Davis flap hits Times front page!


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.

Too perfect:

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.


  1. Zzzzzzzzzzz , , ,

  2. The "unfortunate" Bristol Palin? Try "grifter."

  3. She got busted exaggerating her life story. That's what happened. And now she's refusing to talk to the press about it, instead using letters from her daughters to handle the blowback.

    1. I take a look at the comment board and feel very sad for Bob.

  4. I am at least a little puzzled, what seemingly has occurred is that Wendy Davis invented aspects of her background. For a political figure who is subject to repeated scrutiny to invent a past is politically hazardous and foolish. I do not think voters will overlook this matter, if I am right in my understanding that at least part of the Davis past was invented.

  5. She got a few details wrong to her benefit (how much time did Al Gore really spend on that tobacco farm?) but it sounds like her story is essentially correct. This isn't exactly Baron von Munchausen we're talking about here.

  6. Some thoughts. First, the age when you get a divorce legally and the age when you separate (are no longer living together) may be different when you are poor because you don't go through the legal procedures if you don't have the money. Second, simply being married to a man with money later helps with fees but doesn't get you through law school because you must get the grades yourself. As a mom (married or single), you still have a busier and harder time of things than other students without kids, no matter who watches them while you're in class. Third, is there any sense in which she didn't do the work to get those degrees? Her accomplishments are still impressive given where she started and it does not sound like that humble beginning is in dispute. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.

    If she is being accused of misrepresenting something, it does seem like the NY Times article should have showed how she herself contributed to that misrepresentation. Reporters often get things wrong and there is not necessarily an opportunity to correct their mistakes.

    Years ago, the LA Times printed a staged photo of my dog with an icebag on his head, licking a small child's ice cream cone, to show what a hot day it was. They said in the caption that the dog belonged to the other child, not me. That was my first introduction to accuracy in journalism. It was humiliating because I'd told my friends my dog was in the paper, but my name was nowhere, so they thought I had lied. Was I responsible for that incident?

  7. Weel, Somerby, if we're going to so fair as to note that male candidates can garner the same personal scrutiny as female ones, let's just go whole hog and say that they can often be misrepresented by feminists like Wendy Davis.

    Especially as regards an interest in the issue of abortion.

    Afterall, Ms Davis didn't merely have a husband who financed Harvard law school for her, but one who assumed chief custodial care for his stepchild and daughter while she got her career together.

    You 'd think that this would have tempered her argument that guys have no right to hold and to champion oppositional opinions on third trimester abortions., if only to the point where her story reflected some recognition of dads.

  8. It's unlikely a male politician whose second wife bankrolled his education and raised his children would claim to have struggled as a single father from trailer park to Harvard.

    And it's always especially flattering when a politician embroiled in scandal hauls out his or her children to write letters on his or her behalf.

    1. Her husband raised her kids? Really?

  9. Where are our trolls?

    Why have they neglected this board?

    Bob criticizes and "lectures" the New York Times on shoddy journalism: check

    Bob takes on a liberal trope about unequal treatment of fem pols: check

    Bob references the smoke of another fire via John Kerry: check

    Why no interest in hammering Bob's hypocritical hypocrisy in his critiquing a journalist for his inept piece of critical reporting that failed to reference single quote made by the liberal object of that criticism.

    Yet no hypocrisy-hating troll-truth-seekers have shown up to castigate Bob on the error of his ways?

    Why, oh why? January hiatus?

    1. Since you are itching to argue, Cecelia, can you explain why Bob failed to quote the following passage from Wayne Slater's piece in the Dallas Morning News?

      "The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves. In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred.

      "Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

      "A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support."

      End quote.

      I have no idea what point Bob is straining to make here? Is he saying that a "liberal trope" whatever that means is complaining that Davis is being treated in ways that a male politician would not be treated?

      I can't find any evidence in the Fernandez passage he quoted.

      Nor can I find the point in his strained analogy to John Kerry's marriage to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Did John Kerry ever claim to be a self-made man, rising from a trailer park, while neglecting to mention his second marriage altogether?

      I certainly remember the attempt to turn Kerry "inside out" in the whole "swifboating" episode. And I do remember the right wing pretty much hating every internal organ in Teresa Heinz Kerry's body, and using the couple's vast fortune to paint Kerry as an out-of-touch patrician (which would become quite ironic eight years later).

