Crain's NY Business
Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and Mayor Mike Bloomberg's announcement this week that they would devote funding to help students who flunked the recalibrated state tests was not sufficient to repair Black's image, according to experts in political communications and marketing. They said Black is in danger of being identified by two unscripted comments—her joking request for birth control to help reduce school overcrowding and a remark that budget cuts are “Sophie's choices,” a reference to a film where a mother must choose which of her children will die in a Nazi concentration camp.
“She needs a makeover,” said one consultant with experience in crisis management. “It's more than one quip that went flat. It suggests a nervousness and a lack of comfort in dealing with media scrutiny of this kind, and a bit of tone deafness for the electorate.”
The comments seemed to legitimize a criticism of Black that went beyond her lack of education credentials—namely, that she has “such a corporate mentality” and would struggle with public discourse, the expert said.
Another political consultant said, “She needs to positively distinguish herself with something, or she'll wind up on the discount rack very quickly.” Unlike her predecessor, Joel Klein, the lead prosecutor in the Microsoft anti-trust case, Black did not enter the job with her own brand because the general public was unfamiliar with her career in magazine publishing, the consultant said. Rather, she was introduced by the media as someone who is “under the Bloomberg marquee and throws good parties.”
“She was a public relations disaster from day one,” a third consultant said. “The only bright side of the birth control comment is that it distracts from the fact that she has no ties to the school system. However, it reinforces a perception that she is an out-of-touch dilettante.”
In a Crain's online poll this week asking if people had a right to be upset by Black's comments, 70% said yes.
Cathie Black's comment on taking birth control to curb schools' overcrowding keeps the New York City media busy. This is good, because maybe she will take the high road and resign. Mr. Harvey (Cathie Black's husband), can't you convince her of this?
What bothers me soooo much about her appointment is that in addition to her not being an educator and not having a Masters Degree as the position requires, she seems to not really care that she is so wrong for the position. I dont see a social (and I dont mean "party") conscience.
However, she has Mike Bloomberg at her side, and the "arrogance of immunity" allows them to be as sarcastic as they want. We, the general public cannot allow this and must continue to hold her accountable for her actions.
|Cathie Black and her husband Tom Harvey|
by NAYABA ARINDE, Amsterdam News Editor, January 20, 2011 12:05 AM EST
Parents, educators and elected officials gathered at the Department of Education HQ at the Tweed Building on Tuesday to denounce the birth control gaffe made by controversial Schools Chancellor Cathie Black.
Apparently, Black, a mother of two, objects to fruitful loins in the inner city. Last Thursday night, speaking at a taskforce meeting about overcrowded classes at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Downtown Manhattan office, Black quipped, “Could we just have some birth control for a while? It would really help us.”
To what appeared to be nervous laughter, Black compounded the faux pas by adding that concerned parents are faced with “many ‘Sophie’s choices,’” referencing a movie where a mother has to make a choice regarding handing one of her two children over to the Nazis.
“She made a joke,” declared staunch defenders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who aggressively ushered in the unqualified, waiver-requiring former chairwoman of Hearst Magazines into the position that heads the city’s 1,700 schools, with their 1.1 million public school students.
Running interference on Tuesday at her first press conference since the comment, Bloomberg answered 13 of 15 questions asked of his schools chancellor, and then butted in again when she was asked about her birth control remark.
“Let me say it for her. Yes, she made a joke,” Bloomberg insisted for the umpteenth time in the wake of this latest controversy. He had made the same defense after he was booed at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day celebration at the National Action Network on Monday.
As Bloomberg and Black held Tuesday’s news conference at the Department of Education, regarding the city seeking $10 million to fund programs for students in need of additional tutoring, Bloomberg said, “She made a joke. Should she [have] made the joke? In retrospect, probably not.”
Council Member Jumaane Williams called Black’s comment “simply astounding. Given the history of government-sanctioned sterilization programs and medical experimentation on communities of color and the large numbers of students of color in the New York City school system, the statement shows an unacceptable level of insensitivity.”
While the Department of Education did not respond to an AmNews request for comment, they did issue a statement last week saying, “Chancellor Black takes the issue of overcrowding very seriously, which is why she was engaged in a discussion with lower Manhattan parents on the subject. She regrets if she left a different impression by making an off-handed joke in the course of that conversation.”
At a rally at the Tweed Building on Tuesday, Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron wasn’t buying it, “Once again she has shown that her inexperience and the fact that she is unqualified does not bode well for the public school students of this city. Bloomberg should admit that his choice was the wrong choice, and Cathie Black should resign immediately. Her comments are blatantly ignorant and racist.”
