After getting great linkage from Atrios, Steve Benen, and The Daily Howler for my post on Alessandra Stanley’s wank-tastic analysis of imaginary political themes in the Obama national security team press conference, I thought I’d follow up with another on Stanley’s history of bad political commentary. A couple of my commenters tried to dismiss her bad column to varying degrees from Stanley because she writes for the Times Arts & Leisure section and isn’t a political reporter. But yesterday wasn’t the first time that Stanley had problems writing accurately about political events.
Stanley has been awarded the Wanker of the Day by Atrios two times since 2006. The previous citation was naturally for her endeavors into political writing, something we’ve already seen she has little acumen for. Now I’m not going to be charitable and count her god-awful review of ABC’s fictional Path to 9/11 movie as excusable because it was of an actual movie on broadcast television. Her review came at the end of a major political fight between liberal bloggers and executives at ABC and Disney. Roger Ailes demolished her review, earning Stanley a WOTD link in the process:
Consider this passage from Stanley’s review of ABC’s “Pathological Lies About 9/11”:
“‘The Path to 9/11’ is not a documentary, or even a docu-drama; it is a fictionalized account of what took place.
But if it’s a fictionalized account, it’s not about “what took place.” It’s an account of what didn’t take place.
Stanley seeks confused about the difference between reality and fantasy:
“The outside pressure was intense enough to persuade ABC to re-edit one of the more contested made-up scenes in the film. In the version sent to critics, it depicted C.I.A. operatives and their Afghan allies armed with guns and night-vision goggles creeping in the dark to snatch Mr. bin Laden from his compound in 1998. The men are told to stand by, in harm’s way, as the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet and the national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, cavil by videoconference. Rather than take a firm decision, Mr. Berger flips off his videophone, and Mr. Tenet aborts the mission. (Among other things, ABC agreed to excise Mr. Berger’s hissy fit.)
“In reality the C.I.A. got close, but never that close….”
So if the program’s version is indisputably fiction, there’s no “contest.” The show is indisputably a lie. And since there was no conversation, there was no Berger “hissy fit.” Yet Stanley treats it as fact (“Mr. Berger’s hissy fit”) while acknowledging it’s a fraud.
Tristero piled on as well:
[Stanley]’s saying don’t worry, be happy, every little thing will balance out in the end, that if the 9/11 series is harsh and unfair towards Clinton, Bush will get his just as harshly and unfairly. That’s because the Disney propaganda will be counterbalanced by a future, hypothetical mini-series on the Bush administration’s marketing of the New Product in 2002 – the Iraq war – which will be equally inaccurate.
The similarity between Stanley’s review of the fictional 9/11 movie and the press conference that she (but no one else in America) viewed on Monday is that in both cases Stanley demonstrates a remarkable inability to distinguish between what is real and what is not real. Stanley’s Path to 9/11 review went beyond the common “Democrats say x, Republicans say y” brand of stenography and actually reported fictional accounts of an historic event as fact, then suggested the factual challenges to the movie were equivalent to the fictional assertions contained therein. It’s hard to find a reporter who has strayed further from the principles of reporting than Stanley in her 9/11 review, but the concoction we saw this week surely pushes the envelope even more.
Yesterday I wrote:
Alessandra Stanley and her editors need to stop projecting their desired story lines onto the Obama administration (viz. making things up) and start reporting the news like professionals.
But in going back to her Path to 9/11 review, I’m finding it impossible to be hopeful about the chances of Stanley’s reporting taking a turn for the better. In that review Stanley was careless with how she handled facts and took fictional events in the final as meritorious of treatment as fact. In the review of the Clinton press conference, she simply created her own set of events and wrote about them. Clearly the latter is worse.
There is one place where we regularly see facts created out of whole-cloth in the pages of the New York Times: Maureen Dowd’s twice-weekly columns. The difference worth noting is that Dowd is an opinion columnist, free to set whatever analytical framework she chooses. Yes, she should stay to the facts, but she isn’t reviewing pieces of news qua news, while Stanley is.
At this point I think the best remedy to Stanley’s reviews of fictional events is to contact the Times’ Public Editor Clark Hoyt. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; in my experience the Times Public Editor or someone from his staff will respond to reader emails. Enough of an outpouring of anger will force Hoyt to address Stanley’s drivel in the paper itself. Maybe then her editors will endeavor to keep her reviews and analysis to things that actually happened and not fantasies of her own creation.
5 thoughts on “Stanley Follow-Up”
Congratulations! Receiving praise from Bob Somerby is a big deal in my book!
Well, I guess writing Hoyt couldn’t hurt, but the illness at The Times is quite persistent. See The Daily Howler:
“Clark Hoyt Gets Results”
“[…] Is Clark Hoyt still getting results? […]”
“[…] People, Clark Hoyt can just go $#^% himself! We have our old Dowd back: […]”
Look I’m not saying Hoyt gets real results or anything. Simply that there are few avenues to put pressure on bad journalists. The Public Editor is one of the most direct ones. I don’t expect any change from Stanley – she’s a bad journalist and she’s getting worse.
I know what you meant, and it’s true that we need to keep trying the avenues that are open to us. I just thought that recent series of posts was kind of comical…in a sad kind of way.
Stanley’s review of “The Path to 9/11” was far too credulous about Bush propaganda, I agree. But I think you do her an injustice in the paragraph quoted above. She does establish in the first sentence that she is describing a “made up scene.” Perhaps she could have been a little clearer about how she was referring to the film’s fictional portrayals of Tenet and Berger, rather than to the men themselves, but you’d have to read very carelessly to think she meant they actually did those things.
That said, however, her review is still grotesquely unfair to the Clinton administration, implying that they failed to warn Bush of the danger of Al Qaeda terrorism, when in fact they briefed him in detail and gave him their plans for pursuing the terror group. She even has the gall to dismiss the fact that the terrorists of the first WTC bombing were captured and brought to justice as a minor event that created “a sense of false security.” Not to the Clinton team, it didn’t, although when they carried out missile strikes against Bin Laden’s camps and possible chemical warfare plant, they got no support at all from conservatives or the media, which couldn’t comprehend those actions as anything but an effort to distract attention from Monica Lewinsky.
A big problem with the shallow, vapid, navel-gazing personality driven politics-as-theater and political-journalism-as-theater-criticism coverage that we get from the likes of Maureen Dowd is that it lures many people into thinking that this is how politics should be thought about. After all, Maureen Dowd is a premier columnist in the premier newspaper in the country. Some people pride themselves on the fact that they take the time to follow “serious” news – the New York Times and NPR – and thus over time become convinced that this is exactly what “serious” news is. They probably didn’t start there, but over time they become convinced that this is exactly how very smart people should think about politics.