NY Times Explains Ann Curry Mistake by TV Critic

An editor defends Alessandra Stanley, who erroneously reported that a highlight reel aired during the outgoing co-host's final "Today" segment, among other gaffes.

A New York Times editor has come to the defense of the paper’s chief TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, who made a huge blunder last week in her coverage of Ann Curry’s final moments as Today co-host.

In the piece that ran Thursday, Stanley recapped Curry’s emotional speech, but she also referred to a highlight reel of moments from Curry’s long run on the show. The problem was, that video wasn’t part of Thursday’s broadcast; it was a year-old video Stanley found online that aired when Curry took over as co-host from Meredith Vieira.

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Stanley also incorrectly reported that Savannah Guthrie, Curry’s likely replacement, was in the studio for her goodbye. In addition, the newspaper misidentified Today's Natalie Morales as Guthrie in a photo caption; that was also corrected.

So what happened?

NYT culture editor Jonathan Landman told Poynter.org that he and executive editor Jill Abramson are partly to blame, as they had assigned her to watch and cover not only Curry’s exit but also the Supreme Court’s health care ruling, which were happening at about the same time. (She didn’t end up writing about the Supreme Court coverage.)

Landman said Stanley watched part of Today, then switched over the Supreme Court coverage. She then went to the Today website to see what she missed. When the highlight reel video auto-played after Curry’s goodbye video, Stanley mistakenly thought that was part of Thursday’s show, despite the fact that co-host Matt Lauer in the video notes that Curry was starting in her new role as co-host.

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“We probably loaded on more than was reasonable,” Landman said, though he added that the errors were “serious.”

“I can’t -- cannot, don’t mean to, will not -- defend any mistake,” Landman said. “I wish we made zero mistakes.”

Still, he defended Stanley.

“There’s been nothing in recent years that would lead you to single her out as anything close to a problem,” he said.

Landman said Stanley’s editor told him that her copy typically has few mistakes. In 2011, she had 99 bylines, and her stories had a total of 11 correction notes, two of which were a result of editing errors, according to Landman.

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”For someone with close to 100 bylines a year, that’s a damn good record,” he said, adding that  “the seriousness of [her mistakes], the type of them, does not suggest sloppiness or inattention or certainly not ill will or bias or anything of that kind,” he said. “They are the kinds of mistakes that unfortunately happen when people are working fast, as we do in this line of work.”

However, NBC News president Steve Capus told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday that there is no excuse for the gaffe.

"I think there are a lot of sloppy examples of journalism these days," he said. "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."

Meanwhile, the editors at Gawker have been keeping tabs on Stanley’s mistakes over the years in various posts, including a story about the Curry gaffe titled “America’s Wrongest Television Critic Strikes Again.”