Barron said, “Our children’s future is not to be played with. A child dies in ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ Those comments and references are no laughing matter.”
Council Member Leticia James said in a statement that “within a week of Cathie Black taking over for former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, she has already shown her lack of experience in the field,” and called her statements “simply irresponsible.” She added, “By stating birth control is a ‘simple solution’ to overcrowding, it implies that the birth rate is the only contributor to the overcrowding in schools; not the lack of funding for public school education and the continual closure of schools, specifically in urban neighborhoods. Mass entry of students into the public school system from private and parochial schools, the extensive unemployment rate and poor economy over the past few years may also play a role in overcrowding. Other reasons could be an increase in population due to relocation from other states or countries, as well as new housing developments being built throughout the city.”
“Wealthy families are not concerned about overcrowding, so Cathy Black was obviously talking about people in the lower income bracket in a city where 85 percent of the students are Black or Latino—so she means us,” said Barron, who hosted two rallies protesting Black’s remarks. “She’s not telling rich white people to have fewer children. Are we about to hear about eugenicist William Shockley or former Education Secretary William Bennett, who said that the crime rate could be reduced by aborting ‘every Black baby in this country’? It is a slippery slope when you start talking about birth control and ‘Sophie’s Choice’ with reference to overcrowded classrooms, but ignore the real factors like funding, the lack of resources and the hijacking of public schools by charter schools, and treating New York City public schools like a for-profit business for Bloomberg and his cronies.”
“Like many New Yorkers, I cringed when I heard that Schools Chancellor Cathie Black offered a smug reply…in response to the genuine concern about the overcrowded classroom situation in our public schools,” said State Sen. Reverend Ruben Diaz. “Given her attitude, can we expect that Cathie Black will be holding parent-teacher meetings where she will advocate for parents to either stop having sex, or to embrace abortion and sterilization as a solution to school overcrowding?”
As the president of Hearst Magazines, Cathie Black oversees a long list of titles including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, O, Redbook, and Town & Country.
A native of Chicago, Black moved to Manhattan after college, determined to land a job in publishing. When she was offered a sales assistant job with Condé Nast, she turned it down, taking a position at a travel magazine called Holiday instead because it paid $30 more a week. By 1972, Black had moved on to Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine, where her success selling ads attracted the attention of Rupert Murdoch, who owned New York at the time. Murdoch lured her away from Ms. with the promise that he'd make her New York's publisher if she proved herself as associate publisher first. That she did—and in 1979 Black became the first ever female publisher of a weekly consumer magazine.
In 1983, Black left New York and took the job of president at USA Today, which had been founded a year earlier. She eventually moved up to publisher of the Gannett-owned paper and helped turn it into a household name during her eight-year tenure. Following a stint running industry trade group the Newspaper Association of America, she joined Hearst in 1995.
Dubbed "The First Lady of American Magazines" during Hearst's impressive growth spurt in the late 1990s, Black hasn't enjoyed quite as much success in recent years. The magazine industry is struggling and the ad market is challenged, and although she's had at least one big successful launch—Oprah's O—she's had more flops, including Lifetime, Shop Etc., and, perhaps most memorably, Tina Brown's Talk, produced in partnership with Harvey Weinstein and Bob Weinstein's Miramax.
Black has been busy bolstering the titles in the Hearst portfolio that are flagging, including the Joanna Coles-helmed Marie Claire and Harper's Bazaar, edited by Glenda Bailey. Black's also tried to curb costs—she cut out the $500,000 a year once spent on flowers, for example. But at least Hearst employees get to toil in nice new digs: At the end of 2006, they moved into a gleaming new office building in Midtown, a 46-story tower designed by Sir Norman Foster.
On the job
Until 2008, Black reported to Victor Ganzi, Hearst's CEO. (Ganzi has since resigned and was replaced by Frank Bennack as interim CEO.) In 2006, she tapped Ellen Levine to serve as Hearst's editorial director and help her oversee the 19 titles. Just a few of the editors who work under Black and Levine: Rosemary Ellis, the editor of Good Housekeeping; Esquire's David Granger; Glenda Bailey of Harper's Bazaar; and Pamela Fiori of Town & Country. One person Black no longer has to deal with is Atoosa Rubenstein, who left Seventeen in 2006 and was replaced by Ann Shoket.
Her book Basic Black, a "memoir masquerading as a guide to career and life," was published in October 2007.