Snark, Maureen Dowd, and the NYT

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

David Denby, the well-known film critic for the New Yorker has a new book out called Snark, in which he criticizes the increasingly popular form of the nasty humor. In Sunday's New York Times, Snark was reviewed and close readers might have caught this brief passage:

When he finally reaches the present era, Denby pronounces Tom Wolfe and Maureen Dowd masters of "snarky mimesis..."

Interesting, right? Denby, no fan of snark, singled out the Times' high-profile scribe in his book for her snarky ways. But what did Denby actually say about Dowd in his book? Sorry, Sunday Times readers were given no information. Because the passage quoted above was the only reference reviewer Walter Kirn made to Dowd in his 1,300-word review of Snark. Guess, Denby didn't have much to say about Dowd, right?


Denby's brief book (128 pages) is divided into just seven chapters, yet Denby devotes an entire section to examining Dowd's work. (Chapter seven title: "Maureen Dowd".) She's the only writer Denby detailed in a chapter-length critique. Fully one-seventh of Snark is about Dowd and it's a smack-down: Denby suggests there's something seriously wrong with her work. But in the Times review, Dowd garnered just single, vague passing reference.

For instance, the Times review ignored the fact that Denby wrote, "There's something both gasping and pathetic in [Dowd's] dissatisfaction and she passes that dissatisfaction on to the readers as a kind of blight." He also added that during the Democratic primary season, Dowd's "writing was a desperate, disjointed, and demoralized performance, and it left many readers enraged."

Recently appearing on PBS's Charlie Rose, Denby expanded on the idea:

And Maureen Dowd, who makes fun of people's appearance and affect and manner and so on, I don't see any political idea at all of what the government should be doing, what the point of government is, what the point of politics is. It's all about ambition and sham.

Denby, a high-profile writer for the mighty New Yorker, suggests Dowd's work is doing real damage to the public discourse. But there's no reason Times readers need to be informed about that, right?

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