New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was forced to publish a retraction on Wednesday after falsely attributing anti-gay remarks to the wife of New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. According to New York magazine, Dowd decontextualized a quote by de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray to read like an indictment of mayoral candidate Christine Quinn’s lesbianism. Dowd, for her part, blamed the misunderstanding on the fact that she interviewed McCray in a noisy coffee shop, but a recording of the interview tape now being circulated makes it clear that what McCray was saying was actually quite intelligible.
In a Tuesday column for the Times, Dowd wrote about a sit-down interview she had with de Blasio and McCray at the Good Times coffee house in Greenwich Village. She quoted McCray as saying that Quinn is “not accessible…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.”
Quinn, who is a lesbian with no children at present, took immediate offense at the remark, perceiving it as a slight aimed straight at her sexual orientation.
“[To] criticize me as not understanding what young families go through because I might not have children is over the line,” she said in a statement.
When one listens to the audio, however, what McCray actually said was, “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.”
The de Blasio campaign protested, “As the transcript makes clear, her actual comments were about Speaker Quinn’s unwillingness to listen to the people on education, and paid sick leave, and any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous and absurd … It is wrong for Speaker Quinn and her campaign to distort and confuse with baseless attacks in order to distract from the Speaker’s indefensible policy record.”
The Quinn campaign took cold comfort in the correction, saying that even in their original form, the remarks may be less personal, but they still smack of homophobia.
“We stand by our statement, as the essence of Ms. McCray’s quote is the same,” said a campaign spokesperson to New York.
On Tuesday, a disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the original column that read, “An earlier version of this column incorrectly quoted a response by Chirlane McCray, the wife of Bill de Blasio to a question about Christine Quinn. The column has been updated to reflect the full response.”
Politico‘s Dylan Byers spoke to Dowd about the issue, who blamed the misquote on the fact that the interview took place in a noisy coffee shop.
“I screwed up,” she said. “The coffee shop was so noisy, my tape recorder didn’t pick up everything. I thought I had that one quote from her in my notes, but I garbled the end with a bit from her previous sentence.”
In journalism, some editing and tightening of interview subjects’ remarks is expected, but not so much that it changes the meaning of what the person said. This is not the first time Dowd has been caught building “Frankenquotes” to impose her own interpretation on other people’s statements.
During the 2008 Democratic primary, Dowd doctored up a quote by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) about her primary challenger Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).
Clinton said, “There’s a great saying in Texas: all hat and no cattle. Well after seven years of George Bush, we need a lot less hat and lot more cattle.”
Dowd reprinted that remark as “Hillary says Obama is ‘all hat and no cattle.’ You’d think she’d want to avoid cattle metaphors, so as not to rile up those with a past beef about her sketchy windfall on cattle futures. She could simply say he’s all cage and no bird.”
Media critic Brendan Nyhan wrote in 2008, “It’s all too reminiscent of her misquotation of President Bush as saying Al Qaeda is “not a problem anymore” back in 2003, which spawned a widespread media myth, or her distortion of a quote by Alberto Gonzales about the Geneva Conventions.”
Listen to audio of the remarks in question, embedded below via SoundCloud:
[image of Maureen Dowd via Wikipedia.org]