New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's April 21 column on President Obama and the blocking of gun safety legislation is drawing no shortage of criticism for its determined obliviousness of how DC politics actually work. Per Dowd, the votes for the Manchin-Toomey expansion of the background check system were there, Obama just needed to take a page from Aaron Sorkin's "The American President" and go on an arm-twisting charm offensive with recalcitrant Republicans and Democrats. Just a few months ago, however, Dowd wrote that Republicans would spend Obama's second term blowing off the White House and reflexively opposing his policy initiatives (including gun safety measures) in order to isolate him politically. She also mocked Obama for saying he would employ the same political tactics she now decries him for not effectively using.
Here's how Dowd saw the Manchin-Toomey debate arriving at a successful conclusion:
It's unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate. It was a glaring example of his weakness in using leverage to get what he wants. No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him.
Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.
The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in "The American President." Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling.
Instead of the pit-bull legislative aides in Aaron Sorkin's movie, Obama has Miguel Rodriguez, an arm-twister so genteel that The Washington Post's Philip Rucker wrote recently that no one in Congress even knows who he is.
Dowd even singled out some blue-state Republican senators whom she thought might have been vulnerable to the Sorkin-esque strategy: "He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this." She also picked out Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) as someone who could have been swayed by a sweet-talking from Obama. But Dowd herself previously derided the idea that such tactics would be effective.
With Politico announcing that even "average Americans" are consumed with the question of whether Hillary Clinton will be running for president 40 months from now, the Beltway press corps has officially slipped into Hillary Watch mode. It's a mostly lazy and pointless variety of speculation that requires very little work and produces even less insight.
In fact, perhaps the only telling trait that's been highlighted came via longtime Clinton hater Maureen Dowd, who signaled in her New York Times column on Sunday that she's committed to rewriting the history of her 2008 campaign coverage. I assume Dowd won't be alone as pundits scramble in the face of Clinton's rising popularity to whitewash the extraordinary venom they unleashed on her during her last White House run.
When not detailing Hillary's "hot pink jacket" and new hairstyle, Dowd in her weekend column wondered whether voters will see a new and improved candidate in 2012, one without the "foolery" of 2008, as the headline put it.
"Foolery," as in Clinton acting with ambition and wanting to be taken seriously as a national leader. "Foolery," as in Clinton representing an historic female figure on the campaign trail. (Dowd hated that in 2008: "Hillary often aims to use gender to her advantage, or to excuse mistakes.")
A sizable portion of the D.C. punditocracy, led by Dowd, lost its collective mind covering the Clintons five years ago. They were so far gone that the former first lady's coverage at times represented a house of mirrors featuring manufactured smears and controversies. (See here, here and here.)
And oh yeah, the sexism.
But that's not to be acknowledged now, especially as pundits pass their time "analyzing" Clinton's future. See, according to Dowd it's not the press that needs to learn from its monumental mistakes in 2008, it's Clinton.
Reports by major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and CNN, are giving credence to Republicans' baseless attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice over statements she made in September appearances on Sunday morning political shows regarding an attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, Rice's remarks were based on the intelligence available at the time, and commentators from across the political spectrum agree that the attacks on Rice are inaccurate and driven by partisanship.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd defied her own paper's reporting to hype false Republican attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice.
Dowd devoted much of her November 27 column to quoting questions Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) had for Rice -- who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and is rumored to be a possible nominee to become the next secretary of state -- regarding statements Rice made during September appearances on Sunday political shows about the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. But the questions Dowd posed have already been answered by Times reporting, and those answers show that Rice is being unfairly attacked.
This is the second time that Dowd has defied her own paper's reporting to attack Rice.
Dowd wrote that Collins "wants to know Rice's basis for saying on ABC that the attacks were 'a direct result of a heinous and offensive video' " -- a reference to an anti-Islam video that sparked unrest across the Muslim world. In fact, the Times has repeatedly reported that the Benghazi attackers cited the video as motivation for their attack. In an October 15 article, the Times reported:
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
The Times similarly reported on November 27 that "[w]itnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of the Ansar al-Shariah militant group, without any warning or protest, in retaliation for an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad."
