At Least 3 New York Times Editors Saw Nothing Wrong With Rhimes Article [Updated]

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Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has written a preliminary response to Alessandra Stanley's widely criticized article about Shonda Rhimes. Sullivan writes that she agrees with readers' strong negative reaction to the piece, and that she's asked Stanley and Stanley's editors for a response. In the meantime,

I'll say this much: 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.

At best, astonishingly tone-deaf. At worst, something the chronically incorrect Stanley will almost certainly not learn from.

Update: Sullivan updated her post at 12:58 p.m. with a response from the Times's culture editor Danielle Mattoon.

"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 piece was not largely positive. It was factually inaccurate, had a completely unsupported central claim, and relied on exhausting, damaging racial stereotypes. That so many people saw nothing wrong with the piece is shameful.

Mattoon also said that the response to the article was "a signal" that editors need to "constantly remind ourselves … of our blind spots." Consider sticking a Post-it note on your computer that says "Did you check for racism? Check again."

This post has been updated throughout.