while most of the left side of blogtopia (yes! we coined that phrase!) was busy watching howard dean on jay leno wednesday night, we, being the contrarians we are, tuned into david letterman. much to our chagrin, there sat maureen dowd, tartly dressed, sorry, we mean smartly dressed, in a lavender slip-like affair that looked more like she was auditioning for a victoria secrets’ christmas campaign than discussing national politics.

maureen, of course, was plugging her new book (about the battle between the sexes) more than weighing in on the policies and issues of the day, but still, one would think that a new york times op-ed columnist, especially one that made thackery-references about judith miller’s propensity to sleep her way to the top, would not want to look like an over-the-hill call girl herself when appearing on national tv.

certainly, ms. dowd is not an unattractive person. but she certainly suffered from having to follow charleze “aeon flux” theron, who knew how to dress elegantly and yet provacatively, in her red evening gown that at least looked like she could go somewhere besides to bed in it.

more after the jump:
of course, there is more to ms. dowd than her wardrobe, but after all, it is she (and the times) who are cultivating the “what if betty friedman were a babe” persona for the marketing of her latest tome. she even takes credit for single-handedly making feminism relevant again. we are not kidding! from radar online’s interview with her:

radar online: are you surprised by the response to your book?

maureen dowd: i’m proud that i’ve revived feminism.

oh, you’re the one! thanks for putting us straight on that. we guess naomi wolf can just go start her own clothing line for target now.

and so we mention her dress for two reasons: the first, and most obvious, is to be catty. but the second, and most important, is that “catty” is as “catty” does. ms. dowd, in her columns, tends to favor the cheap joke over the pithy analysis, the snide remark over the hard points.

we do admit that ms. dowd was one of the first inside the nytimes to call judith miller out for miller’s convoluted involvement in the plame-leaking scandal, and her sloppy, if not downright made-up, reporting on the lead up to the iraqi war. and by being such, maureen is held by many people on the left in high esteem.

( media matters, however, does take issue with the times giving dowd a forum to rip miller, but not returning the favor to judith.)

but those dowd-loving folks seem to have long term memory problems, as it was maureen who helped lead the charge against bill clinton for having the same sort of consensual sex she was dressing for on the letterman show (and in the nytimes magazine).

and ms. dowd, with all her laser-sharp focus on sexual innuendo that only english majors could understand, does not a thing towards fixing, or even addressing, really, the problems that lead the times to the situation it found itself in.

here’s anecdotal evidence from daw13’s dkos diary reporting on dowd’s visit to austin, texas, last month:

reading from a prepared script, [dowd] asserted immediately that of course the public needs journalists — now more than ever, for reasons she’d already editorialized about — the incumbent’s idiocies, indelicacies, and indecencies mainly. she made no reference to suspicions of journalistic collusion in the processes of neoconisn, of journalistic cooptation, of journalistic helplessness, patheticness or sycophancy. these suspicions floating among the un-braindead segment of the citizenry were presumably a good part of the reason for the overflow crowd on this particular evening. after exactly seven minutes (i later learned) she finished and the floor was opened for questions and answers. the crowd was silent.

all eyes focused on the lone questioner already stationed at the southern aisle microphone. a gray haired, imposing figure, it was none other than renowned muckraking journalist molly ivins. when ms. ivins asked if ms. dowd felt that journalists had been increasingly gutless since 911, sighs of relief could be heard around the auditorium. now it would begin, surely. this must have been planned. the real lecture would begin now and the issues we’d come to hear explored would be thoroughly aired. how sick is journalism? what is the prognosis?

ms. dowd rested her chin on her elbows at the speaker’s podium and explained to ms. ivins that journalists are human, and therefore understandably torn between a supportive and a critical stance toward their government. this dilemma seemed to be resolving itself, however, and did not appear to present a significant problem. this all took less than two minutes, and that was it. in the view of this writer, ms. dowd dispensed with molly ivins, her senior, more blooded, more honored, and by any reasonable standards, far mightier wielder of the pen — with a quip and a head toss. ms. ivins sat down.

we in my row stared at each other aghast, and attended to the lines of people now at the microphones, aching to hear ms. ivins challenge re-stated and reinforced. a teenaged woman asked why ms. dowd had decided to go into journalism; a thirty-five year old man asked how she went about her daily tasks; various people asked for her learned opinions concerning current events and life in general, which ms. dowd afforded — always with wit and style, in two seconds flat.

finally, i couldn’t stand it, so i joined the line and asked if we might get back to molly ivin’s question. for instance, did ms. dowd disagree with arianna huffington that perhaps judith miller was only a part of the process involved in delivering the new york times to the administration as a lapdogspokesorgan, and could ms. miller’s bosses, and ms. dowd’s for that matter possibly have been deeply involved? most important to me, and the community college students i had brought — about 30 attended, to my delight, and horror — was whether investigative journalism of such things as, um….journalism itself, was even possible — in her opinion? people clapped and said good for me, one lady even patted me on the shoulder. ms dowd explained to me, not unkindly, that she was an editorialist, and not an editor. we might want to invite some of the nyt editors themselves to address my type of question, although she felt confident (presenting no evidence for this) that her bosses were attending to the matters of my concern in credible fashion.

we are of the opinion that this dismissive attitude in favor of the quip and flirt reflects ms. dowd’s writing to a tee.

now, lest we be accused of a double standard, we must pause to clarify. certainly pundits and analysts are allowed to relax now and then, and wax poetic on subjects other than what the gao is investigating this week.  george will loves baseball.  we understand that.  eric alterman loves john fogerty.  we have a harder time with that one, but to each his own.  maureen dowd is allowed to love sex, and the tumultuous relationship between the genders in their pursuit thereof. who doesn’t?

but please, spare us the martyrdom of being too smart for men, maureen!

“i get plenty of dates. but, i don’t know, maybe i might get a lot more if i didn’t criticize men for a living” was dowd’s opening statement, which franken parried with, “you’re beautiful.”

well, yeah, she is, compared to al franken.

and, yes, we are certainly not ones to dismiss the use of snark, bad jokes and snide remarks in writing. indeed, snide is the glass that our blog house is made of, and we are not ones who can afford throwing “holier-and-better-writers-than-thou” stones at anyone, if we can mix our metaphors to the point of breaking.

however, after all is said and done, we are dismayed at ms. dowd’s insistence on using sex to sell her stature (or is it the other way around?) as a national voice in the political debate.  susan salter reynolds, reviewing dowd’s book in the latimes, puts her finger exactly on how we feel about ms. dowd’s body of work as a whole (please, no jokes):

were she more willing to engage, dowd could use “are men necessary?” to get at some important questions, like: does feminism represent a wrong turn for women? instead, she settles for the glib. “(w)as the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? do women get less desirable as they get more successful?” she asks early in the book…

dowd takes a sort of comedy central, take-my-wife-please approach to her writing, always going for the easy laugh. she skips from oprah to uma to enron to martha to ferraro to condi, relying on a dangerous combination of movie quotes, tv references and media-speak. sooner or later, though, it all winds down to the same trite “conclusion”: “once women were pleased when men whistled at them. now men are displeased when women blow whistles on them.”

it doesn’t hold together. even after having read the book twice, i’m hard-pressed to say what much of it’s about.

dowd’s writing style, with the quick personal jab, the shallow joke devoid of further investigation, the complete lack of taking any responsibility for being part of the access media rather than attempting to fix it with something more than bon mots, puts her less in the class of a buckley or brock and more in line with a buchwald or borowitz (or bush kangaroo).

not that there’s anything wrong with that. but then they, and we, aren’t op-ed columnists for the nytimes. and perhaps the question is, why is she?

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