Public Editor Lets Alessandra Stanley Off the Hook a Little for Awful Cronkite Obit

And that's the way it most definitely wasn't: Public Editor Clark Hoyt dealt with the paper's notoriously error-filled Walter Cronkite obituary of July 18 by mistake-prone reporter Alessandra Stanley in his latest column, "How Did This Happen?"

The Times published an especially embarrassingcorrectionon July 22, fixing seven errors in a single article - anappraisalofWalter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman famed for his meticulous reporting. The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite's work, his colleagues and his program's ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite.

"Wow," said Arthur Cooper, a reader from Manhattan. "How did this happen?"

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.

This has to be an embarrassing public rebuke for Stanley:

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.

Yet Hoyt also protected Stanley a little by loosely scattering the blame around,also blamingeditors who failed to fact-check the piece.

The NYT Picker blog, wondering how Stanley still has her TV critic job, pondered one possibility:

Stanley's longstanding close ties to the NYT's power structure, especially her membership in a close-knit group of friends that includes managing editorJill Abramson, columnistMaureen Dowd, and book critic Michiko Kakutani.

Hoyt didn't touch the favoritism issue.

The terminally witty Mark Steyn at National Review Online pondered the revelation that Stanley is No. 4 this year on the Times' list of writers responsible for corrections: "Who's Number One? And has anyone ever gone platinum?"