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Daily Howler: Gabler called Dowd a ''left-wing star.'' What makes us say such things?
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THAT MAKES US SAY THESE THINGS? Gabler called Dowd a “left-wing star.” What makes us say such things? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 30, 2008

WHO THE %&#@ IS CLARK HOYT: On Sunday, New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt published four letters concerning the pounding he dished to Maureen Dowd last week.

Sadly, the first letter came from Times columnist Gail Collins. Collins’ letter was so inane—or so dishonest—that we’ll post the whole sorry thing. It gives you a look inside the world of our broken-souled upper-end “press corps:”

Re “Pantsuits and the Presidency” (June 22):

As a Times columnist, I never envisioned myself writing a letter to a fellow resident of the paper’s opinion section. But I feel compelled to respond to your assault on Maureen Dowd.

Your complaint about Maureen seems to be that many supporters of Hillary Clinton found her columns offensive. As a former editorial page editor, I can absolutely assure you that supporters of many, many candidates from both parties have found Maureen’s columns offensive over the years.

The sharpness of her wit makes her commentary particularly painful to those who are on the receiving end. That’s also why so many readers love her and exactly what The New York Times pays her to do.

When the public editor laces into an opinion page columnist for making fun of a controversial political figure, it sounds like a suggestion that all of us tone things down. I hope I’m hearing wrong.

New York, June 23, 2008

How inane—or dishonest—is Collins’ letter? Just consider the sentence we’ve highlighted: “Your complaint about Maureen seems to be that many supporters of Hillary Clinton found her columns offensive.”

To judge from that sentence, Collins can’t quite figure out what Hoyt was saying about Dowd’s work. His complaint seems to be that Clinton supporters found Dowd’s work offensive. But Collins can’t really be sure.

We can form two judgments from that ludicrous sentence. First possibility: Collins can’t read. Second possibility: Collins is willing to lie in your face in defense of her addled cabal.

“Your complaint about Maureen seems to be that many supporters of Hillary Clinton found her columns offensive?” That assessment is simply absurd—if we know how to read English. In his June 22 column, Hoyt began by citing complaints from the public—an approach he often takes in his role as public editor. But he quickly stated his own assessments of what the public had said. For example, he didn’t think that Times news reporting had been driven by sexism. “I think a fair reading suggests that The Times did a reasonably good job in its news articles,” he said, in his third paragraph.

But his view of Dowd’s work was quite different. After a long assessment in which many people, including Dowd, were allowed to state their views, Hoyt stated his judgment. Here’s the way his piece ended:

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

Hoyt’s judgment was stated quite clearly. “[B]y assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column,” Dowd “went over the top this election season.” (Earlier, he had referred to “the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton,” which had appeared “in 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1.”)

Collins is free to disagree with Hoyt’s judgment. But it’s so much simpler to pretend that you can’t even figure out what he said! Somehow, Collins managed to read Hoyt’s column without discerning the judgment he rendered. Either that, or she was lying—lying in your faces again.

For ourselves, we’ll assume that Collins is able to read. We’ll assume she understood what Hoyt said, but preferred to hand the rubes a sanitized version of his outrageous column. You see, people like Collins have played this sick game a long time; they’re unaccustomed to the indignity of criticism of the type Hoyt delivered. Her natural reaction to such an outrage? Of course! She played dumb—lied—about what Hoyt said! She boo-hoo-hooed, and pretended that Hoyt was trying to “tone down” free inquiry!

I never thought I’d be writing this letter, this pathetic sack of sh*t said. Shorter Gail Collins: Who the %&#@ is Clark Hoyt? Who the %&#@ is this %&#@ing Clark Hoyt to say such things inside our palace?

WHO IS CLARK HOYT: Who is Clark Hoyt? To give you a hint of the culture gap involved in Collins’ letter, here’s a chunk of what Richard Perez-Pena wrote when Hoyt was named public editor:

PEREZ-PENA (5/4/07): The New York Times today named its next public editor, Clark Hoyt, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and editor who oversaw the newspaper chain’s coverage that questioned the Bush administration’s case for the Iraq war.


