Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chiara de Blasio : The media hypocrisy of addiction and recovery

Sex and drugs : Personal privacy should matter, but in politics, love affairs and rehab gets manipulated, depending on what there is to gain.

When news broke that mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's spokeswoman, Lis Smith, was having an affair with a married man, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Mr. de Blasio tried to downplay the story. "I respect Lis as a professional," Mr. de Blasio told The New York Daily New, adding, "But I also respect her right to privacy, so I’m not going to get any further into it."

His reaction to Ms. Smith's love affair with a married man contrasted with how the de Blasio campaign reacted to news of former Rep. Anthony Weiner's extramarital sexting.

Indeed, there was a lot of pressure on Mr. Weiner to resign from the mayoral campaign "for the good of the city," in particular from Mr. de Blasio's political operatives.

But Mr. de Blasio is not applying that same standard to Ms. Smith.

A year ago, the reporter Hunter Walker wrote an "exposé" of Mr. de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, who formerly identified as a lesbian in her youth, a time when she also experimented with marijuana.

Even though Mr. Walker was confronted by LGBT activists over his sensational story, he today alluded to possible political motivations would drive the media to attack the sexual proclivities of Ms. Smith, a motivation he never acknowledged about his own article on Ms. McCray. Essentially, all these stories that violate a person's privacy, whether the subject is a politician's wife, his daughter, his spokesperson, or his challengers, call for sensibilities that at the very minimum put into perspective the timing and relevancy of such stories, to at least minimize the sensationalism and to maximize the benefit to the public, if that is the "real motivation" behind these kinds of stories.

Mr. Walker may not have been entirely motivated by malice, perhaps it was only a lack of awareness of his heterosexism. Maybe after LGBT activists confronted him, he may have become aware of the heterosexism bias. There are ways to bring about cultural competency, but when politics is the backdrop, it's difficult to exactly gauge motivations.

Meanwhile, reaction to a controversial column by Andrea Peyser in The New York Post triggered a passionate defense of Ms. Smith that didn't seem to exist for Mr. Weiner.

When former Democratic mayoral primary candidate Christine Quinn confessed to her problems with bulimia and alcoholism, there was a reaction by some to what seemed like a blatant press manipulation play for sympathy by the Quinn campaign.

But when earlier today, the de Blasio campaign put out a video featuring Chiara de Blasio recounting the story of her recovery from depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse, the de Blasio campaign were fully dumping on the public's lap very private details about Miss de Blasio's life.

The contrast between Mr. de Blasio's treatment of his spokesperson and his daughter reveals that when the campaign can milk sympathy from the media, there is no such thing as a right to privacy.

The contrast between the Mr. de Blasio's treatment of his spokesperson and Mr. Weiner reveals that when you can score political points, there is no such thing as a right to privacy.

The contrast between the political response to Ms. Quinn's recovery and Miss de Blasio's recovery reveals that not everybody recovering from addiction will get sympathy.

And the contrasts between Mr. Walker's aggressive treatment of Ms. McCray, the press's hands-off approach to Miss de Blasio's addictions, and an emerging narrative of manipulation in Miss de Blasio's revelations, reveal that the de Blasio family may now be pressuring the media in order to give its own spin to thorny issues.

One troubling aspect with all these stories is that leaders can truly have a positive impact on others, when they take to the news or talk shows to discuss social problems. Ms. Quinn had an undoubtedly positive impact in talking about bulimia and alcoholism that may have changed the course of some peoples lives -- for the better. As Miss de Blasio might have done, as well.

However, it's the situational ethics that lead politicians to scheme and manipulate either political attacks or pleas for sympathy -- each for their own benefit -- that discredit these kinds of stories.

Was the de Blasio camp trying to distract the media from another story by dropping Miss de Blasio's recovery story on Christmas Eve ? One may never know.

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