysterical: the top writers at the nation's most well-known newspaper need their own babysitters to make sure they don't fuck up the fact that Walter Cronkite did not, in fact, storm Omaha Beach. It's almost cute, like watching a one time all-star quarterback end up being spoon-fed baby food in a nursing home for The Olds while being reminded how Telstar is spelled correctly.

But not, because watching the inability of something to operate on its own is a fundamentally depressing experience.

How Did This Happen? [Clark Hoyt]