Land demands apology from Free Press

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is accusing The Detroit Free Press of sexism in a dispute over columnist Brian Dickerson's colorful description of her performance on a radio call-in show.

The dispute ramped up Wednesday when spokeswoman Heather Swift said Land, a Republican, would not meet with the newspaper's editorial board in connection with her U.S. Senate campaign without a formal apology from the newspaper.

"Rather than admit they've demeaned a woman and apologize, the Detroit Free Press has doubled down," Swift said in a statement. "They should stop gaslighting a woman and own up to what they did."

Dickerson wrote that Land's status as a mother of two "came up no fewer than seven times, and twice in one rambling answer to a question about Ebola" during the Oct. 3 Michigan Public Radio Network program. His Oct. 4 column also described Land as "about as accessible up to this point in the campaign as a music video diva recovering from plastic surgery."

Swift also was responding to an interview in which Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson told the Washington, D.C., publication Politico that, after dodging his efforts to arrange for an editorial department endorsement interview for at least a month, Land is now asking for an apology as a condition.

"You will never see us acquiesce to this sort of blackmailing in the way to try and condition an endorsement interview on some sort of effort on our part — that's just not how we do things," Henderson was quoted as telling Politico. "I have never seen a campaign condition an endorsement interview on an apology for a column before. I'm beyond puzzled; mystified would be the right word."

The Land campaign is making an issue out of observations from Dickerson, a Progress Michigan spokesman, and a writer for Crain's Detroit Business about the number of times she mentioned her motherhood on the Oct. 3 radio show. A tweet by Progress Michigan's Sam Inglot suggested a tongue-in-cheek game in which listeners take a drink each time Land said "I'm a mom" or "The president needs to lead" during the show.

In an Oct. 10 conference call set up by the campaign, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Michigan National Committeewoman Ronna Romney McDaniel objected to it as anti-mom rhetoric and sought to link it to the campaign of Land's Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.

But at a campaign rally with first lady Michelle Obama, Peters told The Detroit News he hadn't been aware of the Twitter comments.

"The one thing Terri Land and I agree on is that we are very proud parents," Peters, a father of three, told The News. "I'm a proud father, she's a proud mom and we need to be talking about the issues that are important to the people of Michigan."

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com