Update, Monday 12.45 p.m. PT: Margaret Sullivan added an apology from Culture Editor Danielle Mattoon saying: “There was never any intent to offend anyone and I deeply regret that it did … This is a signal to me that we have to constantly remind ourselves as editors of our blind spots, what we don’t know, and of how readers may react.”
A statement from the writer, Alessandra Stanley, was also added to the updated article, as she wrote: “If making that connection between the two offended people, I feel bad about that. But I think that a full reading allows for a different takeaway than the loudest critics took.” Stanley went on to write, “I didn’t think Times readers would take the opening sentence literally because I so often write arch, provocative ledes that are then undercut or mitigated by the paragraphs that follow.”
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan agrees with the outrage over a NYT critic’s Shonda Rhimes “angry black woman” characterization included in a review for the “Scandal” creator’s new ABC drama, “How to Get Away with Murder.”
“There are some big questions here – about diversity, about editing procedures and about how The Times deals with stories about women and race. They are worth exploring in depth,” Sullivan wrote on Monday. “The readers and commentators are correct to protest this story. Intended to be in praise of Ms. Rhimes, it delivered that message in a condescending way that was – at best – astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.”
The response came four days after New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley stood by the words in her review, which she said was largely misunderstood by readers.
“The whole point of the piece — once you read past the first 140 characters — is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype,” said Stanley in a statement to TheWrap.
Sullivan’s piece, titled An Article on Shonda Rhimes Rightly Causes a Furor, also seemed to agree with criticism over Stanley describing the series’ star, Viola Davis, as “older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than [Kerry] Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry.”
The bulk of Sullivan’s response, however, were not her own words, but rather an email a longtime Times subscriber — a black female lawyer, much like Davis’ character in the new ABC drama — wrote NYT executive editor Dean Baquet.
“At first, I tried to give Ms. Stanley the benefit of the doubt and thought that she was attempting to be irreverent. Then I realized that she was being racist, ignorant, and arrogant,” Patricia Washington from Maryland wrote. “It is interesting that I have never seen any of Ms. Stanley’s stories refer to any white producers of TV or film programs in racist, stereotypical terms. As awful as the story is, she got her facts wrong because Shonda Rhimes is not the executive producer of the new show, ‘How To Get Away With Murder.'”
Rhimes also took issue with the review Stanley maintains was meant as praise.
“Wait. I’m ‘angry’ and a romance writer?!” Rhimes tweeted last week. “I’m going to need to put down the internet and go dance this one out. [Stuff is] getting real.”
Sullivan says she will be further elaborating on her response to her own colleague’s controversial review on Monday.