"Astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch": NYT public editor slams horrible Shonda Rhimes article

Margaret Sullivan has acknowledged the criticisms of Alessandra Stanley's piece

By Prachi Gupta

Published September 22, 2014 3:05PM (EDT)

Shonda Rhimes      (Reuters/Fred Prouser)
Shonda Rhimes (Reuters/Fred Prouser)

The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has commented on the controversy ignited by a piece by longtime television critic Alessandra Stanley, posted online Friday but published in print Sunday, that essentially characterized Rhimes as an "angry black woman."

Sullivan acknowledged the criticism and agreed that the piece was ill-conceived, poorly executed, tone-deaf, and offensive. She has reached out to executive editor Dean Baquet (notably, the first black man to hold that position at the Times) for comment and to culture editor Danielle Mattoon and Stanley for an explanation into the process that led to the piece's publication.

For insight into how deeply this article affected readers, Sullivan shared a letter from reader Patricia Washington. Washington, a black woman and a lawyer, observed of Stanley's work: "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."

She then explained how the article hurt her:

I am a black woman and a lawyer. I have worked very hard to achieve in my profession and earn respect. I live in a very nice suburban community in Maryland. And yet, none of that makes one bit of difference because a New York Times writer can make whatever offhanded, racist opinions about a successful TV producer who is a black woman she cares to make, and because she has the protection of The New York Times behind her, can publish it. Because Ms. Stanley is a New York Times writer, her story has reached a national audience. Why is Ms. Stanley allowed to characterize Ms. Rhimes as she did and get away it? Why is she allowed to characterize Viola Davis as she did in her story and get away with it?

Ms. Stanley’s story was a backhand to me and it hurts. For the first time, I am considering cancelling my New York Times subscription because this story is much more than disagreeing with the writer’s opinion. This story denigrated every black woman in America, beginning with Shonda Rhimes, that dares to strive to make a respectable life for herself. No matter what we do, as far as Ms. Stanley is concerned, we will always be angry and have potent libidos as we have been perceived from slavery, to Jim Crow, and sadly in September 2014, the 21st century.

There is already a petition circulating demanding an apology and retraction of the piece. Washington, who is considering canceling her subscription to the Times, has gone one step further and called for the Times to stop publishing Stanley.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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Alessandra Stanley New York Times Shonda Rhimes Television