Was Wendy Davis Misleading In Her Political Bio?
CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, we'll hear how one Southern town took a new approach to violent crime and is now seeing dramatic results. That's in a few moments. But first, it's time to visit the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women commentators and journalists get a fresh cut on the week's hot topics.
Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Connie Schultz; she's a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author of "...And His Lovely Wife: A Memoir From The Woman Beside the Man." She's with us from Cleveland, Ohio. DeBora Ricks is the executive producer of "The Anthony McCarthy Show" on member station WEAA in Baltimore. She's also the author of "Why Did He Break Up With Me? Lessons in Love, Loss And Letting Go." She joins from Baltimore, Md. With me here in Washington, D.C., is Nicole Austin-Hillery. She's the director and counsel of the Washington, D.C., office of the Brennan Center for Justice. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C., editor of PJ Media. Welcome to all.
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: Thank you.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thanks for having us.
CONNIE SCHULTZ: Thank you for having me.
HEADLEE: Let's start off with - coming from Texas, a gubernatorial candidate - Wendy Davis - is in a little bit of hot water. She's been a media darling for a while. You might remember, she first grabbed headlines last year after her marathon filibuster - in sneakers - designed to block new abortion restrictions. Now, it looks like she might have fudged a few details of her personal life. Davis has spoken very publicly about her journey from being a struggling teenage, single mom to Harvard graduate. But the Dallas Morning News says she became a single mother at 21- not 19, as she's claimed, and that her ex-husband paid for her Harvard education.
Also, at one point, the Dallas Morning News said she did not have custody of her daughter. Davis admits she may have stretched the truth and says, quote, I need to be more focused on the details. So Connie Schultz, how much will this - could this affect her political career?
SCHULTZ: The more I'm looking at the coverage of it, particularly from conservatives, the less concerned I am for the effect, the impact on her candidacy because it's getting very dirty very quickly - a lot of attacks on her as a mother. As a longtime single mother myself, I actually had to look up - former longtime single mother - I had to look up when my divorce was because the minute you are raising your children on your own, you're a single mother.
And I think that's where the discrepancy here is. I do wish her campaign - this is a real novice mistake - I wish her campaign had done immediate opposition research on her, to know what the attacks would be, what the details may be that she's getting wrong so that this could have been cleared up much more quickly.
HEADLEE: Nicole Austin-Hillery, what do you think here? I mean, does this go into the level of scandal?
AUSTIN-HILLERY: I have to say a resounding no. You know, at the Brennan Center, we deal a lot with voting rights issues. And as a result of that, we deal with voters and people on the ground. And I have to say, what voters most want is an elected official who cares about their issues, and they want someone who they think can relate to their own personal stories and struggles. Her personal story and struggle is intact. Yes, perhaps she was not as detailed in explaining the specifics of her personal experience, but none of the underlying facts changed.
She is a single mother. She was a single mother. She went to Harvard Law School. She was raising her child alone. And she did have some struggles. I think that's the thing that's compelling and that's going to still resonate with voters and make voters interested in her. I, frankly, don't think that voters are so concerned about the nitty-gritty details of how accurate it was, as long as she was telling the truth. And she was telling the truth about her experience. And I think that's what's going to connect with voters.
HEADLEE: DeBora, what do you think about this? These are just small details that in the end, won't matter in the voting booth?
DEBORA RICKS: I think it does make a difference. I think that she's a lawyer. She knows that she needs to use precise language. And I think that voters will forgive her in the end because she fudged just a bit - the truth. She was a struggling mother. But I think that in the beginning, right now, voters will hold it against her. In the long run, I think she should just apologize and move forward.
HEADLEE: All right, so it's also alleged that her ex-husband won custody of their teenage daughter after they divorced, in 2005. And during that time, Davis paid him child support. And as Connie mentioned, a number of conservatives have jumped all over this. But I wonder, Bridget, if you think that this is a double standard at play; that these are not the kind of things they're saying that would be said about a male?
