For the fifth time, Maureen Dowd recycled an inapt literary analogy comparing Bill and Hillary Clinton to the characters Tom and Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in her July 31 New York Times column.
The comparison has its origins in the phony Whitewater scandal in the mid-1990s, a period when much of the Washington press corps, including the Times, fell prey to an anti-Clinton fever that began with the Clintons' political enemies in the right-wing. Numerous independent investigations, several helmed by Republicans, found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Clintons related to the decades-old land deal, yet the faulty characterization, which originated with columnist Joe Klein, author of a fictional anti-Clinton book, lives on at the Times 18 years later.
Klein's August 6, 1995, column for Newsweek focused on the Senate's Whitewater hearings, which he described as a "scavenger hunt through a sewer" that exposed "the perverse ways of this administration." He concluded with a description of "the most disturbing Whitewater 'revelation'":
It is about the character of the Clintons. They are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite. The Buchanans, you may recall, were E Scott Fitzgerald's brilliant crystallization of flapper fecklessness in "The Great Gatsby." They were "careless" people. They smashed up lives and didn't notice. After two years, it's become difficult to avoid a distinguishing characteristic of this administration: the body count. Too many lives and reputations have been ruined by carelessness, too many decent people have been forced to walk the plank for trivialities, appearances, changes of mind. Whitewater has been the worst of it.
Four days later, Dowd would pick up the analogy in her Times column:
As with Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the landscape is littered with aides taking the fall. As Joe Klein wrote of the Clintons in Newsweek: "They are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite. . . . They smashed up lives and didn't notice. . . . How could the First Lady allow her chief of staff to spend $140,000 on legal fees? Why hasn't she come forward and said . . . 'I'll testify.' "
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is mischaracterizing the aftermath of the September attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in an effort to promote her claim that Hillary Clinton's aides engaged in "obfuscation."
In her May 12 column, Dowd writes that Gregory Hicks, who was deputy chief of mission in Libya during the attacks and testified before Congress May 8, "believes he was demoted because he spoke up" about the Obama administration's characterization of the attacks in a meeting with Beth Jones, an undersecretary of state.
In fact, Hicks' change of position came after he voluntarily decided not to return to Libya; he subsequently testified that the "overriding factor" in that decision was that his family didn't want him to go back. According to the State Department, that decision took him out of the regular cycle in which Foreign Service officers are assigned, resulting in him being placed in a temporary position as a foreign affairs officer in the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs. According to State, Hicks retains the same rank and pay, and has submitted a preference list and is under consideration for his next assignment.
Dowd further claimed:
Hillary's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, also called Hicks to angrily ask why a State Department lawyer had not been allowed to monitor every meeting in Libya with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who visited in October. (The lawyer did not have the proper security clearance for one meeting.) Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, has been a rabid Hillary critic on Fox News since the attack. Hicks said he had never before been scolded for talking to a lawmaker.
But Hicks himself never described Mills as angry. In his testimony, Hicks acknowledged that Mills had offered no "direct criticism" of his actions, but cited the "tone and nuance" of Mills' voice during their conversation as indicating she was "unhappy" (Hicks later repeated a congressional Republican's description of Hicks as "upset.")
In painting this as part of a pattern of obfuscation, Dowd also ignored the administration's explanation for why Mills would have wanted a State Department lawyer present for Hicks' meeting with Chaffetz - a State Department official told Dowd's paperthat department policy requires one to be present during interviews for Congressional investigations.
Dowd's commentary follows that of Fox News hosts who have baselessly described Hicks as being "excoriated," "reprimanded," or "punished" by Mills - a characterization promoted by the false frame that Congressional Republicans pushed in their questioning of Hicks.
Looking back at the Senate's failure last week to pass gun safety legislation in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, CT., Slate's John Dickerson writes that the bill fell victim to "the structure of the Senate, its partisan makeup, and pressure from gun rights advocates."
I guess that's one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that Republicans continued to adhere to their unprecedented, four-year campaign of obstructionism and blocked a bill, whose central proposal, expanded background checks, enjoyed a stunning 90 percent support from the American public. But that's not the story Beltway pundits and reporters want to tell.
Instead, with the political postmortems continuing to come in, it's clear the press remains committed to blaming Obama and Democrats for the failure of gun legislation. It's clear the press will not budget from its preferred storyline that as long as Republicans obstruct Obama's agenda, the president will be faulted for not changing the GOP's unprecedented behavior.
And yes, in recent days the level of purposeful obtuseness has reached astonishing heights. In the wake of the bitter gun bill defeat, the DC press wants to tell one story, and one story only: Obama blew it. And they're so committed to the crooked narrative that they're now willing to completely write Republicans out of the story.
How committed? Slate's Dickerson wrote a 1,000-word piece about the gun bill and never once typed the word "Republican." (Or "GOP.") For Dickerson, Republicans weren't players in the gun bill saga, and they certainly weren't the reason it failed to pass. Instead, it failed because of the "president's limitations as a negotiator." And why was that? Because Obama "couldn't master the art of politics," Dickerson wrote.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd agreed, claiming the bill's defeat represented a "glaring example" of Obama's weakness. She ridiculed the president for not having "learned how to govern."
And an April 23 front-page New York Times report offered the similar refrain:
If he cannot translate the support of 90 percent of the public for background checks into a victory on Capitol Hill, what can he expect to accomplish legislatively for his remaining three and a half years in office.
The fact is that a majority of Republicans blocked the bill, and blocked even allowing debate on the gun safety bill. But that is now deemed to be irrelevant. Obama's supposed personal and professional shortcomings last week are the real story.
Is the president fair game for criticism and second-guessing in the wake of the gun bill's failure? Of course. Is Obama the only reason the gun bill didn't pass? He is not. But boy, the pundit class and elite reporters sure like to pretend he is.
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.