William Safire asserted as fact in his October 18 New York Times op-ed column that Senator John Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, as a lesbian during the final presidential debate was orchestrated by "members of Kerry's debate preparation team." Safire provided no evidence to support this claim, and in the same edition of the paper, reporter Adam Nagourney provided contradictory evidence:
Mr. Kerry's aides said the remark was neither the result of political calculation nor meant unkindly, insisted that it had been a spontaneous response to a question and noted that Mr. Cheney himself had brought the subject up earlier this year.
Mr. Kerry's aides said his comment was not part of a big political plan, and two officials who attended debate preparations said they had not heard the subject of Ms. Cheney come up.
Two days earlier, Times reporter Jodi Wilgoren had written about a similar denial from the Kerry-Edwards '04 campaign, which addressed both Kerry's October 13 mention of Cheney and Senator John Edwards's mention of her during the October 5 vice presidential debate:
Mr. Kerry's aides said they had not discussed the merits of mentioning Ms. Cheney in preparing him for questions about same-sex marriage, and denied that having both men on their ticket raise her sexuality in the debate was intended either to unsettle the opposition or alienate the Republicans' conservative base.
"There was no goal and there was no strategy beyond, I think, complimenting the Cheneys for being good parents," said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry spokesman who was involved in debate preparations. "There were dozens and dozens of hours about how to discuss Social Security, Iraq and other issues. There was no discussion of this."
Knight Ridder Newspapers' Jim Puzzanghera also reported on October 15 that "[a] senior Kerry adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because the campaign didn't want to fan publicity on this topic" said that Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney "was not a prepared riff."
Safire went on to claim that before Edwards mentioned Mary Cheney's sexual orientation in the vice presidential debate, "only political junkies knew" that she was gay. When Dick Cheney spoke of his "gay daughter" earlier in the year, Safire wrote, "the press - respecting family privacy - had properly not made it a big deal. The percentage of voters aware of Mary Cheney's sexual orientation was tiny." But a Media Matters for America search of the Nexis "All News" database for mentions of Cheney's "gay daughter" ("Cheney" within 20 words of "gay daughter") prior to the October 5 vice presidential debate returned 432 results. As Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote in his October 15 "Media Notes" column, the fact that Mary Cheney is a lesbian "was hardly a state secret."