JOHNSON: There is a - I don't think there's a double standard that comes into play when you're talking about the fuzzy details.
JOHNSON: If anybody fudged them - this is the era of social media - you get caught. Where I do think the double standard comes into play is with the custody and the adultery allegations.
HEADLEE: These attacks on her as a mom.
JOHNSON: If a male doesn't get custody of his kids, it doesn't get a second look. If he commits adultery, it gets maybe a third look. But if it's a female, she's painted really horribly because of it. What I do think that she should have done in this - and I agree with the part about it being a novice mistake - is saying, I embellished, I'm sorry. Last night, she went on kind of a Twitter rant about it and, you know, going off on people as her enemies for pursuing this and said, you know, I don't, you know - Abbott and his allies don't understand stories of struggle. Well, she said that to a paraplegic man. That was not in good taste, at this point in the campaign.
HEADLEE: Got to be careful of the Twitter.
JOHNSON: So yeah. So she needs to kind of stop this in its tracks...
JOHNSON: ...And say...
JOHNSON: I embellished. I'm sorry. Let's move on. Let's talk about issues.
HEADLEE: Connie, you had something to add before we move on?
SCHULTZ: I want us to be careful about the term "won custody." I believe she did not contest custody. Is that correct? It sounded like she had agreed that the best place for her younger daughter was to stay with her ex-husband during that time. And she...
HEADLEE: That's what I read as well...
HEADLEE: ...That she was in financial straits. Yeah.
SCHULTZ: Right. And, you know, there are many, many - I've written about this, in the past. There are mothers who make these choices, and they do it because they're putting their children first.
SCHULTZ: And I just think that's really important to emphasize in this - and in any discussion about her. And she does need to stay away from Twitter when she's upset. Understandably, she's worked up. She seems...
HEADLEE: That also seems to be another novice mistake, to my mind. Tell your candidates...
HEADLEE: ...Stay off the Twitter.
SCHULTZ: Stay away.
HEADLEE: Well, but since we're talking about double standards, let's talk about Alabama State University's first female president, Gwendolyn Boyd. That appointment, though, has come with some troubling, perhaps, troubling conditions in her contract. It says in her contract that she has to move into the president's quarters on campus. And it also says that as long as she is single, unmarried and president of the school, she is not allowed to, quote, "cohabitate in the president's residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation," unquote.
There has been speculation about whether that is about overnight guests, or maybe if she decided to live with a fiance or boyfriend. And Nicole, we're not entirely sure if the stipulation was also made for male presidents of the university. But at this point, sources say they're not aware of any similar contractual obligations in any other contracts. So can we call this a double standard?
AUSTIN-HILLERY: We can not only call it a double standard but if that's the case - that there was no precedent for this, and that no male predecessor had had similar language in his contract - we can also possibly call it illegal.
HEADLEE: Gender discrimination.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: Gender discrimination. You know, in my former life, I was an employment discrimination attorney, and this is the kind of thing that I saw in cases all the time. You know, certainly, they are a private university. They have the right to set certain standards for their university housing. However, you cannot have one set of standards for female presidents, and another set of standards for male presidents. That certainly runs afoul of Title VII, and the laws that protect and require gender equity.
Not only that, I'm also curious as to whether the university has similar policies with respect to its other housing. You know, are they requiring female students on campus as well to adhere to these same kinds of standards? Are they asking male students to adhere to these kind of standards? I really want to have a better understanding of what the genesis of this is because frankly, it's - as I said - not only possibly illegal, but it's quite antiquated.
HEADLEE: Right. And we - I should re-emphasize - we don't know. It has not been confirmed whether that's ever been a contractual obligation. But let me take this to you, DeBora. You have a law degree as well, I understand. She signed the contract. Should the rest of us be worried about it?
RICKS: Not really. My daughter attends Howard University and quite frankly, I'm not too disturbed about the agreement that Gwendolyn Boyd made. If she - she's an adult. And I learned this in law school - when it comes to contracts, if you can consent as an adult to something, then she has a right to say, yeah, I'll take that $300,000, and I will not have anybody stay over with me. I am concerned - if a male president would be given some other privileges, I would be concerned about that, yes. But I think she gets to say yes to this, and we shouldn't be concerned about it, if it's not illegal.
