THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, 2014
Complete with lack of reporting: Did Wendy Davis ever misrepresent her widely-discussed life story?
We’d have to say we aren’t really sure, though she perhaps maybe might have. We’d also say that some of the backlash has been standard-issue disgraceful, including the venomous statements by Fox’s predictably horrible Erick Erickson, formerly of CNN.
This morning, the flap hit the front page of the New York Times, complete with the famous newspaper’s famous lack of reporting.
In part, the Times is assessing the claim that Davis has misrepresented her own life story. But in a 1232-word front page report, Manny Fernandez never quotes a single thing Davis has ever said on the subject.
Who except the New York Times “reports” in this manner? The unfortunate Bristol Palin is quoted at some length. Davis’ disputed statements aren’t quoted even once!
This flap began with Wayne Slater’s report in the Dallas Morning News. Slater didn’t exactly flood the zone with quotes, but he did provide these:
SLATER (1/19/14): The candidate’s compelling life story begins with 14-year-old Wendy Russell working to help support her single mother in Tarrant County. While still a teenager, Davis married, had a child and divorced, she has said.
“I had a baby. I got divorced by the time I was 19 years old,” she testified in a recent federal lawsuit over redistricting. “After I got divorced, I lived in a mobile home park in southeast Fort Worth.”
As a working mother raising a daughter, Davis enrolled in Tarrant County Community College.
“With the help of academic scholarships and student loans, Wendy not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School,” her website says.
The age of her divorce turned out to be wrong. As presented, the website’s account omits the role of her second husband, a person of substantial means, in paying for her education at TCU (first in her class) and at Harvard Law School.
That account from the website isn’t wrong. You could say it was incomplete, in a way which tended to make the story more amazing—and Davis has tended to offer her life story as a major part of her appeal.
Back to the Times: In today’s report, Fernandez never quotes any past statements by Davis, written or verbal. He does describe the errors and omissions, noting that the Davis campaign has acknowledged the problems. But no quotes are provided.
Whatever! For the most part, we don’t recommend voting for someone on the basis of her life story. But Fernandez certainly ought to know that certain parts of Davis’ story have sometimes gotten lost in the shuffle as a more remarkable narrative appeared.
Davis rose to national prominence last year after her filibuster in Texas. In his reporting of that event, Fernandez told Davis’ story this way:
FERNANDEZ (6/27/13): Ms. Davis, 50, has known long odds and, for Democrats, was the perfect symbol in a fight over what a woman can do. She was a teenager when her first child was born, but managed as a single mother to pull herself from a trailer park to Harvard Law School to a hard-fought seat in the Texas Senate, a rare liberal representing conservative Tarrant County. According to Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, she had the second-most liberal voting record in the Senate in 2011.
As a lawmaker elected to the Senate in 2008, Ms. Davis has shown charisma and guts, and her life story has moved voters. At the age of 14, she worked after-school jobs to help support her mother and three siblings.
“My mother only had a sixth-grade education, and it was really a struggle for us,” she said in a 2011 video for Generation TX. She said she fell through the cracks in high school, and shortly after she graduated, she got married and divorced, and was a single mother by age 19.
“I was living in a mobile home in southeast Fort Worth, and I was destined to live the life that I watched my mother live,” she said in the video. A co-worker showed her a brochure for Tarrant County College, and she took classes to become a paralegal, working two jobs at the same time. From there she received a scholarship to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth—becoming the first person in her family to earn a bachelor's degree—and then went on to Harvard. “When I was accepted into Harvard Law School, I remember thinking about who I am, and where I came from, and where I had been only a few years before,” she said.
These days, she said, her life outside the Capitol is nice and boring...
As it turns out, that was a rather selective account of the way Davis’ story unfolded. (The first highlighted passage is basically wrong. She didn’t go to Harvard Law School as a single mother.)
Unless he bungled his own reporting, we’d have to say that Fernandez may have gotten underinformed a tad along the way. That said, none of the actual errors appear in the Davis quotations.
Whatever! That was then, and this is now, and the Times rarely looks back.
We’d vote for Davis if we were a Texan. If we ran the New York Times, we’d skip this topic altogether, or we’d throw in a few quotes.
Do male hopefuls get treated these ways: John Kerry was turned inside out concerning his second marriage to the wealthy Teresa Heinz.
That story was different in major ways, of course. Davis is being criticized in ways which didn’t obtain with Kerry. But some of the general themes were the same.
The hissing and spitting were general over the Washington press at that time. Often, we forget such episodes when we declare that only female candidates get assessed in some of these ways.