New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is taking a lot of very justified heat for a column about New York City mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio and his wife Chirlane McCray, in which she appears to have distorted a quotation of McCray’s to imply that McCray is impugning rival Democratic candidate Christine Quinn for being a lesbian. As Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum points out, Dowd quoted McCray as saying of Quinn that “She’s not the kind of person I feel I can go up to and talk to about issues like taking care of children at a young age and paid sick leave.” By contrast, audio of the interview suggests that McCray actually said “Well, I am a woman, and she is not speaking to the issues I care about, and I think a lot of women feel the same way. I don’t see her speaking to the concerns of women who have to take care of children at a young age or send them to school and after school, paid sick days, workplace; she is not speaking to any of those issues. What can I say? And she’s not accessible, she’s not the kind of person that, I feel, that you can go up and talk to and have a conversation with about those things. And I suspect that other women feel the same thing I’m feeling.” Dowd is now suggesting that a noisy coffee shop obscured her audio recording, and she ended up relying on what turn out to have been bad-quality notes for the quotation.
The responsible thing for Dowd to do might have been to paraphrase, or to ask the DeBlasio campaign if she could check her audio against their duplicate, which one assumes was made with her knowledge and in her presence. It might also be responsible for Dowd to use her column space to focus on the actual issue differences between the candidates, rather than on DeBlasio’s Red Sox fandom, a random mention of Cynthia Nixon, and an attempt to convince readers that the DeBlasio campaign is trying to build a narrative against Quinn that, even with Dowd’s made-up example, doesn’t even reach the requisite three to make a trend. But then, I’m not her editor.
But I think it’s worth pointing out that as bad as Dowd’s quoting malpractice is, and as frivolous as the overall column is, these problems aren’t actually the worst part of the column. That would be the way Dowd describes McCray’s sexual orientation, and places it in a context of Sexuality and the New York Mayoral Race:
Last spring, McCray did an interview with Essence magazine about her feelings about being a black lesbian who fell in love with a white heterosexual, back in 1991, when she worked for the New York Commission on Human Rights and wore African clothing and a nose ring and he was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins. With her husband, she was also interviewed by the press in December and was asked if she was no longer a lesbian, and she answered ambiguously: “I am married. I have two children. Sexuality is a fluid thing, and it’s personal. I don’t even understand the question, quite frankly.”
But a lot has happened since then in this campaign season of interesting sexual proclivities and possible firsts. Besides the woman who wants to be the first first lady who used to be a lesbian, there is also Kim Catullo, the wife of Quinn, who would be the first first lady who is a married lesbian.
Then there is the perverse Carlos Danger who wants to be the first mayor who plastered pictures of his privates online.
The summer has been so drenched with the unthinkable and the unorthodox that the de Blasios, married for 19 years, seem quite conventional by comparison.
To be clear, it is 2013. And yet Maureen Dowd seems confused by the prospect of bisexuality. Or the Kinsey scale. Or the fact that people who have previously found themselves exclusively attracted to people of their same gender sometimes fall in love with people of another gender. Not to mention the fact that she’s treating McCray’s sexuality as if it’s part of a spectrum of behavior that includes Anthony Weiner’s idiotic inability not to send sexy messages to women not his wife. Or the fact that she’s treating interracial relationships like a novelty, using the Essence interview as a pretext. Or that Dowd treats McCray as if her answer to a question about all of these things make McCray the obtuse one, rather than the other questioner and Dowd herself.
Dowd may have intended the column to drive a wedge between the DeBlasio and Quinn camps, but if anything both parties should be insulted by the anachronistic way Dowd treats sexual orientation and lumps it in with infidelity. And when the Times gets Dowd a digital recorder with improved capacity to filter out crowd noise and some lessons in journalistic ethics, it might consider getting her a tutor on the realities of modern sexuality. It’s hard to be a pert, contemporary voice when your attitudes about sexuality come across as from an era earlier than the one in which you won your Pulitzer.