HEADLEE: Let me take that same question to you, Connie Schultz, 'cause - and let me quote Gwendolyn Boyd herself. When she was questioned about this, she says, quote, "I can read. I read my contract thoroughly. I knew what I was signing, and I have no issue with it at all." So Connie, what do you think? Should we be concerned for her?
SCHULTZ: The feminist in me says that she's a grown-up and she is capable of making her own decisions. I think her sex life is a whole lot of none of my business nor the university's. I find the provision unsettling. I'm glad we're having a conversation about it. But bottom line is, she agreed to it, and she's capable of doing that. And I respect her ability to make her own decisions.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: The one concern I have is this - and I agree with, you know, with my colleagues here that yes, she is an adult and she can make her own decisions. But I have a larger concern, and that is that we don't want to have a standard put in place that will have an impact that will be far-reaching beyond her tenure as president. I'm not just concerned about what kind of contract is in place for her. I'm concerned about what kinds of standards are going to be put in place for future female presidents.
HEADLEE: At any university.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: At any university. So that's the larger public policy concern that I have here.
SCHULTZ: Good point.
HEADLEE: If you're just joining us, we're in the Beauty Shop. We're catching up on this week's hot topics with columnist Connie Schultz, producer DeBora Ricks, journalist Bridget Johnson, and you just heard from Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center. Let's move on. There was a survey recently, which I called, like, the no-duh survey, that childless couples may have the best relationships and more happiness. The Open University, in the United Kingdom, conducted a survey of more than 5,000 people from diverse backgrounds of both race and class. They found childless men and women say they're more satisfied with their relationships, and feel more valued by their partners. Let's start with you, Bridget. You're not a mother, but what did you think about - I mean, no-duh, or is this revealing?
JOHNSON: No, I actually thought it was pretty on target; you know, in the sense that a parent might sink all their energy into their kids, how much is left to nurture their relationship? But I think where a lot of this, in the survey, might be coming from is, you know, I'm in my late 30s. I see, you know, friends - both male and female - eager to get married, just get married, to have some kids. You know, the clock is ticking. So I think it depends on why you got married. If you got married just to have kids, then the husband becomes the guy taking out the trash instead of your lover and best friend.
HEADLEE: Right. And I should point out, DeBora, the survey found that women are happier with kids, but not happier with their relationships if they have kids. Is that an important distinction, you think? DeBora?
RICKS: I think so. But it does make sense to me that couples would be happier with each other if there aren't any children because I think too often - particularly women, we sometimes lose sight of our partners when we have children just because they do need a lot of time. So I think couples who can devote most of their time away from their work to each other, they're likely to be happier 'cause you don't have that, quote-unquote, "distraction" of tending to children. But I think it depends, also, on worldview. If my worldview is that having children enhances my life, and I have a partner who also feels that way, I think we are likely to be as happy as the couple who wants no children.
I think it's about being on the same page. Do we want the same things, and are we getting the same things in this relationship? So I kind of - I rather disagree that they're going to be happier just because they don't have children. I think it's about what do we have in common, and are we getting what we want from this relationship?
HEADLEE: Right. Well, let me point out, you know, Connie, one of my reactions was - you know, I didn't - it wasn't about happiness, for me. I mean, there is a deeper purpose in life other than just being happy all the time. I wonder what you took away from this.
SCHULTZ: When I heard about it, I couldn't help but think how happiness is a moving target.
SCHULTZ: And when I was a young mother, on the day that I could shower early and got a full night's sleep, I loved my children; I loved my life. On the mornings when I didn't sleep, and I was nursing and felt like I had land air missiles parked on my chest, I was not in a good mood, and I did not love my life. And that could have all happened in the same week, you know. So I always find these surveys, these studies, a little - I don't know. I approach with a great deal of skepticism because how we define happiness...
