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New York Times Goes Mild on Insult of Ann Romney: 'Some Women saw an Opportunity Squandered'

Friday's New York Times portrayed Obama supporter Hilary Rosen's gaffe on CNN Wednesday night, when she accused Mitt Romney's wife Ann of having "never worked a day in her life," as less of a Democratic fumble and more of a pox-on-both-their-houses moment for both presidential campaigns.

The story came at an awkward moment for the paper, which prominently played up Mitt Romney's alleged woes with women voters on Thursday's front page: "Romney Taking Steps to Narrow His Gender Gap." And the paper has constantly insisted that the issues of birth control access and abortion would hurt the GOP in 2012.

In contrast, Friday's story on Rosen's insult was buried on page A18 in the New York late edition. It made the front page of the National edition, in inconspicious fashion, three paragraphs on the front before the jump page. (The failed North Korea rocket test knocked it off the front in New York.)

"Collision Over Roles of Women Sets Off Combative Debate Along the Trail," by Michael Shear and Susan Saulny, didn't portray Rosen's offensive comments as a harmful gaffe revealing what liberals think of stay at home moms, but as merely reviving a debate "about the roles of women in and out of the workplace."

The campaign for the White House spilled into the politics of motherhood on Thursday as a combative back-and-forth involving a Democratic strategist and Mitt Romney’s wife quickly revived a deeper, decades-old cultural debate about the roles of women in and out of the workplace.

The strategist, Hilary Rosen, who has some ties to President Obama, apologized Thursday afternoon to Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mother of five, after setting off a firestorm on Twitter and cable news programs by saying that Mrs. Romney had “never worked a day in her life.”

By the end of Thursday, the most prominent voices in Washington had weighed in, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the first lady, Michelle Obama, and the president himself, who said that there is “no tougher job than being a mom” and that anyone who thinks otherwise “needs to rethink their statement.”

Moving quickly to smooth the partisan edges off the insult, the Times found respondents who condemned the debate in general, not Rosen's comments in particular:

But women of various political ideologies who said in interviews that they had struggled with how to balance work, family and society’s inevitable judgments, largely disapproved of the debate’s tone, calling it demeaning and superficial, even as the issue remains as timely a conversation as ever.

“I’m not a Mitt Romney supporter, but I think the comments about his wife were petty and unfair,” said Beth Shelton, 33, a property manager and mother who described herself as a moderate independent voter. “I was a stay-at-home mom for nine years. Working at home is hard. Working at an office is hard. There’s no way to say what’s easier. That’s not the point.”

Ms. Shelton continued: “There are a lot of real issues right now with Republicans and women, things having to do with birth control and women’s health care. There are more important things to be talking about having to do with supporting families, from a woman’s perspective.”

Other women echoed those sentiments.

The Times finally got around to surveying the political damage for the Democrats in paragraph 19 of 24, but even then the paper concluded with the mild reproof that "some women saw an opportunity squandered."

Mr. Obama’s top political advisers moved rapidly to distance him from Ms. Rosen, noting that she is not a paid adviser to the campaign or to the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Obama’s most senior campaign aides posted on Twitter their outrage at Ms. Rosen’s comments moments after she made them.

“I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly,” said Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager. “Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize.”

Ms. Rosen is a managing director at the political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, one of whose founders, Anita Dunn, was a senior adviser to Mr. Obama and, this year, to the Democratic National Committee.

Officials of the Democratic Party said Ms. Rosen had had no formal advisory role, though she had attended some meetings informally. A prominent Democrat in Washington, Ms. Rosen has been a repeat visitor to Mr. Obama’s White House.

By the end of the day, as dueling Twitter messages and cable news debate continued, some women saw an opportunity squandered.

“It’s hard to believe that after all these years we’re still debating,” said Karen Davidson, 65, a jewelry designer who started her own business shortly after being fired from a retail job by a male boss who objected to her being visibly pregnant around customers. “Work is work.”