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THE LOATHING THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME! Clark Hoyt spoke frankly in the Times. On the web, we should follow suit: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 23, 2008

FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS BELIEVE RUMORS: Michael Bloomberg did a remarkable thing last Friday; he went to Florida and told Jewish voters that people frequently make sh*t up. His statement was blindingly obvious, yet truly remarkable; given the history of the past twenty years, it’s amazing how rarely voters are given similar warnings. People will lie to you, Bloomberg said. Michael Barbaro reported his statement in the New York Times:

BARBARO (6/21/08): Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, injecting himself directly into the presidential campaign, forcefully denounced on Friday what he called a “whisper campaign” linking Senator Barack Obama the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, to Islam.

Speaking before a crucial constituency in the coming election, Jewish voters, in the pivotal state of Florida, Mr. Bloomberg said that rumors of Mr. Obama secretly being a Muslim represent ''wedge politics at its worst, and we have to reject it— loudly, clearly and unequivocally.''

''Let's call those rumors what they are: lies,'' said Mr. Bloomberg...

Good for Bloomberg, who used a basic word— “lies.” Good for Bloomberg—and very bad for several important elites.

As everyone secretly knows by now, rumors, inventions and well-crafted lies have driven an astounding amount of our discourse in the past twenty years. In the next few days, we’ll go back to December 1999 to show you a few examples—to let you recall the work that was being done at the news division Tim Russert helped run. More specifically, we’ll let you review the work being done by one of Russert’s Irish-Catholic confreres. The gentleman sat on TV last week and waxed, at length, about his group’s vast and exceptional love for the truth—about the way We Irish behave like “prosecutors” when others stray from the path. We think you should see the basic reality behind the myths that were peddled last week. You need to see the actual conduct that transpired at Russert’s network—right in Washington, where Russert served as NBC chief. Right under his nose. On his watch.

Back to Bloomberg: It’s hard to believe, but it doesn’t occur to many voters that the e-mails they receive may be “lies.” Until people like Bloomberg explicitly warn them, they’re inclined to believe the things they’re told, without further reflection. Similarly, it didn’t occur to many voters, eight and nine years ago, that they were being handed rumors and lies by Russert’s net and its cable arms. After all, they knew that Russert was an honest man—a regular person, just like them. In large part, they knew those things because someone insisted on telling them.

Quite correctly, Bloomberg warned voters about the rumors and lies in their e-mails. But let’s get real: In the past twenty years, most of the rumors and lies which misled voters were handed to them by their press corps. More specifically, voters were endlessly handed rumors and lies by Russert’s friends and network associates. Voters were endlessly handed lies at the networks Russert helped run.

Chris Matthews was full of that “blarney” last week. Tomorrow, let’s start reviewing one small part of what he himself did, under Russert’s watch. Nine years later, we’ll ask two questions: Why is this dishonest man on the air? And why did Russert accept this?

STARTING TOMORROW—FOUR DAYS IN THE LIFE: Last week, you were buried in industry propaganda—propaganda from a shameless interest group. This week, let’s take a tiny, small look at the truth. The four days in question? December 1-3 and 6, 1999 (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Monday). A good deal of what was said on those days will probably strike you as very familiar. Major players were lying to you last week. But they’ve lied for a very long time.

THE LOATHING THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME: It has long been clear that Maureen Dowd is a deeply unbalanced “gender nut.” A New York Times official—public editor Clark Hoyt—has finally said so. In print.

We weren’t even sure if opinion columns fell within Hoyt’s purview. (They should.) But in yesterday’s column, Hoyt did a superlative job describing Dowd’s long-standing public lunacy. He was responding to reader complaints about Dowd’s gender-based insults of Hillary Clinton. In this passage, he came remarkably close to describing Dowd as she is:

HOYT (6/22/08): [T]he reader who wanted a review of Times coverage, asked if a man could have gotten away with writing what Dowd wrote. [Editor Andrew] Rosenthal said that if the man had written everything Dowd had written over the years and established himself as a sardonic commentator on the sexes, “I’d say the answer is yes.”

Of course, there is no such man, and I do not think another one could have used Dowd’s language. Even she, I think, by assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column, went over the top this election season.

Elsewhere, Hoyt referred to Dowd’s “relentless...gender-laden assault on Clinton.”

Good for Hoyt! We described Dowd’s conduct as “gender-trashing” (because that’s what it is) all through the sixteen-month Dem campaign. Hoyt is expected to be more restrained. But he spoke remarkably frankly when he said that Dowd “went over the top” (and around the bend?) “by assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column.”

That’s a very lightly sanitized version of the obvious truth. Maureen Dowd is a stone gender nut. Hoyt has finally said so.

Yesterday, Digby offers a superb and detailed review of Hoyt’s superlative piece. We’ll suggest you read it carefully, although we’ll voice a small complaint as we end. But Digby said so much so well that we are free to rummage through some of Hoyt’s esoterica. Before we voice that small complaint—a complaint which is very important.

