In this morning’s New York Times, Allesandra Stanley reviews the idealized TV show “West Wing,” in which all presidential candidates are articulate and informed and all White House aides are dedicated, witty, civic-minded and decent human beings, to boot.
The show is now in its seventh season, and while it’s not what it was when its creator Aaron Sorkin first invented it, it’s still a formidable presence in a television landscape littered with sappy sitcoms, unreal reality shows and shouting matches masquerading as political commentary. So it’s perfectly logical that Stanley should pause to assess the current incarnation of “West Wing.”
But there’s something decidedly off about this piece, and it manifests itself in the fifth paragraph, when Stanley inexplicably departs from the specifics of “West Wing” to climb onto her soapbox and issue a resounding and entirely unconvincing manifesto in defense of the entire waterfront that is her beat — U.S. television.
Whoa. American television not only puts TV across the rest of the planet to shame, but also leaves both movies and the theater in its wake?
The world hates us, and even Americans deplore the sorry state of political discourse in their country. But only the uninformed or disingenuous complain about the quality of American television. (Emphasis added.) It has a variety and breadth that no other nation can match. For every offensive reality series or inane daytime talk show, there are comedies and dramas that reach far higher in a single episode than most movies or Broadway shows.
Any examples? Convincing evidence? Quotes? Head-to-head comparisons?
Now it’s true that Stanley is as much critic as reporter, and opinion is the coin of her realm — but when the opinion is a statement that sweeping and grandiose, surely it ought to be based on compelling and convincing evidence brought forth by the critic herself. It’s also true that beat reporters sometimes go native, identifying more closely with those they cover than with those (readers) for whom they ostensibly work, and Stanley, alas, appears to stand as Exhibit A of that phenomenon.
The result can be classified neither as criticism nor as reporting. It’s merely breathtakingly blithe assertion.
And that’s not enough.