July 2, 2012

The Hollywood Reporter | The New York Times
NBC News President Steve Capus criticized New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley for incorrectly stating that the “Today” show aired a highlight reel during Ann Curry’s farewell show on Thursday:

“I think there are a lot of sloppy examples of journalism these days … When a television critic writes a critique of a program and then later admits she hasn’t watched the television broadcast, that’s bad journalism. That’s not just a mistake.”

Unfortunately his own inaccuracy undercuts his criticism: Stanley told my colleague Andrew Beaujon that she did watch the show, but because she didn’t tape it, she watched it again online.

That’s how she came across last year’s highlight reel, apparently not catching Matt Lauer’s warm welcome of Curry as co-anchor. And Stanley read into an interaction between Curry and Lauer, when Curry leaned in for a hug and Lauer told her to stay away, as somehow meaningful in light of the way that NBC had pushed out Curry from “Today.” But that, too, was part of the highlight reel, not something that occurred on Thursday’s show.

This is not the first time that Stanley has applied a generous interpretation to the facts before her. In 2005, Public Editor Byron Calame weighed in on a dispute between Stanley and Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera.

In a story about how reporters were getting personally involved in the recovery after Hurricane Katrina, Stanley had written:

Some reporters helped stranded victims because no police officers or rescue workers were around. (Fox’s Geraldo Rivera did his rivals one better: yesterday, he nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety.)

Rivera said he had done no such thing. Calame wrote:

I have been involved in scores of correction disputes over the years at another newspaper, but this one is unusual in that there is very little to argue about. Since Ms. Stanley based her comments on what she saw on the screen Sept. 4, the videotape of that segment means everyone involved is looking at exactly the same evidence.

Although there was no evidence to support Stanley’s assertion, the Times wouldn’t run a correction. Bill Keller, then executive editor, explained it thusly to Calame:

It was a semi-close call, in that the video does not literally show how Mr. Rivera insinuated himself between the wheelchair-bound storm victim and the Air Force rescuers who were waiting to carry her from the building. Whether Mr. Rivera gently edged the airman out of the way with an elbow (literally “nudged”), or told him to step aside, or threw a body block, or just barged into an opening – it’s hard to tell, since it happened just off-camera. …

Ms. Stanley’s point was that Mr. Rivera was show-boating – that he was being pushy, if not literally pushing – and I think an impartial viewer of the footage will see it that way.

The Times later appended an editor’s note that corrected any misperception without correcting the story:

The editors understood the “nudge” comment as the television critic’s figurative reference to Mr. Rivera’s flamboyant intervention. …

Numerous readers, however – now including the newspaper’s public editor, who also scrutinized the tape – read the comment as a factual assertion. The Times acknowledges that no nudge was visible on the broadcast.

Stanley’s mistake-ridden 2009 “appraisal” of Walter Cronkite’s career spurred an inquiry by Public Editor Clark Hoyt. Here’s how she explained one of the mistakes:

She wrote that Cronkite stormed the beaches on D-Day when he actually covered the invasion from a B-17 bomber. She never meant that literally, she said. “I didn’t reread it carefully enough to see people would think he was on the sands of Omaha Beach.”

To review: When reading Alessandra Stanley’s stories, one should not take phrases like “stormed the beaches” and “nudged out of the way” literally.

Hoyt wrote in that column that Stanley had so many corrections in 2005 that a copy editor had been assigned to check her facts. That worked, he wrote, but the problem returned after the copy editor was promoted and wasn’t replaced. After the Cronkite story, she “will again get special editing attention.” I’ve inquired to see whether she has any such arrangement now.

Related: Being anchor was not “not where her real passion was,” Capus says of Curry (The Hollywood Reporter) | Hard-news approach of “CBS This Morning” is working (MarketWatch)

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Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
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