The Media’s Wendy Davis Bias

by Andrew Stiles
Her gaffes don’t get the attention accorded other politicians’ missteps.

Wendy Davis had a feisty response to a Dallas Morning News article this week that exposed factual inaccuracies in the up-by-her-bootstraps narrative she’d told about being a single mother.

Anyone who questions her life story, Davis said in a statement, clearly “hasn’t walked a day in my shoes” and, she later tweeted, is “completely out of touch  with the struggles” Texans face.

Abbott, her likely opponent in this year’s gubernatorial election is a paraplegic who has been confined to a wheelchair for nearly three decades after a falling oak tree crushed his spine while he was out for a jog.

Davis gaffed. In a statement that was presumably vetted by multiple staffers, her campaign managed to include the one phrase that, given the circumstances, should be avoided at all costs — an unfortunate mistake.

At least, that is the more charitable explanation Davis and her campaign can fully expect to be granted, in the unlikely event that anyone outside the conservative media deems it newsworthy. And there’s nothing particularly menacing or conspiratorial about that — it was only a gaffe.

However, many conservatives would argue a Republican politician in similar circumstances would not be let off the hook so easily. As a Democrat and darling of the Left, Davis can rest assured that media outlets won’t wonder aloud whether her apparent gaffe is indicative of callous indifference toward the disabled.

No one will question why Davis, in a subsequent campaign letter, continued her ill-phrased attack on Abbott, saying he would try to “slam the doors I walked through and pull up the ladders I was lucky to be able to climb.” Or ask why her liberal defenders echo these “coded” attacks by describing Davis as someone who “has repeatedly shown that she stands up against those who don’t think she deserves to succeed.” What else, after all, could explain the obsession with her pink running shoes? Why revel in this perverse celebration of her able-bodiedness?

As ridiculous as that sounds, consider the media’s treatment of Mitt Romney’s infamous gaffes. His “binders full of women” comment wasn’t merely awkward phrasing on the candidate’s part, it was much more significant than that. It meant something. As The Atlantic helpfully explained: “Romney’s turn of phrase wasn’t just a Tumblr waiting to be born, it was an insight into his views on the importance of promoting women.” Romney had “confirmed many people’s worst fears” about his attitudes toward women, the Guardian claimed. “It wasn’t just a gaffe: it was a Freudian slip, a filibuster and a falsehood.”

There was also his tactless remark about his lack of concern for the “very poor,” which was instantly stripped of its context and replayed in countless Obama attack ads. Pundits lined up to deconstruct (or un-gaffe) the gaffe. “[Romney] has claimed that he didn’t mean what he seemed to mean, and that his words were taken out of context,” Paul Krugman wrote. “But he quite clearly did mean what he said.” Andrew Riggio of Yahoo! News agreed. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking Romney just chose his words poorly,” Riggio warned. “His record and platform show his loyalty lies with his ultra-rich cronies and massive corporations — not with regular folks. It was already clear Romney wasn’t concerned with the poor.”

Wendy Davis can rest assured knowing that the media will treat her as it has Joe Biden, whose innumerable gaffes are consistently shrugged off as “Joe being Joe.” But it’s hard to imagine the media being so forgiving of a Republican politician who frequently mixes up the names of senators and foreign countries, who described his opponent as “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” and who once told an Indian-American supporter that, in Biden’s home state of Delaware, “You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” Would the media be similarly amused at the thought of Greek diners being greeted by “Ted Cruzopoulos”? Probably not.

Biden, like Davis, hasn’t always been factually accurate when describing his past. But he did face a fair amount of criticism during his bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, and ultimately dropped his bid. Davis, on the other, should be just fine. She’s running against a Republican.

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.

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