It’s been a rough few days for one of New York’s most powerful women—and no, we’re not talking about Jill Abramson.
This past Monday morning, the New York Daily News and New York Post—the frat brothers of the New York journalism scene—published simultaneous front-page attacks on Chirlane McCray. McCray is the wife of New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, and a staunchly progressive African-American feminist, poet and former speechwriter with a defining presence in her husband’s administration. She is also the subject of a fascinating profile in this week’s New York magazine in which the author, Lisa Milller, hails her as an “unambiguous asset” to her husband’s administration. So naturally the tabloids took out their hatchets.
“I was a bad mom!” shouted the cover of Rupert Murdoch’s Post next to a full-page photo of McCray. The headline was allegedly inspired by comments McCray made in the New York profile and was accompanied by an article which began: “In an astonishing confession, New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray has revealed that she was a neglectful mother after her daughter, Chiara, was born.” Next to that, there was a picture of the victim, Chiara, herself, whom the paper helpfully reminded readers “dropped her own bombshell last year about abusing alcohol and marijuana.” Were the mother’s early neglect and daughter’s drug use connected? the reader was clearly meant to ask.
The Daily News, ever the wingman to the wilder Post, opted for a more sober approach. In a framed teaser at the top of its front page, it served up a pained-looking picture of McCray, accompanied by the headline, “Didn’t want to be a mom.” And then, beneath that, playing at empathy: “Chirlane’s sorrow.”
Poor Chirlane McCray. What on earth could she have done that was so outrageous the Post surmised it would “horrify most moms”? Abandon her babies for a life of repetitive chanting and saffron robes in a desert cult? Soak away her days in a Calgon haze while her kids, left to fend for themselves, trapped possums in their Park Slope yard? Clearly it must have been pretty bad to warrant such hyperventilating.
And yet: as even a quick glance at the relevant section of the New York profile reveals, McCray’s offense wasn’t quite so dramatic. The big bad thing she confessed to was… ambivalence. Ambivalence about the early days of motherhood. Sideswiped by the consuming reality of parenting, she admitted that she often wanted to escape; she didn’t want to spend every round-the-clock moment with her new child; she wanted to work! As she explained in the quote that sent the tabloids into a tizzy: