Thursday, September 24, 2009

Apparently hack TV critic Alessandra Stanley is what passes for "intellectual heft" at the NYT -- yikes!


by Ken

I've been slow tuning in to the Alessandra Stanley hubbub (which has flared up with the NYT's decision to front-page its lamebrain TV critic's insightful evaluation of the president's Sunday TV blitz) for one simple if possibly embarrassing reason: I can't imagine anyone in his/her right mind reading anything she writes.

Just to back up a bit, in case you either don't know who she is or like me do know and can't imagine why anyone would be talking about such a nonentity:

Ms. Stanley was brought into the Times goodness knows how many years ago to be the No. 2 TV critic behind a person named Caryn James. Now Caryn James was totally useless as a TV critic, because her brain seemed to work in such a way as to render her incapable of making any kind of observation about stuff on TV which would be of interest or value to anyone whose brain didn't work exactly the way hers did. That said, she didn't seem to be a total moron.

In the mysteriously galumphing way that the NYT culture operation works, it was apparently decided that the only possible person to back her up would be -- you guessed it -- a total moron. Enter Alessandra Stanley. I guess she did make Caryn James seem smart, or anyways smarter, strictly by comparison. But there was no earthly reason to read either one of them, unless you had time on your hands and the only way you could think to fill it was by reading utterly trivial and pointless reviews that would leave you feeling soiled and with nothing to show for the time.

Somewhere along the line Ms. James seems to have departed, and as best I can tell, Ms. Stanley was named her successor. I apologize again for being hazy on the details, but I can't be expected to provide an exact chronology for writers I literally never read. I mean, in both cases I'm sujre I gave them a few months to acclimate; sometimes it takes that for a writer to settle in and get his/her sea legs. But in both cases it was hopeless. And as I recall, in both cases it was an especially unpleasant exercise because they were the really nasty kind of phonies: dim bulbs who covered for their ignorance by pretending to explain the entire culture. Sometimes that can be funny. In their cases it was just sad and insulting. And most important, there was no way to glean any information about the damned shows they wrote about.

As a matter of fact, the Times Culture News Dept. seemed to be engaged in a project to replace an entire generation's worth of hopelessly mediocre middlebrow critics (from whom one might conceivably extract bits of information about the subjects they were covering) with similar nonbeings whose bylines scream, "Ignore me!"

The one oddity I did notice in the course of fleeing from Ms. Stanley's byline is that she seemed to "review" political events like debates and presidential speeches, which seemed pretty odd. I could dimly remember previous Times TV critics adding sidebars on the specifically televisual aspects of such events to commentaries by the paper's political writers, but assuming the role of political commentator, as she seemed to be? I must have read one or two of those pieces to satisfy myself that they were as stupid and hopeless as I would have expected, and then resumed our state of mutual oblivion, Ms. Stanley's and mine.

So it's been that until now I had no idea that she was building up a record as the NYT's most fact-challenged writer. She gets so many facts wrong in her published copy (can you imagine what it's like before it's edited?) that, even after all these years' worth of blunders, the paper sets aside space for an Alessandra Stanley Daily Correction Box. OK, that may not be exactly true, but it's apparently closer to true than our Alessandra normally gets.

It is true, from what I read, that the Staley corrections periodically become so frequent and embarrassing that the Times assigns her her own personal copy editor. Then, for a while, the corrections taper off to more normal levels. If you or I were running the shop, the fact that after all this time and all this attention to her inability to get a fact right, she still can't, coupled with the embarrassing fact that she's a pompous twit without a brain in her head, would indicate a pretty clear course of action, the kind that calls for an insincere wave and a cry of "Write if you get work" as she disappears into the sunset.

Which just goes to show why you and I aren't on the job there. They've chosen to keep her on the payroll until, it would appear, the embarrassment level reaches total humiliation, as it seems to have in the case of an "appraisal" of the late Walter Cronkite.

The very idea of such an undertaking boggles the mind. Walter Cronkite producing an appraisal of Alessandra Stanley, this I could understand, except that I expect he would have been too polite to do so in public. Until now I hadn't read the piece, and my position would have been that I had no intention of doing so until and unless someone paid me to. However, to show you, dear DWT reader the lengths to which I will go to serve you, I just sort of skimmed it, and you know, kit's not terrible. (Mind you, I see no reason to upgrade my modest opinion of Ms. S's talents. I mean, how would you get Walter Cronkite wrong?)

Except for the matter of -- surprise! -- those patented Stanley factual errors! Once the piece appeared, on July 18, the Newspaper of Record was transformed into the Newspaper of Record and Oh God She's Done It Again. The online version of the piece linked above includes corrections that approach Moby-Dick size.

