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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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  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