      But I don't remember him being turned "inside out" over his second marriage. They were too busy "swiftboating" him.

      My take on the Wendy Davis episode? She's just another politician who fudged her biography when the truth, and nothing but the truth, would have served her quite well.

      I agree with him that this is not an example of the press treating female pols differently.

      But if wants to find good examples of that, he might delve into his own "incomparable archives" and read some of the stuff he wrote during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign.

    2. Well, Somerby could pull from the incomparable archives something from 2008 about how Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro were treated in the press, and certainly by the boys of MSNBC.

      I suspect there'd be no cadre of trolls complaining about Bob's hypocrisy and hatred in that case either.

    3. So what is Bob's point then? I can't seem to find one.

      I would suspect, given his history, that this was just another excuse to beat up on the NYT some more. But whatever point he was trying to make seems to have gotten lost in the tall weeds, along with Somerby.

    4. That the Paper of a Record had reported the very claims that it now chastises Davis as having erroneously made, without specifically quoting her making them.

    5. Yes, now that you mention it, I do recall Bob's post from last summer, when the Paper of Record first reported on Davis. He chastised Fernandez quite severely for taking a politician's word at face value and not investigating her life story more deeply.

      How ironic.

    6. Anon 11:04, it's not ironic, it's true to form.

  10. :But in a 1232-word front page report, Manny Fernandez never quotes a single thing Davis has ever said on the subject."

    Hmmm. This sure seems to look like a quote to me:

    “These false attacks say more about my opponent’s character than they do about me,” she said before a crowd of supporters at a dinner sponsored by the Travis County Democratic Party. She added: “For those who have mangled the story of my life, either carelessly or purposely, know this. I never gave up custody of my children, I never lost custody of my children, and to say otherwise is an absolute lie.”

    1. That's a quote of something she said after the brouhaha about her story began.

    2. But it is a "single thing" that Frenandez quoted her as "ever said on the subject."

      Or are you going to explain again what Bob really, really meant when his actual words are shown to be dead wrong?

    3. By the way, Cecelia, as I read Fernandez's latest story, I found him quite fair in quoting people on both sides of the "unfair to women pols" argument.

      Isn't that what you long for?

    4. Anon 10:55am, but the context is that Fernandez doesn't offer a quote of Davis misconstruing her story, within an article about that.

      What she says after the charge was made, in context of defending herself, has no bearing on the claim that the story has no quotes of her misrepresenting herself from the beginning.

    5. Anon 11:07am, so again where did our Somerby critic trolls go?

    6. Bob doesn't say that Fernandez never quoted her miscountruing her story from the beginning, no matter how much you wanted him to say that, or what you imagine his "context" was.

      Instead he said this:

      "But in a 1232-word front page report, Manny Fernandez never quotes a single thing Davis has ever said on the subject."

      "has ever said on the subject."

      Once again:

      "has ever said on the subject."

      Now to my way of thinking, the quote pulled from Fernandez's story is very much a quote, very much spoken by Davis, and very much "on the subject."

      But I am glad to see that you agree that Bob needs further interpretation to understand what he really, really means, unable as he is to state his point clearly and unequivocally, leaving no doubt.

  11. Somerby said, "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!"

    Clearly, he is arguing that Fernandez does not offer any quotes wherein Davis misrepresented her life.

    (Afterall, the paper had no trouble disseminating the Davis' story BEFORE the controversy.)

    However, your argument is the sort "by referencing the moon, he could have meant one of the moons of Jupiter" speciousness that our trolls devote ten paragraphs to.

    Where were/are they?

    1. You gotta love the weasel words "In part . . ." Well, yes. In VERY small part. Any reading of the story would reveal that Fernandez was really "assessing" the claim that women politicians are treated differently than male politicians in this case. That Davis is being subjected to treatment from the press that no male politician would go through.

      And no, it isn't "clear" that Somerby is arguing that Fernandez does not offer any quotes wherein Davis misrepresented her life. It is clear that Somerby said what he said.

      Cecelia, if you have to go to such lengths once again to claim Somerby meant something entirely different from what he actually said, that doesn't speak very well of Somerby's communications skills, does it?

    2. "However, your argument is the sort "by referencing the moon, he could have meant one of the moons of Jupiter" speciousness that our trolls devote ten paragraphs to."

      Real bad case of projection there, Cecelia.

      I'm the one saying that when Somerby says "the moon" he means the moon. You're the one bending yourself into a pretzel telling me he really meant "one of the moons of Jupiter."

