Lately, reading the vast majority of the critics at many mainstream publications, I become paralyzingly depressed. This morning's bit of weltschmerz comes courtesy of the error-prone television critic of Our Paper of Record, Alessandra Stanley.

The offending item is about a new show debuting this fall called How To Get Away With Murder. The lead paragraph is a master-class of contextual cluelessness:

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

I want to believe that Stanley meant to compliment Rhimes, as in, "Congratulations on being a more complicated version of a racist stereotype!" Later Stanley writes that Rhimes has been breaking the mold of that archetype, calls that an "achievement," and salts even that word with "admirable." And yet: It's very telling Stanley doesn't bother justifying her position that Rhimes is an "Angry Black Woman" from the get-go. She simply assumes that hers is an obvious position, that when the rest of us look at Rhimes that's what we see. Also that that's what Rhimes sees when she looks at herself and her work.

That Stanley cannot see the stupidity of that assumption is really... sad.

For one thing, Shonda Rhimes herself does not agree, not least because Stanley's assumption that she "created" Viola Davis' character in How to Get Away With Murder is, factually, untrue (the show was created by Pete Nowalk, as Rhimes points out here):

When the ostensible target of your compliment is driven to a response like this, it is safe to say you should get on your knees and beg forgiveness. When the ostensible target of your compliment is a gigantically powerful and influential television producer and she reacts like this, you're in real trouble.

It's not that journalism has to flatter, but it has some responsibility to facts and reality, and a misjudgment of this magnitude suggests you are not aware of what it means, right now, to call someone an "Angry Black Woman" in the pages of a national newspaper. If you're going to write about the explosion of a stereotype your piece should at least display some understanding of how that stereotype has been wielded in the past. (Also, don't bizarrely term Clair Huxtable "benign and reassuring.") Otherwise, you have a failing of journalism, not just politics.

Why, you might be wondering, does a television critic who screws up this much (and so often) continue to occupy so high a post as "television critic at the New York Times"? As an empirical matter of why her bosses continue to employ her, it is a mysterious question. At this point it is obvious to everyone paying attention to the byline how many errors she makes.

But as a matter of the general state of critics right now, it's par for the course.

Critics have been losing ground to the Goodreadses and RottenTomatoeses of the world for some time now. Some critics have seen this as a wake-up call and stopped writing every review as thought their critical judgment were handed down from Mount Olympus. (Pauline Kael, of course, was championing that approach long before the internet came along but the call has been more urgent lately.) Others, apparently, have decided to live in a prison of their own making, paying no attention to the culture around them or what's happening in it and then professing surprise when their writing is met with cries of "BUT WHYYYYYYY???" on the internet.

Stanley seems to be of the latter sort, and something about her position insulates her from properly considering the criticism. Which means nothing will change, and the Times will continue to enjoy a reputation for not knowing what it's talking about where popular culture is concerned.