SCHULTZ: ...changes regularly.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: And I agree that happiness is a moving target. I also think the one deficiency in this survey is that it should have broken it down based on, are you happy when they're at this stage of life?
AUSTIN-HILLERY: Are you happy when they're teenagers? Because as someone who is a step-grandmother and my teenage step-granddaughter's about to turn 16, let me tell you, I - I'm always saying to her, life was so wonderful when you were like, 2 and - you know, and I could guide you and tell you everything to do. And you were completely malleable. And now that you have opinions - and you know, both my husband and I are attorneys. So she herself feels like she's a junior attorney, and so we have lots of debates. So it really does matter...
HEADLEE: Oh, that sounds like a nightmare.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: ...at what point of your child's development are you asking that question? I think then, you might get different answers.
HEADLEE: That's a good point. Well, we only have a couple minutes left, but I wanted to get your guys' reactions to Seattle Seahawks - they defeated the San Francisco 49ers over the weekend for the NFC Championship. But the biggest headlines might have come after the game when Richard Sherman, the cornerback, said this...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICHARD SHERMAN: Well, I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me!
ERIN ANDREWS: Who was talking about you?
SHERMAN: Crabtree. Don't you open your mouth about the best, or I'm going to shut it for you real quick. L.O.B.
HEADLEE: (Laughter) Well, let's do a lightning round here. Bridget, what do you think here? Should he have apologized? He did apologize. Should he have?
JOHNSON: Yeah, you're starting with a diehard Niners fan here.
JOHNSON: So first of all, he's not better than Michael Crabtree. But so - I'm kind of inclined to disagree with whatever Pete Carroll says 'cause I'm also a UCLA fan. But I like the fact that Pete Carroll took him aside and said look, this took away from your team's victory.
JOHNSON: It was all that people were concentrating on after this happened.
HEADLEE: It's true.
JOHNSON: And the win was more about him.
JOHNSON: And the best team leaders know that. You know, you had Colin Kaepernick - favoritism again here...
JOHNSON: ...coming and saying the loss was my fault.
HEADLEE: Right. All right. So Nicole, what do you think?
AUSTIN-HILLERY: You know, first of all, these are men who are in a sport that's all about competition. It's all about having confidence, sometimes over-confidence.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: And so I think that's part of what was displayed there.
HEADLEE: Amped up on adrenaline. Yeah.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: But the thing that's really concerning me more is the way in which he's been portrayed in the media. I think there is a double standard, a clear disparity, in the ways in which African-American athletes are often portrayed when they sometimes show bravado, when they sometimes, you know, are overly confident. And I think that's the real issue here. You know, why is it that in some articles, he's being called a thug?
AUSTIN-HILLERY: Why is he being portrayed in this negative light? It should not - that should not be the conversation...
AUSTIN-HILLERY: ...Because I certainly think that if it was a player of a different race, that the reaction might be different.
HEADLEE: You could be right. Connie and DeBora, let's get your reactions real quick here. Connie?
SCHULTZ: I, especially - beyond the racist attacks on him, I mean, it was bad behavior. But for those who are questioning how he could possibly - could have gone to Stanford and acted like that, I've know many Ivy League graduates who have...
HEADLEE: How'd he get into Stanford?
SCHULTZ: ...the emotional maturity of a middle schooler.
SCHULTZ: So I don't think this is a measure of his academic ability or his intellect. I just think he needs to reign it in.
SCHULTZ: It really, in this conversation, Part 2...
SCHULTZ: ...of hold your tongue.
HEADLEE: OK. DeBora - that was Connie Schultz there, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. And DeBora Ricks, executive producer of "The Anthony McCarthy Show." That's on member station WEAA. She joined us from WYPR in Baltimore. Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Washington, D.C. office at the Brennan Center for Justice. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media. They both joined me here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Thanks to you all.
JOHNSON: All right, thanks so much.
AUSTIN-HILLERY: My pleasure.
SCHULTZ: Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.