New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on May 19 took a couple of city tabloids to task, demanding an apology for their alleged misrepresentation of statements about parenting by his wife, Chirlane McCray.
On May 18, New York magazine, in a cover story, explored the first lady’s life, including the African American woman’s career, social and political activism, her partnership with de Blasio and motherhood. The New York Post and New York Daily News distilled the article’s almost 6,000 words into next-day headlines that declared: “I Was a Bad Mom” and “Didn’t want to be a mom,” respectively.
The headlines referenced a small part of the article in which McCray, talking about the birth of her first child, Chiara, in December 1994, discussed her struggle with balancing the newfound responsibilities of motherhood with her career and independence.
“I was 40 years old. I had a life,” she recalled. “The truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn’t want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reason not to do it.”
McCray said, in the interview, that she has borne a lot of guilt about the ambivalent feelings.
“Especially with Chiara—will we feel guilt forever more? Of course, yes,” she said. “I love her. I have thousands of photos of her—every 1-month birthday, 2-month birthday. But I’ve been working since I was 14, and that part of me is me. It took a long time for me to get into ‘I’m taking care of kids,’ and what that means.”
By the time her son Dante was born in 1997, however, McCray seemed to have adapted to her role, becoming the “default parent.” She stopped working full-time for several years, and even when she resumed, “the kids came first,” McCray told the magazine.
The Post article, however, asserted the first lady’s disclosure was “bound to horrify most moms” and suggested that it “shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio's close-knit family, which helped vault him into office.”
The tabloids’ caricaturing of this very real struggle was “disturbing and inappropriate,” de Blasio said at the hastily convened press conference, according to The New York Times.
“It suggests a tremendous misunderstanding of what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a mother,” the mayor said of the coverage.
“A lot of hardworking women in this city are offended,” de Blasio added. “I think both The Post and The Daily News owe Chirlane an apology. I think they owe all of us an apology.”
Many on social networks agreed. Administration supporter the Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network, tweeted, “The @nypost's repulsive distortion of @Chirlane's @nymag interview, shows that they do not even hold motherhood to be sacred.”
Carrie Melago, a news editor for the Wall Street Journal, a mother and a Brooklynite, also tweeted, “Don't mean to ‘horrify’ anyone at the Post, but lots of new parents want breaks from their babies.”
And Media Matters accused the Post of taking McCray’s quotes out of context “to attack her as a ‘bad mom.’”
In a May 20 rebuttal, Daily News Features Editor Raakhee Mirchandani—a new mother—said the de Blasios had stepped into a pile of their own making, and suggested McCray’s statements did invite a measure of censure.
“So when Mayor de Blasio asked for a mea culpa from the media, I was unmoved. No one was judging McCray’s parenting skills. Quite the opposite: She was,” Mirchandani wrote.
“Chirlane, you’re probably a good mother. Maybe even a great one. But that doesn’t mean you get to fret about your performance — then complain at how people discuss it,” she added. “And if you want an apology, be woman enough to ask for it yourself instead of sending your husband out there to demand one for you.”