      I'm kinda funny that way. I tend to think people should mean what they say and say what they mean. Thank you for your labors in trying to convince me that he really, really meant something entirely different, but his words are still there, and they are hardly ambiguous.

    3. "Such lengths", I excerpted precisely what he said.

      On the other hand, you have to parse some statements and ignore others in order to conjure up a misstatement to babble about, as well as dismissing other statements as being weasel words.

      Yes, you've proved yourself as being the designated inane troll for the board. What took you so long to show up?

    4. Jupiter's moon is precisely the right analogy.

      You 're not being overly literal your insistence that "quote" would mean the same as anything Davis has rendered on the subject regardless of whether it was before or after the charge made against her (or whether it even addressed a claim she has made about herself!) you're being so broad as to completely ignore the more narrow point that was being argued by the blogger.

      Your protests that the blogger is hard to understand idoesn't bolster your case or indict anyone but yourself.

    5. So let's see. True to his MO, Bob brings up this whole, niggling, irrelevant no-quote thing as part of his feeble attempt to discredit Fernandez' entire story.

      I show that Fernandez did indeed quote Davis.

      And now you accuse me of being "too literal" about what "quote" means.

      Getting dizzy from all that spinning, Cecelia?

    6. It's a relativity thing. Cecelia isn't spinning; you are. That's why you're dizzy.

  12. I love how everyone says her husband "raised her children". Well, gosh, I certainly hope he had a hand in it! It's really incredible, the double standard. Why doesn't anyone ever say that about men? "She RAISED his CHILDREN" Then we can all stare accusingly at the slacker who let "someone else" raise his children.

    I have a bit of a complicated life history, myself, so I'm generally sympathetic to Davis. The fact is there's an accepted "track" and anyone who veers off that has to do an enormous amount of explaining.

    Or not.

    If I were her, I might have just not explained. I do less and less of what she's doing as I get older. Women spend too much time on defense. There's no requirement that one has to answer every question.

    I personally would vote for her just because she learned and used the incredibly complicated Texas filibuster rules. That's a good sign.

    1. Because men don't claim to be struggling single fathers when their wives are raising their children and paying their law school tuition?

    2. Because no one asks them who is home with the kids whenver they enter the public sphere.

    3. When not asked, they don't volunteer that they were home with the kids in a trailer park struggling as single parents, leaving out the role of their wives in domestic and financial matters.

  13. In my comment to the Times, I mentioned how this sort of oppo research is designed to distract people from serious issues, and how compliant newspapers like the NYT are in getting these stories "out there." Do we really believe that Wayne Slater spent countless hours and days digging up the inconsistencies in Davis's story? Of course not; he was most likely handed the story by the Abbott people and he ran with it, with a few follow-up questions. (Check the story for evidence that Wayne did any primary research.) And the good ol' NYT ran it. And now the issue is Wendy's biography, not a million Texans without health insurance. Having read Slater's piece, it is obvious that Abbott's hit men have already accomplished what they set out to do—create a public discussion on Davis's character and sidestep issues. And it's all blessed by the Big Media press. Who needs Kit Seelye or Ceci Connolly when you have Wayne Slater and Manny Fernandez?

    1. I cheered when Wendy Davis filibustered. I cheered when she used that national attention to at least explore a run for governor, since Texas has endured years of George Bush and Rick Perry.

      But, sorry, I don't care how Slater got this story, whether he poked around on his own enterprise about a serious contender for the governor's office, or whether it was handed to him by Abbott "hit men."

      It doesn't change the truth that Davis has seriously embellished her biography -- which is important for any candidate because they must sell voters on who they are if they want to sell them on what they will do in office.

      And the sad part is, she didn't need to. Her true life story is compelling enough. But apparently she felt that wasn't good enough.

      Now, true to form, the wingnuts are overplaying their hand with the "she should have stayed home and raised the kids" nonsense. That is something that no one but a wingnut would demand of a male candidate.

      But it still doesn't change the sad fact that Wendy Davis liked to the voters about who she is.

    2. No the issue isn't Wendy's biography it is Wendy's credibility as she plays poor female voters for rubes.

    3. Excuse me, "Wendy Davis lied to the voters about who she is."

      And understanding how much Bob hates the word "lie", allow me to rephrase: "Wendy Davis didn't tell the truth to the voters about who she is."