The ensuing fracas came to the attention of NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt, who on August 1 produced a report called "How Did This Happen?, which concluded in part:
The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.
But a more nuanced answer is that even a newspaper like The Times, with layers of editing to ensure accuracy, can go off the rails when communication is poor, individuals do not bear down hard enough, and they make assumptions about what others have done. Five editors read the article at different times, but none subjected it to rigorous fact-checking, even after catching two other errors in it. And three editors combined to cause one of the errors themselves.

At which point the blogger NYTPICKER reentered the fray with a piece called "How Does Alessandra Stanley Get To Keep Her Job As TV Critic? That's One Question Clark Hoyt Neglects To Ask":
[W]hile Hoyt names several editors who failed to catch the mistakes in Stanley's piece, he ignores the deeper question on readers' minds. How does a television critic who has had 91 corrections of her work in just six years get to keep her job?

Nowhere in Hoyt's 1,228-word essay today does the Public Editor address the question of what consequences Stanley has faced as a result of her epic fail on July 18. By focusing on the mechanics of the screw-up -- which includes naming editors who read the piece and who didn't fact-check it -- Hoyt bypasses the issue of a systemic breakdown at the NYT that led to the error-riddled essay.

Hoyt says that Stanley is "much admired by editors for the intellectual heft" of her reviews, as though to be an "intellectual" has nothing to do with accuracy. Hoyt presumably knows that any "intellectual" whose work carried this many corrections wouldn't warrant much respect in the intellectual community.

And then comes the paragraph that is now attracting a good deal of interest:
Hoyt also neglects to mention Stanley's longstanding close ties to the NYT's power structure, especially her membership in a close-knit group of friends that includes managing editor Jill Abramson, columnist Maureen Dowd, and book critic Michiko Kakutani. Last winter, Dowd -- whose own recent plagiarism troubles were whitewashed by Hoyt and NYT management -- wrote a travel piece about a spa vacation in Florida she took with Stanley. Do those relationships contribute to Stanley's job security? They can't hurt.

Now I have no particular knowledge about Jill Abramson, perhaps because such semi-inside knowledge of the NYT as I have now dates back to the time before she had much authority there. However, those other two we all know plenty about. Maureen Dowd is a flyweight of a columnist who specializes in piling on poor souls who are already on the ground beneath a squadron of tacklers. At any rate, those are usually the only times when she's any good: when the subject matter is so bleedingly obvious that not even our Mo can miss it.

As for Miss Michiko, if there were any justice in the world, she would be a festering embarrassment who would cause Times editors to break out in a sweat at mention of her name. None of the stories I've heard of how she came to rest in a daily book reviewer's gig have anything to do with competence, and lo these many years she has honored the paper's "generalist" creed of writing about any subject under the sun -- with equal ineptitude and lack of authority.

What people don't understand about the Times it is that it runs a lot less on intelligent design than on bureaucratic inertia. The institutional loyalty required to have a say in its operations weeds out the talented people who pass through its portals, leaving behind a lot of people who are, well, left behind. Some are just plain mediocrities; some are self-promoters who have a knack for gaming the system; some are talented people whose talents are more or less offset by other aspects of who they are.

At a time when the paper is fighting for its life economically, none of the geniuses on the inside seem to have a clue as to why people on the outside are paying it less, or at least less serious, attention. One possible reason: Alessandra Stanley not only remains employed but is treated like a star.


There seems to be some feeling that it is unfair (or unpatriotic or un-something) to refer to Alessandra Staley as Alessandra Stanley, or possibly vice versa. Could be, but I've got to say, I don't see it.

Nevertheless, I've checked this with the DWT public editor, who has promised to look into the matter and, if appropriate, issue a correction -- though not necessarily a public one.

Sometimes these are the jokes, folks. Or not. You can always tell it to Clark Hoyt.

Labels: ,


At 10:46 AM, Blogger woid said...

CORRECTION: In a post on September 24, KenInNY repeatedly misspelled the name of the New York Times' dreadful television critic.

Her name is Alessandra Stanley (not Staley).

I'm sure Down With Tyranny regrets the error.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

You got it, woid.


At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

alessandra stanley is an idiot

she use the phrase "could care less"
instead of the correct "couldn't care less"

and in her scathing write up of Joan Rivers upon her death, she saved a paragraph to bash her daughter's looks and to make us think that Joan was losing it in the past few months MISQUOTING Joan calling a CNN host "DARLENE" when Joan was calling her darlin' a term she uses frequently.

there, i feel better.

RIP Joan


Post a Comment

<< Home