As journalist Bill McGowen noted in Gray Lady Down, his excellent history of the Times in the Pinch Sulzberger era, under Sulzberger’s watch, mirroring the worldview of its publisher, his newspaper has descended into intertwining obsessions with the trivialities of pop culture, with political correctness, and the often toxic brew of leftwing identity politics. Pinch’s own take on his paper was summed up when he was quoted in New York magazine in 1992 as saying that “alienating older white male readers means ‘we’re doing something right.'”
As with Spinal Tap and their increasingly “selective” audience, these days, the Times’ efforts at alienation are expanding in scope; it’s a blue on blue circular firing squad today, as the Huffington Post explores “How The Internet Reacted To The NY Times Calling Shonda Rhimes An ‘Angry Black Woman:'”
Note that the HuffPo flatters its own readers with the assumption in the headline that they should know who Shonda Rhimes is, without mentioning her profession in the headline. In today’s increasingly fractured media culture, that’s a rather unwarranted hypothesis. Then there’s the assumption in the headline that “the Times” itself called Rhimes an “Angry Black Woman,” and not a specific journalist there. But considering that the Times prides itself on its layers and layers of fact checkers and editors, that’s a somewhat more reasonable take:
Allesandra Stanley’s article from Thursday takes a stab at Rhimes’ new series “How To Get Away With Murder,” opening her piece with: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'” Ouch. Stanley goes on to discuss Rhimes’ supposed “set of heroines who flout ingrained television conventions and preconceived notions about the depiction of diversity” and other black women on TV.
Let’s just say, Rhimes wasn’t too pleased with it and shared some of her thoughts over Twitter:
Click over the inevitable venting of spleens in 140-character bursts from Rhimes (a prominent Democrat operative, like many at the HuffPo and the Times) and her co-workers. As the HuffPo goes on to note:
Willa Paskin over at Slate quickly jumped to defend Rhimes’ many achievements when it comes to television and black female characters. “Rhimes is no more the ‘angry black woman’ than her characters,” Paskin writes, “who are angry the way that a bird is bipedal: It’s not false, but it’s not to the point.” The critic went on break down Rhimes’ female characters and praise how the creator has “re-framed the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman'” by carving out a space for black females on TV.
At Vox, Alex Abad-Santos calls to light that Stanley constantly refers to Rhimes when discussing “HTGAWM” in her essay — Rhimes isn’t even the creator of the new series, she’s one of the executive producers. Abad-Santos writes, “the piece refers to Rhimes 19 times and has only one mention of [Pete] Nowalk,” creator of “HTGAWM.”
The London Daily Mail adds that Stanley is no stranger to controversy — but she and history may not be on the best of terms:
The paper in 2009 had to issue a correction for six different items in a piece Stanley wrote about Walter Cronkite’s career — including the day that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.She also once mistakenly wrote that the Iraq War began in 2002 and that the sitcom ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ — at the time a hugely popular series — was called ‘All About Raymond,’ according to Gawker.
In 2009, former PJM editor Gerard Van der Leun dubbed her “Error slut Alessandra Stanley.” Gerard quoted a CJR writer who noted that Stanley was quite the one-woman correction industry during the naughts:
Stanley has been responsible for nine corrections so far this year. By my count in Nexis, she had fourteen corrections in 2008, twelve in 2007, and fifteen in 2006. Averaging just over a correction a month is not something to be proud of. But that’s still better than before she attracted so much attention. Stanley had twenty-three corrections in 2005, the year everyone noticed her predilection for error, and twenty-six in 2004. Perhaps the decline in corrections between 2005 and 2006 was in part due to the attention focused on her.
No word yet if Stanley knows what a Shylock is. Between Stanley’s latest gaffe, her colleague taking to Twitter earlier this week to ask if anybody was unfamiliar with the S-word, the open warfare between former editor Jill Abramson and the paper after she was fired (also over identity politics) and Maureen Dowd the butt of jokes for her ravenous cannabis and chocolate consumption, and the paper’s general descent into a far left student newspaper, it’s been quite a tumultuous period for the once-elite paper. Gray Lady Down, indeed.