After 12 tumultuous and frequently contentious years as chief television critic, Stanley will move to a new beat, covering how the wealthiest of the wealthy influence the rest of us (because, apparently, we didn’t know). Times executive editor Dean Baquet put it this way in a memo to the staff: “As part of The Times’s deepening focus on economic inequality in America, she will be creating a new beat: an interdisciplinary look at the way the richest of the rich — the top 1 percent of the 1 percent — are influencing, indeed rewiring, the nation’s institutions, including universities, philanthropies, museums, sports franchises and, of course, political parties and government…This is a subject both intensely timely and well suited to Alessandra’s skills as an observer, reporter and writer.”
The announcement did not say who will succeed Stanley as chief TV critic, though she and Times readers have been extraordinarily well-served by Mike Hale, the number two.
The lavishly egg-headed Stanley brought a keen, wide-ranging intellect, jaded edge and writerly gifts to her coverage. She also brought a propensity for mistakes that sometimes embarrassed the Paper Of Record and at one point resulted in the paper’s culture desk reportedly assigning an editor exclusively to fact-check her copy.
That tack didn’t always work because Stanley also suffers from Acute Smartypants Syndrome, or ASS, which afflicts writers of privilege given to hissy fits when hoi polloi don’t “get” their intended irony. That was most recently and obviously the case with a September, 2014 column in which Stanley referred to Shonda Rhimes as an “Angry Black Woman” and star Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful” than lighter-skinned African American actresses, prompting a furious farrago of attacks. The incident was well covered by the Times‘ own Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, who gave Stanley space for this classic ASS-victim defense: “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….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.” Translation: Y’all just didn’t get it. Your bad.
As a sometimes fellow sufferer from ASS, I can sympathize with Stanley. Creating a new beat that seems lifted directly from the American Express/Bloomberg News playbook won’t, I suspect, smooth any feathers ruffled by her. Especially since she will now presumably have, like Shakespeare’s Prospero, renounced the magic cloak provided by the title of critic, which at the Times, comes with the unwritten style guide undoubtedly titled “How To Get Away With Murder.”