Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our Hypocrisies Ourselves

In the dark days of the Bush occupation, Maureen Dowd was hailed by many on the left. The New York Times columnist, a Pulitzer winner, was opposed to the Iraq War, had been opposed to it before it began, had earned a nickname from the Bully Boy Bush ("Cobra") who saw her as persona non grata. Dowd, who had largely taken herself off the chat & chew circuit, began returning to it and, often, via Air America Radio as she promoted Bush World.


In those dark days when a Republican occupied the White House, professional contrarian Maureen Dowd was warmly embraced by the left. Now Barack Obama occupies the White House and Maureen's writing the same type of columns she's always written but there sure are a lot of hisses.

The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby has always been consistent in his hatred for Dowd. Somerby seizes on Dowd with the ferocity of a chew toy and there is often something almost pathological about the way he critiques her. All these years, nearly fourteen, of Howlers and he has never, ever found a man he can call out with the special brand of hatred he reserves for Dowd. And the relish with which he attacks her as an "old maid" and "unmarried" may indicate that his biggest problem with Dowd is that she is a she. But he has been consistent.

Not everyone on the left can say that.

And a number of people seem to make their entire days about attacking Maureen Dowd. Often, in order to do so, they not only have to engage in sexism, they also have to flaunt their own ignorance. They are furious that Dowd won't write about the topics the way they want and write it in the way they want it written. Do they mistake themselves for her editor?

Dowd has pioneered a form of lively, breezy, chatty writing that basically acts as a political primer. It's for the uninitiated. It's the gateway drug of newspaper columns which can lead her readers to read other columns. Dowd was a political reporter in her earlier days. It was her ability to dramatize a story, to find a narrative, and her keen observational skills (she loves the telling detail) that led to her rise and led to other outlets being seriously interested in her even after she was established at The New York Times.

She's far from perfect and we've criticized her before and will again. But criticizing Dowd for being Dowd? Did she just start writing columns yesterday? Was someone unaware of her style or scope until yesterday?

It's amazing how she's slammed by the same people who never raise a peep when Paul Krugman feels the need to weigh in on how Democracts can win elections, for example. Krugman's a trained economist. He is not James Carville. And when he starts offering campaign guidance, not only is he out of his depths, he's also not in the role the paper hired him to fill. But that's not an issue and, think about, it's never an issue with a man.

Maureen Dowd is far from perfect. We don't believe she's ever asserted that she was perfect. She should be held to the same standards as any other columnist is. But that's not what happens, is it? What happens is other columnists get by with anything but, Bash The Bitch still being the national pastime, Maureen Dowd's attacked not only for what she wrote but she's attacked with lies about what she didn't write.

If Dowd gets facts wrong, by all means call her out for that. And do so however you want, in whatever 'tone' you desire. But if you're having to lie to call her out, there's a problem.

Last week, we saw just how many would lie to attack Dowd.

Alex Pareene has made a name -- such as it is -- for repeatedly attacking women online for over four years now. It can be anyone. He -- yes, he is a he though most photos indicate otherwise -- lives to attack and his targets have included Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan. Last week, apparently still suffering from his severe case of vagina envy, he went after Dowd at his new home (Salon).
It was there that he opened his slam on Dowd with the following:

Award-winning New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a political column about Barack Obama's speech last night! Of course the column had to be finished in time for this morning's paper, so it was obviously written in 10 minutes or so yesterday afternoon, before the speech was actually delivered. There is a joke about Al Gore and "earth tones" in the very first sentence of this column on Barack Obama's speech about the Iraq war.

There are so many problems in just that opening that the column never should have made it online. Dowd did not write a column about Barack's speech, she wrote a column about the redecoration of the Oval Office. First tip should have been the title "Not-So-Magic Carpet Ride." Second tip? Opening sentence of Dowd's column, "If we had wanted earth tones in the Oval Office, we would have elected Al Gore."

When he can't even accurately convey what her column was about, he's blown it as a critic. But possibly due to their own hatred of Dowd, several media watchdogs chose to act as if Pareene hadn't just made a fool of himself and instead applaud his bad writing. At Columbia Journalism Review, Liz Cox Barrett recommended "Alex Pareene's solid critique of Dowd's column" and in what world is a "solid critique" one in which you don't even grasp what the columnist is writing about?

That's embarrassing for Liz Cox Barrett, that's embarrassing for Columbia Journalism Review. What's even more embarrassing are all the complaints to this site that CJR is refusing to allow comments to go up pointing out that Pareene completely distorted Dowd's column on redecorating by insisting it was about Barack's speech on the Iraq War. When we went through the e-mails Saturday morning and found one e-mail after another complaining that comments left at Liz Cox Barrett's post were not being posted, we knew we'd have to write about it. (If Liz Cox Barrett wants to respond, she can. We invited her to do so.)

We'd love to know if it's the hatred of Dowd that allows a media critic to overlook the fact that Pareene doesn't even know what Dowd's topic was or if it's just part of the usual CJR circle-jerk? (For newer readers, we took on CJR repeatedly when this site started.) As dismaying as that was, it was sadder to see Bob Somerby follow suit on Friday.

As noted already, he's been consistent in his hatred of Dowd. But are we really supposed to allow ourselves to be blinded with hatred?

Does Bob want to be known as the idiot who fudges his facts in order to do a takedown? Funny, we thought that was how he characterized Keith Olbermann. So, in other words, you don't applaud a media 'critique' when the critic can't even grasp the topic Dowd's writing about. And, in addition, you don't applaud someone out of Dowd hatred when his own claims rebuke your work.

Yes, Bob Somerby, your bias was again showing. "MoDo led the charge" the media critique Bob Somerby applauded announced further in. Really? Cause The Daily Howler tells readers -- check your archives, Somerby -- that CiCi Connolly started that narrative in the press. So which is it?

And do we really want to go there? Do we really want to unravel the whole Naomi Wolf "earth tones" issue? If we do, we'll probably have to be honest -- or Somerby will have to scrub his archives -- because the reality is that the smearing of Naomi Wolf did not come from the press. They repeated it. They ran with it. They added to it. But the original smear of her came from the Gore campaign. Somerby, March 7, 2003: "According to Duffy, one unnamed Gore adviser had “downplayed” Wolf as a 'wardrobe consultant'."

Having spent forever and a day castigating the press for 'starting' the rumor about Wolf's role in the Gore campaign, do we really want to open that can of worms? Do we need to point out that the one adviser probably talked to many other reporters (not just Duffy) and that others may have repeated that claim to the press as well? Doing so won't allow us to make a lot of sweeping claims against the press and how election 2000 played out and was influenced by them.

Maybe the smarter thing for Somerby and CJR to do is to stop praising ill-thought out 'critiques' and recommended readings?
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