The article about the awarded TV Show writer, Shonda Rhimes had not yet appeared in Sunday’s paper but the public could not help to protest on Friday after it was published online. What was the fuss about?
Alessandra Stanley, a TV critic for the New York Times, wrote the article. In its first paragraph it made a reference to Ms. Rhimes as an “Angry Black Woman,” an expression that struck many readers as completely off-base. Some though it was offensive, others went further saying it was racist but Stanley had said it in the best of ways, she was embracing Shonda Rhimes’s powerful and courageous personality.
In an interview with Talking Points Memo’s Stanley stated:
“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.”
The National Public Radio reported that others, including Rhimes, noted several instances in which the critic seemed to invoke the very stereotypes she was supposedly deflating.
This makes me wonder…shouldn’t a professional like Alessandra Stanley, who works for such an influential newspaper, be more aware and conscious on how she expresses herself? Isn’t minimize harm one of the codes of journalism ethics?
Another exert from Stanley’s story states:
“Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry.”
She claims she is just making an observation and acclaiming Rhimes for bringing diversity into television. Does this premise support her claims? Can her expression be considered racist or ignorant?
Alessandra Stanley had the best of intentions when she wrote the article, but we can argue that although she had good means, she suffered bad ends. This is one of the possibilities in Danner and Kiousis “Taxonomy of Means and Ends”
BBC news reported that the paper admitted the piece had been seen by at least three editors before it was published online, but none of them had raised any objections over its content.
Does this make the editors and Stanley equally responsible?
Danielle Matton, the Culture Editor for the New York Times said:
“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.”
Stanley and other editors did not see a problem with the expression “angry black woman,” but Shonda Rhimes and other readers were insulted. This shows how attitudes can be cultured bound.
After the issue escalated and more people were aware of the situation, Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, wrote an article exploring the causes of the furor with the story and explained “she didn’t have any intent of offending anyone.”
Stanley finally apologized for her mistake and the New York Times published her final word. She expressed:
“In the review, I referenced a painful and insidious stereotype solely in order to praise Ms. Rhimes and her shows for traveling so far from it. 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 “unknowingly” broke the ethical code of minimizing harm. She expressed herself in a way that struck the public in a racist and negative way. This could have affected the Black community, readers, the actors in the TV shows and the New York Times and its editors.
Although Stanley broke the code of minimizing-harm, did she redeem herself when she apologized?