Maureen Dowd's Tape Recorder Almost Upended the New York Mayor's Race

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The New York Times' Maureen Dowd clearly meant to insert herself into the New York City mayoral race with a column on Wednesday profiling the new front-runner, Bill de Blasio. She probably didn't intend to become a point of contention herself after misquoting de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray.

Dowd's column focused on the candidate's family, heavily leaning on comments from McCray (pictured with de Blasio above). In another context, McCray might be expected to identify more with de Blasio's main opponent, the openly gay Christine Quinn: both are women, of course, and McCray identified as a lesbian when she and de Blasio first met. During her interview with Dowd, McCray explained why she thought that her husband was a better candidate for women. Here's how Dowd described it at first.

Asked why Quinn was not rallying women, McCray, a mother of two, replied. “She’s 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 quickly jumped on the comments, sending a statement out to supporters. "I have taken a number of shots in this race from the men running against me," she said, "and I accept that as par for the course in a political campaign. But to criticize me as not understanding what young families go through because I might not have children, is over the line."

Except what Dowd wrote is not what McCray said. Audio surfaced this afternoon — recorded by the campaign, a spokesperson confirmed to The Atlantic Wire — demonstrating that what McCray said was significantly different. As it appears in the updated Times story.

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 is not accessible, she is not the kind of person who you can talk to and go up to and have a conversation with about those things, and I suspect that other women feel the same thing I’m feeling.

Dowd explained the problem to Politico: it was noisy in the coffee shop where the interview took place, and her "tape recorder didn't pick up everything." (Clearly the de Blasio campaign's recording device was of much better quality.) Whether or not the difference is substantive is left as an exercise to the voters of New York City. Quinn, unsurprisingly, thinks it's not.

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It's also not the only quote that Dowd changed. The website NewsDiffs captured six different versions of the article, in which McCray's description of her sexuality was altered multiple times.

  • "Sexuality is a fluid thing and it’s personal." became "Sexuality is very fluid, it’s very individual and it’s personal."
  • "I don’t even understand the question, quite frankly." was removed and then added back to that statement.
  • "Sexuality is very fluid, it’s very individual and it’s personal. I don’t even understand the question, quite frankly." became "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."

"I've apologized to the DeBlasio and Quinn campaigns and I am going to buy some kind of noise-cancelling microphone for my recorder," Dowd told Politico. Unless that conversation took place in a coffee shop, we'll assume the quote is accurate.

Photo: De Blasio, McCray, and Cynthia Nixon. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.