Raging on the moors, Dowd explains: First, treat yourself to a good solid laugh as Dowd “explains” the high-minded method in her long-standing madness. Who knew? Who knew that this was her point all those years? Go ahead! Just laugh out loud as the lady describes her motive:

HOYT: “From the time I began writing about politics,” Dowd said, “I have always played with gender stereotypes and mined them and twisted them to force the reader to be conscious of how differently we view the sexes.” Now, she said, “you are asking me to treat Hillary differently than I’ve treated the male candidates all these years, with kid gloves.”

Who knew? Readers, had it even crossed your mind that Dowd was trying to make this point? That Dowd has been trying to “force [us] to be conscious of how differently we view the sexes?” We’ll confess—we’ve read Dowd closely for more than a decade, and it never so much as entered our head that this was her lofty intention! To us, it had often seemed that she was trying to do something different—that she, like others in her friendship group, was trying to ridicule the Big Major Dems whom she clearly seemed to despise. But as it turns out, we were totally wrong! She was just trying to help us see “how differently we view the sexes.” The fault was not in this media star. The fault was in ourselves.

Examples of her tireless efforts: Just to make Dowd’s method more clear, here’s the way she opened her column the Sunday before the Bush-Gore election. You may have thought she was taking one last chance to portray Al Gore as a big f*cking f*ggot! Not at all! Dowd was simply helping you see how confused your gender notions were! “I Feel Pretty,” her headline said. Candidate Gore was singing:

DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel Pretty

I feel stunning

And entrancing,

Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .

O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.

That’s right—two days before the nation voted in one of its most consequential elections, Dowd pictured Candidate Gore at the mirror, singing—what else?—“I feel pretty.” Thanks to Hoyt’s intervention, we now know why Professor Dowd did that; why she said Gore was “so feminized he was practically lactating;” why she called Edwards “The Breck Girl” so often; why she described Obama as “the diffident debutante” and, of course, as “a starlet obsessing on a svelte waistline.”Sorry! She wasn’t trying to ridicule Dems; she was helping us get beyond our own foolish notions! Go ahead—laugh out loud! In the same week when David Broder lied in the face of his ombudsman, Maureen Dowd had the gall to say this to Hoyt.

(By the way:. In Obama’s case, there were quite a few racial stereotypes getting mined and twisted too. In Dowd’s columns, Obama “has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O'Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue;” in a headline, he was “Legally Blonde.” Presumably, this was the doctor’s way of helping us get more post-racial.)

And by the way, let’s get clear on one basic point: No, she hasn’t done this sort of thing to Democrats and Republicans alike. Let’s quote Digby on this point: “Her ‘twisting of gender stereotypes’ has turned every Democrat into a mincing ponce or a blubbering mama's boy and every Republican into a macho, scotch drinking throwback or an arrogant jock.” Once in a while during Campaign 2000, Dowd did picture Candidate Bush blubbering for his “beloved feather pillow.” But she has constantly turned Dem Males into girls—and she constantly switched the scam with her trashing of man-woman Clinton. You see, Dowd is a full-blown gender nut, as Clark Hoyt said in his column.

This just in from Neptune: To his vast credit, Hoyt even assembled some ugly data concerning Dowd’s trashing of Clinton. Confronted with his awkward numbers, Dowd “misstated” again:

HOYT: “I’ve been twisting gender stereotypes around for 24 years,” Dowd responded. She said nobody had objected to her use of similar images about men over seven presidential campaigns. She often refers to Barack Obama as “Obambi” and has said he has a “feminine” management style. But the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton—in 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1—left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed, even though, as Dowd noted, she is a columnist who is paid not to be objective.

Nobody had objected to her use of similar images about men! There are two ways to react to that statement: We can imagine that Dowd just arrived from Neptune. Or we can say she was lying again.

By the way, be sure to admire Hoyt’s direct language. He presents those numbers for all to see—and along with the numbers, he offers this: “[T]he relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton...left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed.”

World-class supervision: How far gone is the Times’ editorial staff? The people paid to supervise Dowd? “Bless his heart,” as they say in the south. Her immediate boss-man said this:

HOYT: Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page, said it was unfair to hold a columnist accountable for perceptions of bias in news coverage. A columnist is supposed to present strong opinions, he said, and “a thorough reading of Maureen’s work shows that she does that without regard to gender, partisanship or ideology.”

Asked about Dowd’s “gender-laden attacks,” Rosenthal seems to have said that Dowd presents her strong opinions “without regard to gender.” That shot at Rosenthal may be unfair. But if Rosenthal means, in this largely unparseable statement, that Dowd treats both parties the same when it comesto gender-trashing, we’ll refer you back to Digby’s account. Beyond that, we’ll note that up is not down; that back is not front; and that the Times editorial staff has followed Dowd over the top. And around the bend. And way off the reservation. It’s hard to know just what Rosenthal meant. But whatever he meant, it was wrong.

