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Thinking Through The New York Times Editorial

The editorial board of The New York Times took on the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC) and Carol Moseley Braun in its dismissive and insulting Sept. 14 editorial. In five short paragraphs, The New York Times stooped to a new low, a stunning and judgmental act of name calling which demeans the prestige of our nation's premiere newspaper.

These six points explain how:

1. The editorial trivializes women.

While The New York Times claims NOW's endorsement has "trivialized the important role women will play in the coming election," it is their own editorial that accomplishes that feat. Take the headline on the editorial—the first thing a reader sees is: "NOW's Woman Problem." What exactly is a "woman problem"? Is it a problem that NOW has supported women's rights for 37 years, and that NOW's mission includes helping elect women to public office? Is it a problem that we believe women's role in government shouldn't stop at the White House door?

Women still face sex discrimination in this country and they will not break through the glass ceiling without the support of other women. How wonderful that young girls across this country can see a competent, experienced woman in the presidential debates, saying what needs to be said, supported by women's groups—and how sad to see a great newspaper look so petty in its attack. Women and girls must believe that a woman can become president—not some day, but today. Our daughters and granddaughters need to see strong, articulate women running for office—and yes, for the White House.

2. The editorial uses loaded language.

The New York Times uses a number of suspect terms to lead readers in a certain direction, and that direction is that it's okay to ridicule Carol Moseley Braun, NOW and NWPC. The first such term appears in the second sentence, which refers to both NOW and NWPC as feminist "outpost[s]" a word that conjures up images of lonely forts out on the frontier. The New York Times calls Moseley Braun's campaign a "vanity affair"—a term that does two things at once, implying that she is not running for the honest reason of wanting to become president and insinuating that she is vain and shallow. The phrase "return to the limelight" suggests the same superficiality.

The piece goes on to use the words "clouded" and "tarnished" to refer to Moseley Braun's reputation, thereby further undermining the candidate's image without addressing her responses to those accusations. Nor does it mention that Karl Rove was paid $700,000 by Moseley Braun's multi-millionaire opponent in 1998 to engineer the smear campaign against her, or that she was fully cleared of those charges in a Senate investigation and was confirmed as Ambassador to New Zealand in 1999 by a vote of 96 to 2.

The final sentence charges NOW and NWPC with being "silly." Would any organization other than one representing women be called "silly" by a major newspaper? Think about it—is any other group (veterans, labor unions, anti-war activists, environmentalists, trial lawyers) in danger of being called "silly" if the Times doesn't like their endorsement? The word was clearly chosen for its ability to belittle and marginalize women.

3. The editorial plays to sexist and racist attitudes.

Perhaps the most offensive comment in The New York Times editorial is the notion that because Carol Moseley Braun was the first African American woman elected to the Senate she has "already secured her place in history." Do black women only get one place in history (if they're lucky)? Does that mean only men are allowed to be ambitious enough to make history more than once? Should Moseley Braun just be happy she got as far as she did and shut up? Women have every right to expect more for their lives and more from their country. The paper goes on to imply that Moseley Braun's campaign is merely "symbolic" and not founded on "important principles"—failing to recognize that women's equality is a principle worthy of symbolism. And while symbols are certainly important, they are of no use if they can't be followed up with real action and progress —the kind of progress that changes people's lives. The Times suggests that Moseley Braun's campaign is not serious, yet they offer nothing concrete to suggest otherwise.

4. The editorial takes the side of big money.

On Sept. 7 The New York Times ran an editorial supporting campaign finance reform, stating that "The issue, in a very real sense, is democracy itself and whether Americans must be resigned to a campaign finance system that elevates wealthy favor-seekers over ordinary citizens." Just one week later, in its editorial on NOW/NWPC's endorsement of Carol Moseley Braun, the same paper referred derisively to her "scarcely funded campaign."

The fact that money runs politics will always be a detriment to women. This fact is rarely acknowledged in the media. NOW and NWPC made an early endorsement in part to help Moseley Braun raise the money she needs to stay in the race. For The New York Times to say one week that money shouldn't be the controlling factor in elections, and then imply that Moseley Braun's campaign should not be taken seriously because she hasn't raised millions, and then turn around and say women's groups are wrong to support this candidate because she doesn't already have those millions, sets up a no-win situation. Perhaps that was the idea?

5. The editorial creates an impossible standard for a woman candidate to be taken seriously.

Moseley Braun is polling even with John Edwards among Democratic and leaning Democratic registered voters, and ahead of Graham, Kucinich, Sharpton and Wesley Clark (CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll, August 25-26), which puts her in the middle of the pack. She has performed extremely well in the Democratic debates, and brings an important perspective on the issues to the table. But none of this seems to matter to The New York Times. The important question is this: would a man with her experience at the local, state, national and international levels be dismissed so cavalierly by the Times?

Despite her poll numbers and her outstanding performance in the debates, which has drawn appreciative commentary from many quarters, The New York Times trivialized Carol Moseley Braun's seriousness as a candidate, NOW's and NWPC's endorsement, feminism, and women in general by assuming that the candidacy of an African-American woman cannot be serious. What more does Moseley Braun need to do to be considered just as serious as the male candidates? Oh, that's right, raise more money, but without the help of women's organizations.

6. The editorial undercuts feminism.

The main goal of feminism is for women to be treated fairly in our society so that they might have opportunities to see their dreams become reality. Full equality has yet to be achieved, yet the media declare over and over that feminism is dead, or at the very least irrelevant. This editorial sounds, in its condescending tone, as if it could have been written by the enemies of feminism.

As similar pieces often do, disdain for feminism is expressed under the cover of supposed concern for the image of women's rights groups. The truth remains that The New York Times has rarely mentioned NOW and NWPC's efforts on behalf of women or Carol Moseley Braun's campaign over the past six months. But now the paper is more than happy to spare some ink for a negative piece (after declining requests to meet with NOW and with Moseley Braun).

The editorial concedes that Moseley Braun is good on issues such as pay equity and reproductive rights, and that her history with NOW goes back two decades. Despite this, NOW and NWPC are still disparaged for their strong stand. The reference to the "unsuccessful" campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment seems designed to back up the paper's theory that feminists sure make silly decisions, that we court failure. NOW and NWPC are proud to be doing the right thing in endorsing Moseley Braun. And we believe this indictment from the "paper of record" actually indicates an unconscious endorsement that Moseley Braun, NOW and NWPC are political players worth trying to undermine.

We have work to do together.

Again and again, women's groups continue our difficult work in the face of discouragement and indifference. Feminism is alive and well and doing what we must in order to lift the status of women in the U.S. and the world. An energized feminist base, spending the next year mobilizing women voters around women's life and death issues, will ultimately lead to a victory for democracy, peace, fairness and equality ... no matter who comes out as the eventual challenger to George W. Bush.


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