In the prelude to the Iraq war and the early days of the war, Knight-Ridder stood apart from most of the mainstream news media in raising doubts at times about the Bush administration’s claims, later discredited, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said that record contributed to his selection of Mr. Hoyt.

In short, Keller had hired an actual journalist to review the work of a gang of clowns. On Sunday, one clown spilled from the Volkswagen bug to “defend” the work of another—by pretending she didn’t understand what the journalist had actually said.

But then, Hoyt has been there before. There have been other “angry readers:”

PEREZ-PENA: There was a lot of work Knight-Ridder did that was prescient, that wasn’t easy to do,” Mr. Keller said. “It’s always hard to go against conventional wisdom. I think it probably brings him a measure of credibility that helps in getting started on a job like that—that he’s been associated with a brave and aggressive reporting exercise like that.”

Mr. Hoyt said that in 2002 and 2003 he had fielded a great deal of criticism “from angry readers who believed that we weren’t being patriotic, from government officials who said that what we were doing was wrong.”

In fairness, those “angry readers” didn’t really understand. Sunday’s “angry reader” understood full well. She understood that she and her pals live inside Versailles—and that Hoyt could just go %&#@ himself.

A culture clash thus played out in her letter. This culture clash has been won by the clowns over the past sixteen years.

WHAT MAKES US SAY THESE THINGS: We’ve been very big fans of Neal Gabler’s work for a long time. (After replacing FAIR’s Jeff Cohen, he served brilliantly on Fox NewsWatch—the network’s lone fair-and-balanced show— for years.) But Gabler’s column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times is just remarkably wrong in one major way; in this regard, it would be hard to write a less accurate column about today’s political press corps. We’d like to think that Gabler’s editors changed his piece in one basic way, endlessly dropping the word “so-called.” But we doubt it.

“Cannibal liberals,” says the headline. “Why do left-leaning journalists eat their own?” Gabler starts by citing a familiar (if under-sampled) litany of attacks against Major Dems over the past sixteen years. The problem arises when he describes the journalists who have lodged these attacks.

Who taunted Candidate Gore (falsely) about Love Story? Who invented that (bogus) NASCAR quote and put it in Candidate Kerry’s mouth? Who called Bill Clinton “an overweight band boy?” Who has insisted on mocking Obama as “Obambi?” To his credit, Gabler names the names of the people involved—the people who have most damagingly “demonized” and “disparaged” Big Dems. But even as he names their names, Gabler’s description of these journalists is surpassingly strange. Why do we insist on misstating the most basic facts of life?

GABLER (6/29/08): All these examples—and there are hundreds more—were uttered not by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, David Brooks or any of the other Republican mouthpieces in our newspapers and on our airwaves. They were all said or written by liberal journalists, and even in a few cases by onetime Democratic operatives turned journalists, such as Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos. Indeed, the worst offender by far, the "Ingrid Bergman" in the example above, has been the New York Times' liberal columnist Maureen Dowd, who has never met a Democrat she hasn't disparaged.

Gabler is right on one key point—and he fleshes out this point as his column continues. The serious damage to Major Democrats (like Gore, to cite one example) was done by people like Matthews and Dowd (and Connolly; and Seelye; and Fineman; and Williams), not by movement conservatives like Limbaugh or Hannity, and certainly not by Brooks. (O’Reilly was quite fair to Gore—sometimes aggressively so, as late as October 2000.) In the past sixteen years, it has not been the “conservative” press which has done the most harm to Big Dems. Gabler is right on that key point—and that point is very important.

But good God! We’re stunned by the way Gabler describes the people who are at fault! Once again, let’s look at the way he describes the journalists who have done the serious damage:

GABLER: They were all said or written by liberal journalists, and even in a few cases by onetime Democratic operatives turned journalists, such as Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos. Indeed, the worst offender by far, the "Ingrid Bergman" in the example above, has been the New York Times' liberal columnist Maureen Dowd, who has never met a Democrat she hasn't disparaged.

According to this remarkable passage, Dowd and Matthews are “liberal journalists.” Dowd is described as a “liberal columnist.” Later, Gabler even says what follows. We’re sorry, because we love so much of his work. But this is truly kooky:

GABLER: [T]here was another fear the left itself created: the fear that in an increasingly ironic and youth-oriented society, it would never do to be earnest. It might be seen as square and uncool. This may have accounted for the left's attitude of snarky superiority when it came to Gore, whom many hammered for being square, and Kerry, whom they ridiculed for being stilted, too sincere and elitist. For some left-wing media stars—Dowd especially—earnestness was a sin.

