Before taking her current job at The New York Times, Stanley was a foreign correspondent for the newspaper, first as co-chief of the Moscow bureau, and then Rome bureau chief. Before the New York Times, Stanley was a correspondent for Time where she worked overseas as well as in Los Angeles and in Washington D.C., where she covered the White House. She has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, GQ and Vogue. Born in Boston, MA, Stanley grew up in Washington, D.C., and Europe, and studied literature at Harvard University. She is the daughter of defense expert Timothy W. Stanley. Stanley lives in New York City with her daughter.
Among Stanley's columns are her critical take on the series finale of the Sopranos, her assessment of Jerry Sandusky's denial of charges of pedophilia to NBC and her coverage of Russian television on the eve of the 2012 presidential election.
In the fall of 2011, Stanley taught a semester at Princeton University entitled "Investigative Viewing: The Art of Television Criticism," an "intensive introduction to criticism as it is undertaken at the highest level of a cultural institution."
Several news and media organizations, including the Times, have criticized the accuracy of Stanley's reporting. Among the articles that they have criticized are a September 5, 2005 piece on Hurricane Katrina, a 2005 article that called the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond "All About Raymond," and a July 18, 2009 retrospective on the career of Walter Cronkite that contained errors. In an August 2009 article examining the mistakes in the Cronkite piece, Clark Hoyt, the Times's public editor, described Stanley as "much admired by editors for the intellectual heft of her coverage of television" but "with a history of errors." Then executive editor Bill Keller defended Stanley, saying "She is — in my opinion, among others — a brilliant critic."  In April 2012, Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald described her New York Times review of Julian Assange's television debut as "revealing, reckless snideness" and "cowardly."
Stanley, who is white, wrote a Times article in September 2014 entitled Wrought in Rhimes's Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes's Latest Tough Heroine about television series How to Get Away with Murder and the career of its African-American producer, Shonda Rhimes. Stanley wrote "When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman" and made comments about African-Americans that were seen as offensive. Stanley's piece, wrote the Times's Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, "struck many readers as completely off-base. Many called it offensive. Some went further, saying it was racist." Stanley defended her piece, writing in an email message to Talking Points Memo "[t]he 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." The organization Color of Change called for a retraction from the Times.
- New York Times, September 223, 1997, Timothy W. Stanley, 69, Expert On Defense Policy and Strategies
- "FORA.tv Speaker - Alessandra Stanley".
- Matrix Hall of Fame.
- "Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting - Previous Winners", Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University.
- One Last Family Gathering NYT, June 11, 2007
- Sandusky Turns to TV to Break Silence NYT, November 15, 2011
- TV in Putin’s Russia: Jesters, Strivers and a Longing for Normalcy NYT, February 13, 2012
- Council of the Humanities, Princeton University.
- "ABC Totally Pissed At Alessandra Stanley," Gawker, 3/08/07.
- "Why does NYT critic Alessandra Stanley get away with making so many errors?". Tampa Bay Times/St. Pete Times. July 24, 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- Silverman, Craig (July 24, 2009). "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong". Columbia Journalism Review (Columbia University). Retrieved July 27, 2009.
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- Sklar, Rachel (28 March 2008). "Because The New York Times Never Does Anything Controversial, Bill Keller Thinks It Probably Doesn't Need A Public Editor". Huffington Post.
- Stanley, Alessandra. "Reporters Turn From Deference to Outrage", Editors' note appended, The New York Times, September 5, 2005.
- Stanley, Alessandra. The Unmarried and the Befuddled Are Still Good for Laughs, Correction appended, The New York Times, September 21, 2005.
- Cronkite’s Signature: Approachable Authority, correction appended, The New York Times
- Hoyt, Clark. "How Did This Happen?" The New York Times, August 1, 2009.
- Jim Romenesko, "Keller: Stanley keeps her job because she’s 'a brilliant critic'", Poynter.org, August 5, 2009.
- Greenwald, Glenn (April 18, 2012). "Attacks on RT and Assange reveal much about the critics". Salon. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
- Sullivan, Margaret (Monday, 22 September 2014). "An Article on Shonda Rhimes Rightly Causes a Furor". The New York Times | Public Editor's Journal (The New York Times). Retrieved 23 September 2014.
- Kludt, Tom. "New York Times Television Critic Defends 'Angry Black Woman' Piece". TPM Livewire on the TPM website. The Talking Points Memo. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
- Demand the New York Times retract "angry Black women" rant on Shonda Rhimes Color of Change Sep 19 2014