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Viola Davis stars as Annalise Keating in the upcoming ABC show How to Get Away with Murder, which debuts Sept. 25. (Credit: ABC)

Did you know that, in addition to being the creator of such hit TV shows as Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy and the upcoming How to Get Away with Murder, Shonda Rhimes is an “angry black woman”?

And had you been informed that actress Viola Davis is “older, darker-skinned, and less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington and Halle Berry?

Well, that’s what you would have learned from The New York Times in its Sept. 18 article about Rhimes’ new show How to Get Away with Murder, starring Davis. Since that article appeared in print and online, the Times has been lobbed with complaints, notably from Rhimes, Scandal star Kerry Washington and others.

Readers complained that the descriptions were “completely off-base,” “offensive” and “racist.”  New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan addressed the complaints today and concluded the references were “astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.”

Sullivan said she’s looking into the matter and reached out to the Times writer Alessandra Stanley, her editor Danielle Mattoon and Times executive editor Dean Baquet.

“There are some big questions here – about diversity, about editing procedures and about how The Times deals with stories about women and race,” Sullivan commented. “They are worth exploring in depth.”

Alessandra Stanley previously defended the characterizations in a statement via the Times PR department, saying “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.”

For context, Stanley’s article made a few references to “an angry black woman.”  The first sentence of the article read:

“When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'”

Later, Stanley wrote, “Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable. She has almost single-handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.”

Concerning Davis’ beauty, Stanley wrote: “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, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series ‘Extant.'”

For her part, Rhimes tweeted:


 

 


 


 

Kerry Washington, star of Scandal, tweeted links critical of the Times‘ report.
 


Actor Joshua Malina, also from Scandal, commented

 

 

Earlier this year, Deadline Hollywood retracted a story falsely claiming that Scandal recast Harrison Wright’s character. Wright was played by Columbus Short, who left the show at the end of last season. Rhimes slammed the bogus story on Twitter.

iMediaEthics wrote in 2012 about errors in Stanley’s reporting on Ann Curry’s last day on the Today show.

In 2009, Craig Silverman, now at Poynter, wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review about Stanley’s “troubling history of error.”

UPDATE: 9/22/2014 4:32 PM EST Sullivan has updated her post to include comments from Times culture editor Danielle Mattoon, who said the Times didn’t have “any intent to offend anyone,” and Stanley.

“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,” Mattoon commented.

For her part, Stanley defended her using the phrase “angry black woman,” writing to Sullivan:

“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.”

She said that Davis has previously referred to herself the way she described her.

Sullivan noted in her piece that “among 20 critics, not one is black and only one is a person of color.”

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Scandal Creator Shonda Rhimes is an ‘Angry Black Woman’? NYTimes Faces Criticism

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