In an extended attack on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's potential candidacy for secretary of state, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd repeatedly contradicted her paper's reporting on the Obama administration's response to the September 11 attack on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked Rice for suggesting in a series of September 16 interviews that the attack on the diplomatic facility resulted from a spontaneous uprising in response to an anti-Islam video -- statements consistent with talking points approved by the CIA at the time. Those attacks have increased as media have reported that Rice could be nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In her November 18 column, Dowd writes that Rice "should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.'s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was `not anger over a movie." But the Times' own reporting indicates that the people who attacked the diplomatic facility have said that an anti-Muslim film prompted their attack.
The Times reported on October 15 (emphasis added):
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
The paper pointed to a statement from a spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah, the group that reportedly carried out the attack, which "praised the attack as the proper response to such an insult to Islam."
Here's Dowd yesterday, describing "Republican Mean Girls" (warning: spit-take-inducing hypocrisy ahead):
These women — Jan, Meg, Carly, Sharron, Linda, Michele, Queen Bee Sarah and sweet wannabe Christine — have co-opted and ratcheted up the disgust with the status quo that originally buoyed Barack Obama. Whether they're mistreating the help or belittling the president's manhood, making snide comments about a rival's hair or ripping an opponent for spending money on a men's fashion show, the Mean Girls have replaced Hope with Spite and Cool with Cold. They are the ideal nihilistic cheerleaders for an angry electorate.
Maureen Dowd criticizing other people for "snide comments" about hair and "belittling the president's manhood" is like Sarah Palin criticizing someone for substituting practiced folksiness for factual analysis. Over at The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby offered an overview of the hypocrisy:
In the past decade, Dowd has relentlessly "belittled the manhood" of a long string of Democratic pols. (Needless to say, this includes "Obambi," the "diffident debutante" who reminded Dowd of Scarlett O'Hara. Al Gore was "so feminized he was practically lactating.") She has made endless snide remarks about various major pols' hair. (Endlessly, John Edwards was ridiculed as "the Breck Girl." She wrote at least seven columns which revolved around Gore's bald spot.) And no fashion show ever got more play than Gore's alleged switch to earth tones, an invented theme Dowd was happy to pimp, often in the columns where she imagined Gore fussing about The Spot as he looked into a mirror.
But that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. In 2007, I argued that Dowd's gender-based attacks on Democratic politicians aren't all that different from Ann Coulter's habit of calling them "faggots."
And Dowd's obsession with clothes and hair and feminizing male Democrats isn't a thing of the distant past. She's still at it. Here's the lede of her August 31 column:
If we had wanted earth tones in the Oval Office, we would have elected Al Gore.
So: Has the Maureen Dowd who denounced "Republican Mean Girls" for "belittling the president's manhood" and "making snide comments about a rival's hair" and "ripping an opponent for spending money on a men's fashion show" ever read any columns by the Maureen Dowd who has spent decades trying to perfect exactly that kind of behavior? And do either of them understand the role Dowd has played in legitimizing the behavior she denounced yesterday?
Anyone who has followed Media Matters' coverage of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd knows that we've often taken exception with her work.
As someone who attended Catholic school for nearly a decade, I've been following the current crop of scandals surrounding the Church with great interest. As such, I've been routinely disappointed by those who claim or fail to challenge the claims of others that the ongoing problem of pedophile priests is really about homosexuality in the priesthood.
That is precisely the problem I have with Dowd's most recent column on the issue - an issue she's done an otherwise decent job covering. While she has been routinely critical of the way church officials have responded to the scandal, her latest work allows the previously stated onerous logic - that of her brother's -- to stand unchallenged.
As IrishCentral.com's Cahir O'Doherty notes:
In a recent article Dowd also published (without a clarifying comment) outrageously incendiary remarks her brother made stating that the international abuse crisis was due to accepting thousands of 'sexually confused' men into the priesthood.
