Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Weekly Jackass Number Thirteen: Maureen Dowd

Thirteen is an unlucky number, and there's no one unluckier than the unwitting fool that gets suckered into reading his first Maureen Dowd column. Here's an entirely possible look inside his brain:

Hmmm...Maureen Dowd - she looks fairly attractive, and she's in the New York Times...let's take a look....(stunned silence for a couple of minutes) STUNK!....

Thirteen was the lucky number for me, though, because as I was researching this thirteenth installment of Weekly Jackass, I stumbled across this delightful site dedicated to ripping each and every column of hers into shreds as small as her talent.

Look, I've blogged a lot lately on the need for a minimum level of civility in our discourse, and I sincerely wish Ms. Dowd a long life and the greatest of health and happiness, but there is NO good reason that the New York Times, for cryin' out loud, should print her garbage heap of a column.

Let's get clear about something else, too; it's got nothing to do with her views. I can't imagine a person more to my left politically than Hunter S. Thompson, but, at his height, the man was a truly gifted writer and a delight to read. There is nothing delightful to be found in any Dowd column that I have ever seen, unless, perhaps, the person reading it is twelve years old and unaccustomed to listening to the grownups talk. Let's jump on in with some samples, shall we?

We'll begin with Dowd's most recent column to get a tast of her methods:

The only balance W. likes is the slavering, Pravda-like "Fair and Balanced" coverage Fox News provides. This White House...prefers tossing journalists who protect their sources into the gulag to giving up the officials who broke the law by leaking the name of their own C.I.A. agent.

W., who once looked into Mr. Putin's soul and liked what he saw, did not demand the end of tyranny, as he did in his second Inaugural Address. His upper lip sweating a bit, he did not rise to the level of his hero Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Instead, he said that "the common ground is a lot more than those areas where we disagree." The Russians were happy to stress the common ground as well.

An irritated Mr. Putin compared the Russian system to the American Electoral College, perhaps reminding the man preaching to him about democracy that he had come in second in 2000 according to the popular vote, the standard most democracies use.

It's all there, if you look hard enough; the smarmy elitism ('W' is the President of the United States, Maureen, and if you haven't noticed, he's done more to change the Middle East for the better than any other figure of the last 50 years), the inconsistencies thrown out so lightly you might miss them (criticizing Bush for not confronting Putin, knowing damn well you would have skewered him if he had criticized him more strongly), the refusal to understand that the 2000 election was decided by the Electoral College, just like every election that has seated a Democrat, the tossing out of Reagan as a hero when it suits you, and a villian the rest of the time. Classy stuff, Maureen.

Here's Dowd's take on the transformation going on in the Middle East from Meet the Press this weekend:

Russert: " Would you now accept the fact that because of the invasion of Iraq, there is a possibility of democracy in Iraq and that may spread in the Middle East?

Dowd: "We are torturing people, we're outsourcing torture, the administration is trying to throw journalist in jail and basically trying to replace the whole press corps with ringers, including male escorts."

If that doesn't make you seriously question any word at all on any subject coming out of this woman's mouth, you're reading the wrong blog. Notice how Dowd doesn't even address the substance of Russert's question, but reflexively falls into her pat litany of Bush evils. This is not good journalism; the word that comes to mind is infantile.

It's not just me, folks; here's a liberal's assessment:
Speaking as a liberal, Maureen Dowd sucks. Her commentary is as saccharine as it is insipid, spawning half-assed arguments that begin with outrage and meander along, proving nothing before ending off with a parting salvo that usually resembles moral indignation.

General structure:
A) I can't believe the Bush administration did _____ [I usually agree with her here]
B) Rather than develop an argument against _____, I'll restate my anger with synonyms, off-point metaphors and some patent fire and brimstone.
C) Running out of space, I'll just state, again--for the record--that George W. Bush is ruining the country.

It's crap, really, and her latest piece is maybe the worst written thing I've read since last I drafted a blog.
Amazing how often the subject of Dowd's writing and the word 'crap' come up together (of course, Dowd has her fans, but they're the already converted radicals who spend hours insulting Bush at the Daily Kos and the Democratic Underground - a typical comment is 'Wow, Dowd nailed it on the head in her latest column'. Please - Dowd doesn't even know what 'it' is - how can she nail it?).

T. Bevan of the invaluable RealClearPolitics has a recent commentary up called 'Hardball with Maureen Dowd', in which he roasts Dowd for criticizing Bush's 'softball' press conferences when she herself, in her playtime job ('Look, everybody! I'm a journalist...') doesn't come close to hardball with any Democratic figures (specifically mentioning Kerry and Form 180).

I could list example after example of Dowd's anemic, unfunny, and meaningless prose, but I think I'll conclude with a look at the best anti-Dowd piece I have read to date, from Catherine Seipp at National Review Online (and read the whole thing, really; it's wonderful, and better in a few paragraphs than Dowd's entire oeuvre).
No one reads Maureen Dowd anymore for analysis, or insight, or even simple sense. They just read her because she's there, in the New York Times, like the weather report...An effective criticism of Bush and his policies has to involve more than just chirping "Rummy" and "Boy Emperor" or dreaming up whimsical dialogues. Dowd is now more pixyish than kittenish, which is part of what makes her so annoying. Who wants to deal with Tinkerbell flitting around when you're trying to read the op-ed pages?...
Dowd's relentless shallowness and silliness are her most obvious crimes against readers. And because she's the only woman with a plum twice-a-week spot on the
New York Times op-page, the tacit and insulting message she gives off is that female political thinkers can't be expected to actually think. Sometimes when she's skittering around, like a water-beetle on a pond's surface, Dowd happens upon a notion she likes a lot. But rather than develop it into an actual argument, she just repeats it endlessly, like an eight-year-old with a knock-knock joke...beneath all the cutesiness lurks thinking that is ignorant, hysterical, and unoriginal. There's never anything in a Dowd column that you haven't heard a hundred times before at any upscale cocktail party.
Well said, Catherine, well said indeed. If I could only once say that about a Maureen Dowd piece...

UPDATE 06/17/05 12:01 p.m. central: Thanks to the lovely and talented Michelle Malkin for the link...hope you'll kick off your shoes and stay awhile...

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