In that passage, and in his full paragraph, Gabler repeatedly refers to people like Dowd and Matthews as “the left”—and as members of “the liberal media.” Indeed, in his most ludicrous flight of fancy, Gabler even describes Maureen Dowd as a “left-wing media star.”

Let’s not put too fine a point on this. It’s absurd to describe Maureen Dowd as a liberal. To call her “left-wing” is insane.
Because the life of the world is at stake, let’s get clear on who these people are—and on who they aren’t.

Sorry, but Dowd and Matthews aren’t “liberals” in any apparent way. We don’t mean that as a criticism; there’s no requirement that people be liberals, and most Americans aren’t. But we can’t imagine why we’d want to describe these people (and their colleagues) as “liberals,” let alone as “left-wing.” The absurdity of Gabler’s stance comes clear as he continues:

GABLER: Democrats wading into this year's rough media surf don't really have to fear the right wing because the right has staked out its own beach with its own folks and not many Democratic voters go there...What the Democrats generally and Obama specifically have to fear is what the liberal media—pundits, TV commentators and even some reporters at reputedly leftish newspapers—will wind up doing to them. That's because, far from delivering the kind of spirited to-the-death defense that even the widely unpopular President Bush gets from most right-wing commentators, the liberal media almost always eat their own.

It wasn't always this way. As recently as the 1970s, there were liberal columnists like Carl Rowan and Charles Bartlett who defended the liberal point of view...

So let’s see: According to Gabler, the political press corps is full of “liberals”—except they won’t espouse any liberal views and they typically trash the more liberal candidates! Surely we all can see the oddness of the logic involved here.

Again, Gabler is correct about the way these people behave. He’s just wrong—very weirdly wrong—when he insists on calling them “liberals.” Sorry, but Dowd and Matthews aren’t “liberal” or “the left”—and they certainly aren’t “left-wing.” It’s deeply foolish—and deeply unhelpful—to keep offering this ludicrous framework.

What are Matthews, the late Tim Russert and Dowd, three of the journalists Gabler mentions? These three major figures are not all the same. But once we accept the obvious fact that these people aren’t “liberals,” here are three other ways we might want to imagine them:

You might think of them as Reagan Democrats: Matthews and Dowd aren’t “movement conservatives;” neither was Russert. But Gabler writes as if everyone who isn’t a movement conservative is therefore a liberal. If we were to define these three by ideology, the most helpful standard term might be “Reagan Democrat.” Matthews and Dowd grew up in Republican-tilting homes; in his book, Russert seemed to describe his dad as a classic Reagan Dem.

Reagan Democrats aren’t movement conservatives. But good grief—they aren’t “liberals” either! And no, they aren’t “left-wing.”

You might think of them as Irish Catholics: Gabler mentions some Democrat-trashers who aren’t Irish Catholic. But he leads his piece with Matthews and Dowd—and then quickly mentions Russert. As we’ve noted, the Clinton/Gore-hating of this gang may well be related to their religious culture. And no, this isn’t our pet theory; many people noticed the central role of Irish Catholic journalists in the Clinton-hatred of the 1990s. For example, here is Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry, quoted by New York magazine’s Ariel Levy on this topic:

LEVY (11/7/05): Dowd is assumed by most people to be a Democrat. But a certain brand of lefty will never forgive her for her coverage of the Clinton impeachment, the work that won her a Pulitzer. “A lot of people thought, Well, Maureen Dowd should be a liberal columnist and sticking up for our side,” says Mike McCurry. "They thought that she was aiding and abetting Ken Starr and the Republican hate machine, and in reality she was part of this kind of Irish-Catholic mafia that included Chris Matthews and Mike Kelly that thought Clinton's sins were beyond the pale."