Even more defamatory, Dowd repeated (again by proxy through her brother) author Michael Rose's paranoid contention that the liberalized rules of Vatican II set up a takeover of seminaries by a so-called Gay Mafia. Heterosexual priests and the orthodox, Rose's book claims, found themselves pushed to the margins by a massive international gay Catholic cabal.
Do the Dowds recognize how toxic this kind of claim is?
Rose's book isn't really known outside of far-right conservative Catholic circles for good reason: you'd have to be bonkers to believe it. In tone and content it's really not far from the language and spirit of the anti-Semitic tracts of the 1930's.
You can only believe that homosexuals are responsible for the crisis in the Church if you believe that homosexuals are indistinguishable from pedophiles. That's a blatantly hateful and ignorant contention, but the Dowds are hunting for scapegoats, not answers.
Does Dowd agree with her brother's sentiment? We get only her cryptic comment that she and her brother "agreed on some things." As O'Doherty correctly notes, Dowd doesn't challenge her brother's views much less respond to them with, you know, actual facts.
Allowing these specious claims to go unchallenged only further entrenches the unfounded bigotry some have against the LGBT community and for that, Dowd should be seeking penance from her readers.
According to New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt, Times columnist Maureen Dowd disputes much of what Game Change claims about her and David Geffen -- and says the book's authors, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, neither interviewed her nor checked all of their facts with her:
According to "Game Change," Dowd persuaded Geffen to give her an interview by telling him that, when it was over, if he did not want her to use it, she would not. She read the finished column to Geffen, the book said, warned him it would be explosive and asked if he wanted to take back anything. If true, Dowd would, in effect, have surrendered editorial control to her source, an unacceptable situation.
The book also implied that Dowd attended a private $2,300-per-person Obama fund-raiser the following night. Afterward, it said, she was among a small group of 35 who "repaired to Geffen's mansion" for a dinner for the Obamas.
Dowd said it didn't happen that way. "I never gave David Geffen veto power over the column," she said. She said she did not read the column to him, warn him that it would be explosive or ask if he wanted to take back his words, and she did not attend the Hollywood fund-raising event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. She was a guest at the dinner later, she said, although the candidate's camp sought to have her barred.
Dowd said that, as is often her practice, she told Geffen which quotes she was using and checked them for accuracy and context. He had been unsure whether he wanted to say some of the things he told her but agreed to all of it, she said.
Geffen, who did not want to get embroiled in a controversy among journalists, would only say: "I don't think anyone imagines Maureen would allow anyone to edit her column. I certainly didn't."
Dowd said the authors did not interview her for the book but that Halperin called at some point to "check a few - but not all - of the details."
* The convoluted sourcing rules used by Halperin & Heilemann, in particular their bizarre explanation of how they came to quote Harry Reid, have inspired the derisive phrases "Halperin background" and "Halperin deep background." It may be time for "Halperin facts" -- things that might be true, but require blind faith in Mark Halperin.
I have no idea what Maureen Dowd is talking about:
America seemed to have lost her ingenuity, her quickness, her man-on-the-moon bravura, her Bugs Bunny panache.
Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?
Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.
Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days - just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to "Total Recall."
In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.
Bugs Bunny? "Flinstones-hardy"? "Technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe"? "Total Recall"? Spock? What in the world is Dowd going on about? Does she really think "Total Recall" is something we aspire to?
I can only assume that this disjointed overdose of unexplained cartoon/book/film references is nothing more than an attempt to make clear that she's engaging in theater criticism rather than offering an actual assessment of any sort of policy. But there was never much danger that would have gone unnoticed -- not with passages like this:
But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days...
Anyway, as far as I can tell, Dowd wants Obama to be more like Bugs Bunny. And Arnold Schwarzenegger. You know, so he can keep us safe from Barney Rubble.
And for all the heated rhetoric being thrown at him [President Obama] these days -- socialist, sellout, soporific, yadda yadda yadda -- I don't think anyone has accused him of a racial approach to politics. People want to know what he's doing about unemployment and health care and climate change. In a very real sense, he seems to have transcended race.
(I was going to make a Tiger Woods analogy here, but at the moment that seems like a decidedly bad idea.)
