Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New York Times Right-Wing Sex Columnist Maureen Dowd Is Censured

Original Link: http://tomwatson.typepad.com/tom_watson/2008/06/new-york-times.html

Last November, I wrote to the public editor of The New York Times about the sickening behavior of one its star op-ed columnists, Maureen Dowd:

Mr. Hoyt,

I am well aware that opinion columnists in The Times are granted more leeway in their writing than reporters. Even so, tomorrow's Maureen Dowd column on the sexual roles of the major Democratic candidates for President is well beyond the pale for a family newspaper, and for any paper of national repute that claims to be a major voice of the republic.

Her explicit and wholly imagined "account" of the sexual motivation behind how the candidates behaved in a televised debate brings nothing but shame to the Times, and betrays the newspaper's long-held responsibility for public discourse. Her two-bit "analysis" of a specific sexual fetish as the reason for the candidates' lively give-and-take during the CNN debate coarsened that discourse and the reputation of The New York Times.

How can a paper like The Times continue to run these strange sexual imaginings week after week and refer to them as political coverage? What a disgrace.


Tom Watson
Mount Vernon, NY

I got no response - until Sunday. As Greg Sargent at TMP said, "it was pretty gratifying to see that Times public editor Clark Hoyt weighed in yesterday with a piece aggressively attacking Dowd's coverage of the Dem primary." Hoyt's attack on Dowd was tough, to the point, and stingingly effective - how can her letter of resignation not be on editor Andrew Rosenthal's desk this morning, after the thorough ethical knee-capping her own paper delivered?

Dowd's columns about Clinton's campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband that they could easily have been listed in that Times article on sexism, right along with the comments of Chris Matthews, Mike Barnicle, Tucker Carlson or, for that matter, Kristol, who made the Hall of Shame for a comment on Fox News, not for his Times work.

"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.

Over the course of the campaign, I received complaints that Times coverage of Clinton included too much emphasis on her appearance, too many stereotypical words that appeared to put her down and dismiss a woman's potential for leadership and too many snide references to her as cold or unlikable. When I pressed for details, the subject often boiled down to Dowd.


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.”

“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.”

Aulisio, the reader who wanted a review of Times coverage, asked if a man could have gotten away with writing what Dowd wrote. 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.

That folks, is utter editorial slaughter - the destruction of the columnist's reputation within the halls of the very newspaper she writes for (and it did no good for editor Rosenthal's rep, either). But, as Digby said so well, Dowd had it coming - and for a long, long time:

...the question isn't whether she should have treated Clinton any differently. It's that her entire worldview is toxic, both culturally and politically. She uses explicitly sexist and homophobic imagery that favors traditional authoritarian leadership to explain politics. She gets away with it because she has a rapier wit and is a physically beautiful person, thus insulating herself from the kind of criticism others would receive for writing this crud. But in truth she's a walking anachronism, more like a character in Mad Men than a modern sophisticate.

She is considered by many to be the top political columnist in the country (and her columns are often the most emailed articles in the Times.) Certainly she is Village Royalty. And that is undoubtedly one reason why people like Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson felt that it was perfectly acceptable to say the things they said during this campaign. She's their misogymuse.

It's long past time Dowd was called on this by someone other than filthy bloggers like me. This is a decent start, but until people realize that her "twisting of gender" is anything but benign good fun, we're going to be stuck battling this nonsense back no matter what kind of appendages our candidates might (or might not) be sporting.

This is a welcome development in the nation's leading political newspaper. As long-time commenter Bruce B. says, Dowd's behavior toward Senator Clinton was "despicable."

UPDATE: As Bob Somerby notes, Hoyt gets results. But what a take down!

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