Not wanting to believe the results
Sept. 25, 2013 — That gender-based stereotyping still can create challenges for women who are candidates for public office, challenges not faced by their male counterparts, is a sad reality of American political life. But the truth of that general proposition does not mean that gender-based (or other) stereotyping plays a meaningful role in every political campaign. Unfortunately, a post-primary article in The New York Times co-written by Kate Taylor couldn’t or, more accurately, didn’t want to, grapple fully with that latter fact.
The result: a dog-that-didn’t-bark story asserting that New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s “fall from front-runner status to a distant third place finish in the Democratic primary is now stirring intense debate about whether her femaleness, or her homosexuality, played any role in her struggle to win over voters.”
Actually no. While the article spends most of its time on those who raise questions related to gender bias, it concedes that Quinn lost for a variety of reasons not related to gender or sexuality, including “her close association with the plutocratic incumbent mayor” and “her inability to be a change candidate in an election in which voters sought new direction.” Not one person, it turns out, “blamed her loss wholly, or even mostly, on gender.”
The article also had to acknowledge the results of an Edison Research exit poll. That poll showed that Bill de Blasio, the victorious candidate in the Democratic field, trounced Quinn just about as thoroughly among all women (39 percent to 16 percent) as he did among all men (40 percent to 14 percent). Among African-American women who voted, 47 percent supported de Blasio, and only 6 percent supported Quinn.
What about Quinn’s record as Speaker?
The most critical substantive element missing from the story was any exploration of how voters might have been reacting to the profoundly undemocratic way that Speaker Quinn had run the City Council for the previous eight years.
This failure may have stemmed in part from Taylor’s apparent sympathy with the Quinn campaign. Taylor’s campaign coverage, after all, kicked into high gear with her puff-piece interview with the Speaker, a tool in the Quinn campaign’s orchestrated attempt to humanize its candidate. It continued through the primary season to do the campaign’s bidding (as with an entire article devoted to a preview of a Quinn speech to set the table for themes that Quinn wanted to pound).
Or it may merely have been a function of Taylor’s allergy to substantive reporting (as when she wrote an entire piece on de Blasio’s fight to keep local Brooklyn hospitals open from a campaign strategy perspective, ignoring entirely the question of whether de Blasio’s position had any merit).
But these theories are probably too narrowly focused.
Surely, other reporters for the paper gave extensive coverage to the Speaker’s record in blocking votes or even public hearings on proposed legislation she did not like, didn’t they?
Quinn’s dictatorial approach to what legislation saw the light of day was certainly the defining feature of her speakership, so much so that, in Mayor Bloomberg’s now infamous exit interview with New York magazine, it was the quality about her he cited: “She did a very good job for seven and a half years of keeping legislation that never should have made it to the floor, that would have been damaging to the city, from ever getting there.”
While Michael Gyrnbaum’s wrote a page 1 article on Quinn’s early career, the article did not follow the story into the period when Quinn assumed office.
So I reviewed the over 250 stories about the mayoral race, large and small, that appeared in the print editions of the New York Times from the beginning of June through last Friday. Not one focused on this aspect of the Quinn record.