In the words of Omar from The Wire, “you come at the king, you best not miss.” The New York Times came for the queen, that would be the one and only Shonda Rhimes, and they missed royally and now they must pay – which in this day and age means publicly apologize.
Let us recall the chain of events shall we? Alessandra Stanley wrote an article in The New York Times where she called Rhimes an “angry Black woman” in the opening sentence. Rhimes called Stanley out on Twitter, not only for the mislabel, but for also having her facts all the way wrong. Times readers then demanded an apology from the newspaper and called the article racist. So, then came an apology. Only, it took the form of the typical ‘I’m sorry, not sorry’.
The New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan first issued a broad apology and said she would investigate the matter further.
Sullivan then amended the statement and provided information she received about the article from culture editor, Danielle Mattoon.
Early Monday afternoon, I spoke to the culture editor, Danielle Mattoon. She told me that arts and culture editors are well aware of the response to the piece, and she offered words of regret, as well as an explanation and a resolution for the future. “There was never any intent to offend anyone and I deeply regret that it did,” Ms. Mattoon said. “Alessandra used a rhetorical device to begin her essay, and because the piece was so largely positive, we as editors weren’t sensitive enough to the language being used.” Ms. Mattoon called the article “a serious piece of criticism,” adding, “I do think there were interesting and important ideas raised that are being swamped” by the protests. She told me that multiple editors — at least three — read the article in advance but that none of them raised any objections or questioned the elements of the article that have been criticized. “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.”
So what we have here is Mattoon essentially saying: well we tried and we didn’t know it would get a negative reaction because nobody told us and we clearly don’t have any common sense on race issues and there are no people of color in the newsroom who could have helped us out with this and don’t blame us because there’s still good stuff in the article.
Stanley didn’t do much better with her apology. She wrote:
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.
A full reading? Does Stanley think that people only read the first sentence calling Rhimes an “Angry Black Woman,” got so angered they could read no further, but still complained anyway? Yeah, ok. The article was tone-deaf and so is the apology.
At least Sullivan noted:
I still plan to talk to Mr. (Dean) Baquet (executive editor) about the article, its editing, and about diversity in the newsroom, particularly among culture critics. The Times has a number of high-ranked editors and prominent writers who are people of color, but it’s troubling that among 20 critics, not one is black and only one is a person of color.
Well it seems we have gotten to the core of the issue, there aren’t any Black critics who could have checked this whole thing so it wouldn’t have to get this far. But instead, Rhimes and African-American readers and viewers had to take matters into their own hands just to receive a sorry apology. Hopefully, the next step will be to truly diversify the newsroom which will hopefully lead to more content and context within published stories.