Kurtz isn't the first media figure to inexplicably link Obama and Woods:
And, of course, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd strained to find similarity between Tiger Woods and White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, coming up with some drivel about both of them being entitled swans.
I'm still waiting for a media figure to compare a white political figure to Tiger. Maybe John Ensign? Both (allegedly) offered hush money to keep affairs quiet. But I guess some journalists think that's a bit of a stretch -- not like the obvious similarities between Woods and Rogers.
Ah, Maureen Dowd:
They were both elegant and entitled swans, insulated in guarded enclaves, obsessed with protecting and promoting the Brand.
Tiger Woods and Desiree Rogers are perfectionist high-achievers brought low. They both ran into that ubiquitous modern buzz saw of glossy celebrity wannabes - Vegas parasites and Washington parvenus.
She mistook herself for the principal, sashaying around and posing in magazines as though she were the first lady, rather than a staffer whose job is to stay behind the scenes and make her bosses look good.
"Entitled"? "Sashaying around"?
A White House staffer "posing in magazines" isn't particularly unusual, as Maureen Dowd surely knows. So what is it about Desiree Rogers that prompted Dowd to describe her as "sashaying around" and thinking "she were the first lady, rather than a staffer"? She doesn't explain. Instead, she struggles to find similarity between Rogers and Tiger Woods. You know, because they're both entitled swans.
Meghan McCain writes about the sexist double-standards women in politics face:
The brutal criticism of Sarah Palin-which will only increase when her memoir comes out-is yet another example of the double standard and cruel treatment of women in politics. Sarah has been attacked for everything from her hair to her clothes to the number of children she gave birth to. Maureen Dowd even nicknamed her "Caribou Barbie." I can't even begin to think of what that kind of judgment-criticizing parts of your life that have nothing to do with what you stand for or want to accomplish politically-feels like.
Now, I'm not about to deny that women in politics often face double-standards and outright misogyny in the way the media treats them. They do, as I have often written. And that's something that should be addressed more frequently, so I'm glad McCain has done so.
But Maureen Dowd calling Sarah Palin "Caribou Barbie" isn't an example of a double-standard in which Dowd only makes such comments about women, it's an example of Dowd being a nasty and utterly pointless columnist who relentlessly mocks politicians -- male and female -- she dislikes, often focusing on their personal appearance or what she claims is their deviation from gender norms.
Dowd has called Barack Obama a "debutante" and a "pretty boy" and "effete" and compared him to Scarlett O'Hara. She repeatedly referred to John Edwards as "The Breck Girl" and a "Material Boy" and "Secretary of Hairdressing," and at least once dedicated an entire column to an Edwards hair cut. Dowd mocked Edwards for visiting "the Pink Sapphire spa in Manchester, which offers services for men that include the 'Touch of Youth' facial, as well as trips 'into the intriguing world of makeup.'" (Dowd remained silent about John McCain's own foray into the "intriguing world of makeup" at the Pink Sapphire.) And Dowd famously wrote that Al Gore was "so feminized ... he's practically lactating." (See, Gore wore a brown suit, and ... uh ... Well, actually, that was about it.)
Of course, all of these insults from Dowd are fundamentally sexist in nature. She belittles male politicians she doesn't like by, basically, calling them women. The obvious underlying assumption is that being feminine is a bad thing. So even when she obsesses over a male politician's personal characteristics, she often does so in a way that indirectly insults women.
But Dowd's reference to Sarah Palin as "Caribou Barbie" isn't an example of her singling out women for criticism over "parts of [their] life that have nothing to do with what [they] stand for or want to accomplish politically." It's an example of her behaving like a mean-spirited seventh-grader with little of substance to say.
And it's a reminder that it actually understates the misogyny in Dowd's columns to suggest that she critiques the physical appearance of only women in politics.
[P]artly due to the Internet, the standards of behavior in this new country are terrible.
If Beaver and Wally were around today, they'd likely be writing snarky, revealing blogs about June and Ward.
It wasn't "the Internet" that called John Edwards "The Breck Girl" -- that was Maureen Dowd.
It wasn't "the Internet" that described Al Gore as "so feminized ... he's practically lactating" -- that was Maureen Dowd.
