The Dallas Morning News is getting attention today after publishing a piece criticizing gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis for lying under oath about being divorced at 19. (The newspaper points out she was actually 21.) Its author, the veteran Texas political writer Wayne Slater, is also critical about the amount of time she spent in living in the trailer park. (According to the piece, it was only a few months and thus somehow negates the fact that she was a poor single mother living in a trailer park.)
Though The New York Times published a piece in September that also pointed out that Davis was at least 20 when she split from her first husband, that piece failed to pack the punch that the Morning News' senior political writer brought to his article.
Perhaps the Times piece didn't garner the attention that the Morning News has because it didn't take the opportunity to paint a portrait of Davis as a money-hungry, opportunistic sugar baby who rode her husband's money from the trailer park to Harvard to the state house.
While he concedes that "there’s no question Davis struggled financially" in her childhood, joining the workforce at 14 in order to help her mother, Slater still manages to portray Davis as an opportunistic twentysomething, aggressively pursuing an older man after her first marriage disintegrated. "A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter," writes Slater.
From there, Jeff Davis is portrayed as a feeble stepping stone, an old man (he was an ancient 34 years old when they married) who existed to pay the bills and play nursemaid while Wendy Davis jetted off to Harvard Law School, leaving her two young daughters behind in Fort Worth.
Jeff Davis paid for her final two years at TCU. “It was community resources. We paid for it together,” Wendy Davis said.
When she was accepted to Harvard Law School, Jeff Davis cashed in his 401(k) account and eventually took out a loan to pay for her final year there.
“I was making really good money then, well over six figures,” he said. “But when you’ve got someone at Harvard, you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got two small kids. The economy itself was marginal. You do what you have to do, no big deal.”
The daughters, then 8 and 2, remained with Jeff Davis in Fort Worth while Wendy Davis was at Harvard.
Jeff Davis is later quoted as saying he made the final payment to Harvard Law the day before his wife moved out of their home, an implication that Wendy Davis scoffs at. And the Dallas Morning News article marches on, continuing its portrait of a bad mom, pointing out numerous times that she gave up parental rights to her second daughter, Dru, during their divorce and using Jeff Davis to get her foot in the door at the Fort Worth City Council. But perhaps the most damaging quote comes from an unnamed former colleague who is quoted as follows,
"Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to give what he called an honest assessment. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.”
Articles like the one that appeared in the Dallas Morning News are hardly new. If you're a woman in politics you're either a power-hungry troll (Hillary) or a bouffant-rocking bimbo (Sarah). But what Slater has managed to do is not only chastise Davis for being ruthlessly ambitious (her intelligence and talent are glossed over — if they're even discussed at all), but make multiple, thinly veiled criticisms of her as a wife and a mother for decisions that she would never be criticized for if she were a man.
In an attempt to make a valid point — that Davis fudged facts in order to craft a better political narrative — The Dallas Morning News crafted a "he said, she said" account told by former spouses, with an unnamed source providing the most powerful punch in the piece. While it remains to be seen just how much damage this will do to the Davis campaign, it will undoubtedly force them to re-examine the message she's touting. But the one of the mother who took the opportunity to go to a prestigious law school, open her own practice and make choices that ultimately worked for her family — that is one they should not abandon.