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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Three days ago, HuffPost asked: What would happen if a presenter announced the wrong winner at the Oscars? Now we know…

Talk about fore­shad­ow­ing.

On Fri­day, the Huff­in­g­ton Post ran an arti­cle ask­ing, What would hap­pen if a pre­sen­ter announced the wrong win­ner at the Oscars? The arti­cle, writ­ten by Matthew Jacobs, dis­cussed sev­er­al hypo­thet­i­cal sce­nar­ios that might result in the kind of gaffe that loomed over the finale of last night’s Oscars tele­cast.

Jordan Horowitz corrects the record at the 89th Academy Awards

La La Land pro­duc­er Jor­dan Horowitz holds up the cor­rect Best Pic­ture enve­lope, show­ing that Moon­light has won. (Pho­to: Eddy Chen/ABC, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license.)

Quot­ed in the arti­cle was one of the two peo­ple respon­si­ble for the tab­u­la­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the awards envelopes: Martha Ruiz of Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers, who cur­rent­ly shares the respon­si­bil­i­ty for Oscar bal­lot­ing with Bri­an Cul­li­nan. Ruiz told Jacobs that they have safe­guards in place to ensure there are no sna­fus.

It’s him check­ing me and me check­ing him, and we do it mul­ti­ple times against each oth­er to make sure that when we leave and are ulti­mate­ly hand­ing the envelopes to some­one, we’re very con­fi­dent they’re get­ting the right envelopes and the con­tents in them are accu­rate.

Evi­dent­ly, those safe­guards failed last night, because Ruiz’s part­ner Cul­li­nan some­how man­aged to give War­ren Beat­ty of Bon­nie and Clyde fame the wrong enve­lope before he walked out on stage with Faye Dun­away.

Screen cap­tures from last night’s tele­cast prove that Beat­ty was giv­en a sec­ond copy of the enve­lope and card for Best Actress in a Lead­ing Role — an award that went to Emma Stone for La La Land — instead of the Best Pic­ture enve­lope.

Some view­ers have expressed con­fu­sion at why there is more than one enve­lope for each award, but the sim­ple expla­na­tion is that redun­dan­cy is very impor­tant. Pre­sen­ters enter from dif­fer­ent sides of the stage, and if some­thing were to hap­pen to one set of envelopes, there’s a sec­ond set that can serve as back­ups.

Beat­ty’s reac­tion upon open­ing the enve­lope he’d been giv­en was one of con­fu­sion. He looked up and then at his co-pre­sen­ter Dun­away with­out dis­clos­ing what he’d seen. Then, after she prompt­ed him to speak (“You’re impos­si­ble. C’mon!”), he showed her the card. With­out paus­ing to study it close­ly her­self, she mis­tak­en­ly pro­nounced La La Land the win­ner.

“I want to tell you what hap­pened,” Beat­ty said a cou­ple of min­utes lat­er to a shocked audi­ence. “I opened the enve­lope and it said, ‘Emma Stone, ‘La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye, and at you. I wasn’t try­ing to be fun­ny.”

The unan­swered ques­tion now is why no one ran out on stage imme­di­ate­ly after Dun­away’s pro­nounce­ment to make an imme­di­ate cor­rec­tion.

“It does­n’t sound very com­pli­cat­ed, but you have to make sure you’re giv­ing the pre­sen­ter the right enve­lope,” Cul­li­nan him­self wrote on Medi­um not long ago.

He failed to do so, and this may be his last Oscars gig as a con­se­quence.

Cul­li­nan also boast­ed “we always do a good job” and declared the Acad­e­my has “absolute trust in us and what we do”. It would seem that trust has been shak­en.

Cul­li­nan spent a por­tion of last night excit­ed­ly tweet­ing pho­tos from back­stage. He has since delet­ed those tweets, appar­ent­ly out of embar­rass­ment.

His firm, mean­while, was forced to issue a pub­lic apol­o­gy and promise to inves­ti­gate what hap­pened. But even the apol­o­gy was in error: it claimed the mis­take had been “imme­di­ate­ly cor­rect­ed”, when in fact it had not been. It was a full two min­utes before the audi­ence at the Dol­by The­ater and mil­lions watch­ing around the globe were informed that Moon­light, not La La Land, had real­ly won Best Pic­ture.

Con­grat­u­la­tions to Moon­light, the real Best Pic­ture win­ners for 2017!

POSTSCRIPT: Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers has tak­en full respon­si­bil­i­ty for its error and con­firmed that they and they alone were at fault.

This is the state­ment they should have released to begin with:

PwC takes full respon­si­bil­i­ty for the series of mis­takes and breach­es of estab­lished pro­to­cols dur­ing last night’s Oscars. PwC Part­ner Bri­an Cul­li­nan mis­tak­en­ly hand­ed the back-up enve­lope for Actress in a Lead­ing Role instead of the enve­lope for Best Pic­ture to pre­sen­ters War­ren Beat­ty and Faye Dun­away.

Once the error occurred, pro­to­cols for cor­rect­ing it were not fol­lowed through quick­ly enough by Mr. Cul­li­nan or his part­ner.

We are deeply sor­ry for the dis­ap­point­ment suf­fered by the cast and crew of “La La Land” and “Moon­light.” We sin­cere­ly apol­o­gize to War­ren Beat­ty, Faye Dun­away, Jim­my Kim­mel, ABC, and the Acad­e­my, none of whom was at fault for last night’s errors.

We wish to extend our deep­est grat­i­tude to each of them for the gra­cious­ness they dis­played dur­ing such a dif­fi­cult moment.

For the past eighty-three years, the Acad­e­my has entrust­ed PwC with the integri­ty of the awards process dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, and last night we failed the Acad­e­my.

Bet­ter late than nev­er. Props to PwC for own­ing their fail­ure and being will­ing to say We failed. That’s impor­tant. Account­abil­i­ty mat­ters.

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2 Comments

  1. Back to Ernst and Young, who I think were the orig­i­nal vote tab­u­la­tors.

    # by Mike Barer :: February 27th, 2017 at 8:34 PM
    • The Acad­e­my did their tab­u­lat­ing in house before they hired PwC. To my knowl­edge, Ernst & Young have nev­er been involved.

      PwC stands a chance of keep­ing the con­tract, but Cul­li­nan is def­i­nite­ly not going to be involved any­more. My guess is both he and Martha Ruiz are done with the Oscars gig.

      # by Andrew :: February 27th, 2017 at 8:40 PM