The race to become the next major of New York City is still in its infancy and already it faces another scandal. It wasn’t brought on by anything any of the candidates, or their wives, or their children, or even their dogs, had done. No, this one was precipitated by the most sensational of the city’s six major daily newspapers.
Ever since it was taken over by the brash Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the tone of the august New York Post, America’s oldest continuously printed paper, has changed. Its sensationalism is usually in the style of in-your-face big city tabloids. Headlines like "Headless woman found in topless bar" have become the stuff of legend.
All too often, however, the ultra-right political bent of the paper has embroiled it in some hot water.
The latest incident involves one of the Democrats hoping to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has a citywide office that allows him to play the part of populist. Effectively a minister without portfolio, his job is to act as an ombudsman between the city’s massive government and its citizens. De Blasio, who is of European descent, made his name representing some of Brooklyn’s most solid white, liberal ethnic enclaves in City Hall.
He stands staunchly to the left on most hot-button issues. Among others, Civil Rights personality Al Sharpton is a strong ally. For a while, it looked as though the primary was shaping up as two-horse race, with de Blasio as the populist candidate, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn as the Establishment candidate. There are others at least running as well, but most perceive these two as the front runners. For now.
Wife’s Lesbian Activist Past Suddenly in Forefront
On Dec. 5, Politicker, run by local weekly the New York Observer, published a biographical article about Chirlane McCray, de Blasio’s wife. It would hardly be called an "expose," since McCray has never denied her past, which she herself reported in Essence magazine in 1979.
With a title like "I Am a Lesbian," that article left no doubt about the life choce McCray had taken. But if gay activists have been fighting for anything since Stonewall, it is the right of the individual to define himself and then, if he so choses, to redefine himself. We’ve all seen instances of this writ large and small. Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon are famous examples of talented individuals who both headed in opposite directions.
That’s another reason the rainbow makes such as a powerful statement about the modern LGBT movement. The colors are never defined. Instead, they run into and out of each other.
One could suppose that that just the timing of the Politicker article was meant to hurt de Blasio. But the article’s tone was anything but sensational. It went out of its way to point out that the couple have been happily married for several decades, have two children together and politically are very much a team.
(Another) Offensive Delonas Cartoon
There was no such subtlety or objectivity by the resident editorial cartoonist of the New York Post. The cartoon showed de Blasio wearing frilly lingerie beside McCray in bed, while she tells someone on the phone, "I used to be a lesbian, but my husband, Bill de Blasio, won me over."
The cartoonist, Sean Delonas, has been in the pubic eye many times in the past -- all for insensitive (or outright racist) statements. Doubling the shooting of a pet chimp that went feral, he had Obama -- as a chimp -- shot to make a point about economic discussions. He has continually used homosexuality as a favorite target. A man marrying a sheep is one of his favorite tropes. He has made asides about President Barack Obama’s sexuality.
I should mention that I spent a good deal of time trying to track down the original cartoon of de Blasio and McCray. It appears that the Post either took it down in subsequent editions or substituted another. Even so, the editorial management of the Post took to their familiar battle stations to defend the cartoon against that old shadow army of "political correctness."
Predictably, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which has been sparring with Delonas since the organization was founded, is fuming. Other press groups have been equally damning.
In a follow-up story, Politicker de Blasio’s presumptive opponents joined in the condemnation.
At a previously planned political meeting on Sunday, the candidates weighed in.
Referring to McCray’s Essence article, Quinn said, "That wasn’t 2012, that wasn’t a time when the Supreme Court was taking up gay marriage. It was a totally different world. A world when the president and the federal government turned their backs on thousands of people dying of AIDS every day. Think of what it felt like, if you were a child struggling with your identity to see that cartoon in the New York Post. And maybe to see people you love-I hope not-but see people you love laugh at it." (Quinn is an out-lesbian married to her partner.)
Referring not only to this cartoon, but to the controversial recent front-page photos of a man about to be killed in the subway and the Post’s headline "This man is about to die," New York City Comptroller John Liu did not mince words.
"Stop buying this rag!" he said. "We’ve got to tell them that there is a line they cannot cross and they cross it too often. This is not journalism, this is not reporting the news. This is far worse than any National Enquirer or any supermarket tabloid."
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson said he was "in shock" by the cartoon. "New York Post has again sunk to the lowest possible level."
Post Slants Coverage of de Blasio Marriage
The Post -- who clearly don’t like the left-of-center de Blasio -- ran a story also about the Politicker story. The story was short on content but long on innuendo. The writer called it "the weirdest development in the race for mayor" -- immediately branding it as something "weird" and, hence, unseemly.
The writer also ran this sentence, which should be taught in journalism schools as an unattributed quote only meant to further the writer’s personal agenda: "’This doesn’t help him,’ offered one political consultant." (The Post writer didn’t note whether he tipped the taxi driver extra for that nugget of political wisdom.)
Running for mayor in New York City has always been a blood sport. Not only does the mayor control patronage for the largest city bureaucracy in the country, the largest single school board in the world), one of the most extensive networks of public transportation in the world; armies of uniformed officers ... It goes on and on. No wonder the city’s mayor is often called the second-most important elected public official in the country!
With six broad-circulation daily newspapers (Daily News, Post, Time, Staten Island Advance, Wall Street Journal, Newsday), several foreign-language dailies and weeklies, many other newspapers such as the Observer, magazines, neighborhood papers, citywide special interest papers such as the Village Voice, this remains the most competitive and wide-open city in America for stories.
Since Murdoch transformed a liberal paper founded by Alexander Hamilton and remade it into a yellow sheet, the paper has become the object of scorn -- but it is also widely read. Whether this latest controversy will hurt or help the paper remains to be seen.
But there are other factors now at work. Murdoch faced the humiliating situation of shutting down his biggest newspaper in England, sacking his right-hand woman (now facing criminal charges) and being hauled with his son and heir-presumptive before a House of Commons committee because of some very questionable ethical decisions made by editors and reporters.
Now the British Parliament is in the midst of debating whether or not to accept a far-reaching bill that would reign in the way the press does business. If this latest incident reaches the ears of Lord Leverson, who is running the press inquiry, it would be another setback for one of the world’s most powerful press barons.
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