How Badly Can the New York Times Mangle Facts? Let's Count the Ways

Rich Noyes posted a funny item Saturday on the hypocrisy of Katie Couric's catty Internet commentary attacking the New York Times for seven errors in one Cronkite appreciation piece by Alessandra Stanley. All the news that's still unfit for print? Let's just add the actual, mind-boggling text of their correction, taken apart, one by one:

1. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite’s coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30.

2. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches.

3. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26.

4. "The CBS Evening News" overtook "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970.

5. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents’ reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar.

6. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of "The CBS Evening News" in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor.

7. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.

The worst errors -- and the most avoidable ones -- are 1 and 3, famous dates in Sixties history. The number of errors here signals that some lowly employee on the copy-editing desk was taking a mental day off. But where were the copy-editing bosses to clean up the obvious mess? It's not like this story, on an "icon" of the liberal media, was going to be unnoticed like a column on playing bridge.

Errors like these are also odd given that Cronkite's health problems gave them weeks to prepare an appreciation. Inside the media business, the most egregious errors are four through seven, that deal with media history.

Some seem laughable: did Stanley write that Cronkite "stormed the beaches" on D-Day? I can't tell, since errors one and two were already cleared up for the Saturday paper.

This kind of "super correction" is not the kind of note that inspires confidence among reading customers. If the newspaper business is in decline, perhaps the Times should consider that the reason isn't just who-cares apathy among the public. It's who-cares apathy about making sure the news is done right inside their own bubble. 

New York Times
Tim Graham's picture