By the way, the “Irish-Catholic [media] mafia” which McCurry described is tightly interwoven. The late Michael Kelly was a childhood friend of Dowd’s; Matthews is one of the “infinitely creative and caring friends” she thanked in the acknowledgments to her recent book. As Levy continued, Arthur Gelb waxed a bit about Dowd’s “Irish sensibilities:”

LEVY (continuing directly): Dowd was the youngest of five children raised by her father, Mike, who was a D.C. police inspector, and her mother, Peggy, who died this past July and was the love of Dowd's life so far. Dowd's mentor, former Times managing editor Arthur Gelb, calls Peggy Dowd "the source, the fountain of Maureen's humor and her Irish sensibilities and her intellectual take.”...

"I listened in on one of their conversations once and it was just like one of Maureen's columns," says McCurry. "That same kind of caustic commentary. I remember thinking, Her columns are letters to her mom."

Her mom, like the rest of the Dowd family, was thoroughly Republican.

Often, casual observers of American politics think of We Irish as liberals; it’s an association that began with the rise of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. But a deeply conservative social strain has long run through Irish-American culture, especially in the angry enclaves of the East Coast. According to McCurry (we’ll expand his list a bit), Dowd/Matthews/Kelly/Margaret Carlson/Russert/Brian Williams/Connolly/Barnicle/Gail (Gleason) Collins/Shields (not to mention Noonan/O’Beirne (not so bad)/Hannity/William Bennett/O’Reilly) “thought Clinton's sins were beyond the pale.” This aspect of this group’s “Irish sensibilities” does not tilt them toward “liberal” or “left-wing” politics. Few of these people have ever shown any serious liberal tendencies. As a group (and as individuals), they have often shown the conservative social tendencies of their ethnic heritage.

There’s nothing evil about such a heritage. But it isn’t “liberal.”

You might think of them as corporate tools: Matthews seems a bit more liberal in some tendencies than Russert did. But like Russert, he worked for NBC News—and NBC News is owned by General Electric. GE is one of the world’s largest corporations—and during most of the period in question, it was run by Jack Welch, a near-billionaire conservative Republican not given to left-wing causes. (There’s nothing wrong with that.) Matthews and Russert “shared a Catholic bond” with Welch; they bought multimillion-dollar summer homes near Welch’s own home on Nantucket. (Russert would fly to his $7.2 million island barony to churn propaganda about being from Buffalo.) After thirty years of conservative complaints about the press corps’ liberal bias, are we supposed to imagine that Welch hired a bunch of “left-wing” liberals to drive his news network? Are we supposed to assume that Welch’s corporate agenda had no influence on Matthews, Russert and Brian Williams, who was put in line for Brokaw’s job on Welch’s watch? Who played the fool, beating up on Gore during Campaign 2000?

Gabler is right on one key point. Over the past twenty years, the major damage done to Dems has not been done by conservatives. He’s also right when he says that the major harm has come from Matthews and Dowd—and from a long string of others. But why on earth do we insist on calling these people “liberals”—even “left-wing?” There are many other ways to describe them. Why do we describe them in a way which is patently wrong?

JUST ANOTHER LEFT-WING LIBERAL: Here was the late Michael Kelly, Dowd’s childhood friend, giving his liberal tendencies another work-out in the Washington Post. It was September 2002. Gore had just given a speech warning against war with Iraq:

KELLY (9/25/02): Distasteful as it may be, some notice should be paid to the speech that the formerly important Al Gore delivered Monday at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

This speech, an attack on the Bush policy on Iraq, was Gore's big effort to distinguish himself from the Democratic pack in advance of another possible presidential run. It served: It distinguished Gore, now and forever, as someone who cannot be considered a responsible aspirant to power. Politics are allowed in politics, but there are limits, and there is a pale, and Gore has now shown himself to be ignorant of those limits, and he has now placed himself beyond that pale.

Gore's speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts—bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.

Gore’s speech was dishonest, cheap, low, wretched, breathtakingly hypocritical, contemptible and vile. And, of course, it turned out to be right. And Gore didn’t run for the White House.

Kelly, of course, was out of his mind; he was every bit as crazy (and dishonest) as Dowd and Matthews are. But he wasn’t a “movement conservative” either. Should we then describe him as a “liberal?” As “left-wing?” Or are there better ways to understand his relentlessly odd and destructive conduct—including the way McCurry suggested in Levy’s piece?