Meanwhile, look what happened when Abramson got drug into this mess:

HOYT: Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, said that as the highest-ranking woman in the newsroom, she thinks a lot about the potential for sexism in coverage and looks to eliminate gratuitous references to a woman’s appearance or voice without “being so politically correct that you interfere with a reporter’s descriptive voice.”

Politically correct is never a term one would apply to Dowd’s commentary. Her columns this year said Clinton’s “message is unapologetically emasculating,” and that she “needed to prove her masculinity” but in the end “had to fend off calamity by playing the female victim.” In one column Dowd wrote, “She may want to take a cue from the Miss America contest: make a graceful, magnanimous exit and wait in the wings.”

Without being “politically correct!” In large part, the term was invented to provide a euphemistic way to refer to race- and gender-based insults. Here’s what Abramson actually said, once you adjust for that dodge:

HOYT, IF ABRAMSON CHOSE TO SPEAK ENGLISH: Jill Abramson said she looks to eliminate gratuitous references to a woman’s appearance or voice without “eliminating so many gratuitous references to a woman’s appearance or voice that you interfere with a reporter’s descriptive voice.”

That’s what Abramson actually said. (It’s truly worth noting, when New York Times editors start hiding behind that term.) Meanwhile, Kathleen Hall Jamieson was inevitably called—and she was slicing her points mighty fine. In this passage, she is critiquing the Times’ news reporting, not the work of Dowd:

HOYT: Jamieson noted the occasional “improbably blue pantsuit” or “no-nonsense pantsuit,” and said such terms would never be used to describe a man’s clothing. She pointed to one article that said Clinton “shouted” into a microphone—an example, she said, from a vocabulary of negative words applied to women speaking in public that are seldom if ever used to describe men.

Regarding the clothing, we agree. Such terms would “never be used to describe a man’s clothing,” because men never wear pantsuits. But that point to the side, Jamieson is slicing things mighty fine here. Candidate Gore was assailed, for month after month, over every conceivable aspect of clothing. (His three-button suits—and his vile polo shirts—were obvious sexual signals, if you listened to Matthews and Brian Williams, two of Dowd’s gender-nut soul-mates.) By way of contrast, Clinton’s “no-nonsense pantsuit” was referred to just once in the Times; ditto for the “improbably blue” one. Meanwhile, Gore was widely criticized for “shouting” and “yelling”—by Gail Collins, for example (heard of her?)—but only after the RNC started the ludicrous narrative. We know—the suggestions involved there were slightly different. But we’ll say it again: Jamieson was slicing it mighty fine there. When will we start describing our actual recent press history? Voters deserve to hear the plain truth: Variants of this lunacy have now shaped their discourse through several election cycles.

Again, we strongly commend Clark Hoyt for his column. It’s rare to see a “journalist” of Dowd’s celebrity described so frankly within her own news org. Dowd’s coverage of Clinton was a rolling disgrace. And that’s pretty much what Hoyt said.

Beyond that, we strongly recommend Digby’s post—every word. But we do make one small complaint.

The time has come to describe Dowd’s lunacy for what it actually is. It’s awkward to do so; we’d all rather not. But as we’ll continue to show you this week, these virulent forms of lunacy have assaulted our culture for many years now. This lunacy has been an illness—a plague. It does explain why we’re now in Iraq. It’s time to say what it actually is—where it actually comes from.

If we don’t explain what it is, many voters will be inclined to assume that it makes basic sense.

Awkward though it may be to say so, Dowd’s lunacy is the expression of a particular culture—a throwback form of Irish Catholic culture which most Irish Catholics have had the good sense to move far away from, long ago. But Dowd, and Matthews, and many others, have propagated this viral illness as it has damaged our public discourse over the past many years. We Irish! We sat on TV all last week and proclaimed how much we love the truth—how superior we are in that regard, thanks to our days with the nuns and the Jesuits. Tomorrow, we’ll start to revisit “four days in the life” to show you what was being said at NBC’s cable arm all the way back in December 1999. This lunatic loathing has gone on for years—sometimes in gender-based forms, sometimes not. It’s an illness—a plague on Oran. It’s time to discuss it a bit more frankly, as we do with other religious cultures which play key roles in American politics. Yes, it’s awkward to do so. But unless we want this plague to last forever, we actually need to start doing this.

After all, why are we talking about this today? Dowd (and Matthews) have been spewing this nonsense for years! Three cheers for Hoyt, for speaking frankly. If we want this nonsense to stop, we ought to speak frankly now too.

We know, we know—it’s very awkward. “God made me because he loves me.” Helped along by our mother, our aunts, our sainted grandmother, we memorized our catechism too.