NOW what are you thinking?

The National Organization for Women leaps to the defense of dubious attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro in the name of womankind.

Published September 29, 2006 5:08PM (EDT)

Excuse me, National Organization for Women, I don't mean to be rude, but are you on crack?

Every once in a while, you've got to wonder what the big-name women's rights organizations are smoking. Last week, Katha Pollitt questioned NARAL Pro-Choice America's election endorsements in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and today I am questioning NOW's crazy-ass defense of New York state attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro, who's being investigated for plotting to illegally wiretap her husband. Unbelievably, NOW's New York chapter president, Marcia Pappas, announced yesterday that the organization "completely" supports Pirro, and that authorities are "targeting her because she is a woman."

That's crap. Earlier this week it was revealed that Pirro has been investigated by the feds for talking to former New York police commissioner and disgraced nominee for secretary of homeland security Bernard Kerik about her husband's infidelity. Pirro's husband is himself a real winner, who was jailed for 11 months in 2000 for federal tax evasion. Kerik, meanwhile, recently pleaded guilty to accepting illegal gifts from firms with Mob ties. But the Kerik-Pirro conversations in question, leaked from sealed court documents that were part of a federal investigation into Kerik's activities, took place when Pirro contacted Kerik, then a private security consultant, to discuss the possibility of secretly taping her husband, whom she believed was cheating on her. Recording conversations to which you are not a party is a violation of state and federal law.

Some of the language surrounding the case has been of the woman-scorned, irrational-bitch variety, sure. But who, exactly, is to blame for that? In part, Pirro herself, who defended her sketchy conversations by saying, "I was a very angry woman, and I said a lot of things" -- as if affronted femininity goes hand in hand with unethical, immoral and potentially illegal behavior. What NOW should be concerned about is the fact that it's Pirro who has decided to degrade her gender by blaming her own bad judgment on the fact that she was "an angry woman." It also makes Pirro's posturing about how "the rules are different for women" and how that by staying in the race (against the better judgment of everybody with two brain cells to rub together) she's actually "standing up for women" more loathsome.

It certainly is true that the rules are different for women, but it undermines actual complaints about inequity when people apply that thinking to situations in which the rules are blatantly not different for women. When it comes to movie-of-the-week marital scandal, actual dirty-underwear infidelity stories, women are often no more vulnerable to a ravening press than men. Pirro should be aware of that, since her phone buddy Kerik saw not only his illegal business practices but his simultaneous extramarital affairs with two women dissected for the pleasure of the reading public. It may not be classy, it may not be fair, and it may get sold in different language when it's about a woman, but the public gutting of the bad marriages of public figures is not a gender-specific event.

As for Pappas' comment that Pirro is being "targeted" because she is female: bullshit. First of all, Pirro wasn't being "targeted" at all. Kerik was. The man is nationally famous for being one of New York's dingiest denizens. And everyone knows it. And everyone knew it in 2005. And Pirro called him anyway, and asked him about doing something illegal. How about targeting Pirro for being stupid? I could get behind that.

But it's a serious point that this all came out of a federal investigation into whether Kerik had accepted free home renovation services from contractors who possibly had Mob ties during his tenure as police commissioner. It just so happened to turn up the state attorney general candidate's asking him to do more illegal stuff.

Which brings us to the part about how Pirro is a former Westchester County prosecutor who is trying to sell herself to voters as a candidate for the state attorney general and she was caught asking Captain Scuzzball about the possibility of doing something that would violate state and federal law. That's the kind of thing that should, in fact, have an impact on her candidacy for the top legal job in New York.

She didn't actually commit the crime? Good for her! So don't put her in jail. The leaking of this squalid little tale comes from her dirty-pool-playing opponent Andrew Cuomo? Sounds plausible. So investigate that. You want to have a fight about whether this is an invasion of privacy? Go ahead.

But don't make this a story about the unjust treatment Pirro's getting because she's female. It's disrespectful and damaging to everyone who does encounter gender injustice. Sometimes it's not about being a woman. Sometimes it's just about being an asshole.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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