The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘A Team of Editors’

Posted on | May 24, 2020 | 1 Comment


This is going to become the stuff of legend, so I wanted to take note of it: The New York Times decided to devote the entirety of its front page to a list of 1,000 names of COVID-19 victims. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and we are at or near the 100,000 mark in terms of nationwide death toll from the virus so . . . Well, there was some rationale for this, anyway, and the New York Times staff devoted hours to the project:

Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Graphics desk, wanted to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost. . . .
“We knew we were approaching this milestone,” she added. “We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.”
Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page “doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon said. So, she came up with the idea of compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country, and culling vivid passages from them.
Alain Delaquérière, a researcher, combed through various sources online for obituaries and death notices with Covid-19 written as the cause of death. He compiled a list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers. A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost . . .

Scarcely five minutes after their list was published, people on Twitter began pointing out an obvious error: Jordan Haynes, 27, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was the sixth name on the Times list, but he did not die of COVID-19. He was a homicide victim, whose body was found in a car in a wooded area near Interstate 380. Exactly how the “team of editors” made such a colossal blunder, we don’t know, but they’ve deleted Haynes’ name from the list and promised to publish a correction tomorrow.

By the way, if the Times wished the list to be representative of the U.S. coronavirus toll, at least three-quarters would be over 65 years of age, and about 52 percent would be from four states — New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan — with the highest death tolls. Iowa? With only 449 reported coronavirus deaths, the Hawkeye State is not even a full percentage point of the death toll, but 0.45%. If the “team of editors” needed the names of four or five dead Iowans to represent this, in a list of a thousand names, how was it that they chose this homicide victim? And if they can blunder so badly in this, what else do they get wrong?



One Response to “‘A Team of Editors’”

  1. The Staff at The NY Times Had One Job | 357 Magnum
    May 26th, 2020 @ 11:21 am

    […] Accuracy is apparently not an issue in NYC. ‘A Team of Editors’. […]