It wasn't "the Internet" that described Barack Obama as "effete" and a "pretty boy" and a "debutante" and mockingly compared him to Scarlett O'Hara -- that was Maureen Dowd, too.
It wasn't "the Internet" that called Hillary Clinton "Mistress Hillary" and "Mommie Dearest." Dowd, yet again.
Maybe some of that had a little something to do with the breakdown of civility in public discourse, and the rise in snark? I mean, just maybe?
First Andrea Mitchell attributed Hillary Clinton's response to a question in Congo to a "bad hair day," and now Tina Brown joins in with an over-the-top bit of psychobabble that also invokes Clinton's hair as an explanation:
And not only that, but (and I say this in solidarity, not belittlement) the African humidity had wreaked havoc on her hair. It had gone all flat and straight, which puts any woman in a bad humor. (Let's not forget: It was a sympathetic reference to the female-specific chore of keeping perfectly coiffed that made Hillary's eyes fill with tears back in New Hampshire.) Plus, the grueling State Department schedule means these days she can never get to the gym.
Believe it or not, that isn't any crazier than the rest of Brown's fevered imaginings.
And like Maureen Dowd, Brown expects us to believe that Hillary Clinton's response was caused in part by her annoyance at Bill Clinton celebrating his birthday "at such a fancy, high-priced restaurant as Craftsteak?" I'll say this again: Yes, Craftsteak is obscenely expensive, but I'm pretty sure the Clintons, worth tens of millions of dollars, can cover a dinner there.
Is there some of Mad-Libs book of pre-fabricated insanely speculative columns about the Clintons these people all picked up at a mid-1990s CPAC convention? If so, how was I not aware of it earlier?
Anyway, all of this crazytalk about flat hair and expensive steaks is as unnecessary as it is implausible. I'm not saying Clinton was right to respond the way she did -- but her response was perfectly understandable based on nothing more than the content of the question as it was relayed to her. There's really no need to invent some fantasy in which she was cranky because her husband sprung for the Kobe beef on his birthday.
... Fantasizing about the Clintons' and their marriage.
Let's start with Dowd's description of Hillary Clinton's response to a question at a town hall in Africa:
Using tough hand gestures not seen since "The Sopranos" went off HBO, Hillary snapped back at an African college student who asked about the growing influence of China on Africa and then, according to the translator, wanted to know: "What does Mr. Clinton think?"
It turned out that the student was trying to ask how President Obama felt about it. But before he was able to clarify, the secretary of state flared: "Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state. I am."
Yeah, the Secretary of State looked just like a gang of murderous thugs. If, that is, you're a delusional columnist bent on portraying her in the worst possible light. Now, did Clinton "snap back" and "flare" before the student was able to clarify? Well, she "paused nearly nine seconds" before responding to the question. When was this clarification Dowd imagines going to come? Nine minutes after the question had been asked?
Speaking of the question, Dowd's paraphrase of it seems more innocuous than it really was. Clinton wasn't simply asked "What does Mr. Clinton think?" She was asked "We have all heard about Chinese contracts in this country, the interferences from the World Bank about this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton?"
A little more understandable how someone would have a negative reaction to that wording, isn't it?
Back to Dowd:
[W]e all know Hillary could just as well have made the same comment in Paris. (And looking unhinged about your marriage on an international stage hardly empowers women.) She may have been steamed about Bill celebrating his upcoming 63rd birthday in Las Vegas with his posse. The Times's Adam Nagourney irritated Clinton Inc. when he reported that Bill went to the pricey Craftsteak restaurant at the MGM Grand HoteltMonday night with Hollywood moguls Steve Bing and Haim Saban, and former advisers Terry McAuliffe and Paul Begala, among others.
"Unhinged" is quite clearly a wild exaggeration. And does Maureen Dowd really expect us to believe Hillary Clinton's reaction was a result of being "steamed" that Bill Clinton celebrated his birthday at a "pricey" restaurant? Craftsteak surely is expensive, but I'm pretty sure the Clintons can afford it.
This is pure fantasy.