WALTER AND DAVID AND RUSH AND GAIL: A diarrhea of errors!

TUESDAY, MARCH 13, 2012

Part 2—Treating Times readers like dogs: There was a time when you wouldn’t have heard about Mitt Romney’s dog.

For better or worse, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley wouldn’t have dealt with this subject. And in those days, for better or worse, people unlike Walter and David simply weren’t allowed on TV.

Or in the New York Times.

But then, one day, it happened! Someone gave Imus a radio show; then they said, “Why not Howard Stern?” Before long, even Rush Limbaugh was allowed on the air.

This slow, steady decline opened the door for Gail Collins.

As standards have fallen, people like Collins have extended the “creeping Dowdism” at the degraded Times. In the process, you get to read about Mitt Romney’s dog. With endless errors thrown in, just to heighten the fun!

Is there any point to the tale of the dog on the roof? We’ll examine the question of relevance starting tomorrow. But if we believe the tale of the dog is a relevant tale, then we ought to insist that a New York Times columnist give her readers accurate information about it.

This brings us back to what Neil Swidey wrote in the Boston Globe just a few months ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/12/12). For better or worse, Swidey broke the tale of the dog on the roof back in June 2007. In his opinion, Collins has been spreading misinformation about this now-famous tale.

Once again, this is Swidey’s recent recap of the now-famous tale, with a bit more detail from his indictment of Collins’ ongoing conduct:
SWIDEY (1/8/12): To recap: Sometime during a 12-hour drive from Boston to Canada in 1983, Mitt’s oldest son, Tagg, noticed a brown liquid running down the rear window of the family station wagon. Realizing the liquid was being discharged by their dog, Mitt pulled off the highway and into a gas station, borrowed a hose to wash down Seamus and the car, and then returned the dog to his rooftop carrier for the duration of the trip. Most media reports have accurately relayed those basics. However, exaggerations and faulty assumptions have been advanced, most notably by New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who has trotted out the ghost of poor Seamus in more than 30 of her pieces since 2007.

The exaggerations tend to be patently absurd, like the implication that Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car with nothing more than rope, rather than in a carrier with a specially fashioned windshield. The assumptions, however, are more subtle, and therefore more believable, but just as untrue. For the record, neither Tagg nor any other Romney was my original source for the anecdote. Collins and others have pushed this silly line to suggest how tone-deaf the Romney brood must be...
That’s as far as Swidey went in calling the roll of Collins’ distortions. As he continued, he pondered the reasons why this tale has garnered so much attention.

No one is forced to agree with Swidey’s view of Collins’ performance, of course. But it’s very rare for a major journalist to name another in such a rude fashion. Just for starters, let’s consider the two distortions he cited in this passage.

Let’s start with the “exaggeration” he describes as “patently absurd.”

Is it true that people have come to believe that Romney “strapped his dog to the roof of his car with nothing more than rope, rather than in a carrier with a specially fashioned windshield?” That he drove to Canada in that fashion, with his dog strapped to the roof of the car—full stop? Presumably, Swidey knows much more about what people think regarding this incident than we do. That said:

About a month ago, this thought did enter our head. Collins constantly writes that Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car—full stop, no mention of any container. For some reason, we finally wondered: Is it possible that her outraged readers actually think that Seamus himself was strapped to the roof of the car? That there was no doggy container?

The way they tied our lord to the cross? Given Collins' persistent construction, could that be what readers think happened?

We don’t recall why that thought finally entered our head, but we did make a few inquiries. And yes, we’ll have to admit: From the handful of people to whom we spoke, we got the impression that some people have been picturing the incident that way, in part because of the way Collins keeps describing the incident.

Swidey featured that exaggeration. We’ll assume that he has encountered this view from more than a couple of readers. We wish he had offered more information, especially since Collins has continued to thunder apace.

Second: Has Collins “pushed the silly line” that Tagg was Swidey’s original source? Has she “pushed this silly line to suggest how tone-deaf the Romney brood must be?” We don’t know, but that inaccuracy strikes us as benign compared to some of the bullshit that Collins is pushing.

Let’s consider three items of bullshit Collins pimped in last Thursday’s column. Remember: If you, like many of Collins’ readers, think this incident is important, then it should be reported with care.

Collins refuses to do that. A tale of three errors, not even counting omissions:

They weren’t allowed to get out of the car! The apparent distortions started quickly in Collins’ pitiful column. Early on, she too recapped the hoary old tale. As she did, she included a claim which had many commenters fuming:
COLLINS (3/8/12): The story took place in 1983, when the Romney family made a 12-hour pilgrimage from Boston to a vacation home in Canada. Romney, his wife, Ann, and five sons were in the station wagon. Seamus was in a crate, or kennel, on the roof.

At some point—possibly in response to the excitement about being passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea. And Romney, who had designated all the acceptable rest stops before beginning the trip, was forced to make an unscheduled trip to a gas station. Where he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog, then returned to the highway.

“It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management,” Swidey wrote.

People, does any of this sound appealing? Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets the hose.
On this occasion, Collins finally managed to mention the fact that Seamus was in a crate, or kennel—although she still forgot to mention that “specially fashioned windshield.” But note the claim she included, then stressed. When Romney pulled off to attend to Seamus, “he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog!”

People! They weren’t even allowed to get out of the car! They had to wait for the day when the master would let them visit the bathroom!

Many of Collins’ gullible commenters bellowed about this gruesome misconduct. Sadly, there is no sign in Swidey’s original report that any such conduct occurred. Indeed, Swidey’s report seems to say the opposite.

We aren’t linking to Swidey’s report because we can no longer find it on-line (except through Nexis). But this is what the gentleman wrote back in 2007:
SWIDEY (6/27/07): As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.

And it offered his sons a rare unplanned stop.
Swidey never said the family was forced to stay in the car. In the highlighted sentence, he rather plainly seemed to imply the opposite. Indeed: Elsewhere in his short account of this now-famous doggy disaster, he quoted Tagg Romney noting that Mitt would quickly pull off the highway anytime his wife, Ann Romney, wanted a bathroom break.

Within the fevered mind of Collins, a very different picture emerged. Her gullible readers were suitably furious, as we’ll note on Thursday.

Remember: If this story is actually relevant, it ought to be told in an accurate fashion. But Collins didn’t bother with that. Soon, she was playing it dumb about the case of the airtight container.

The case of the airtight container! In last Thursday’s column, Collins was talking to herself, something she may do fairly often. Her questions to self were printed in bold, a practice we will follow.

Before too long, she was asking herself about the airtight container:
COLLINS: “This is a completely air-tight kennel, mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself,'' Romney told Chris Wallace in a Fox interview that began with Wallace, a dog owner, demanding: ''What were you thinking?”

Wait a minute, if the kennel was air-tight, how did Seamus breathe?

Excellent question. Also hard to envision the animal continually trying to leap on top of the station wagon in order to enjoy its delights.
Classic Collins! She asks herself the world’s stupidest question, then tells her readers it’s excellent. But what did Romney actually mean when he said the container was air-tight? Presumably, he meant one of two fairly obvious things: He meant the container had solid walls except for the grill-type door, which presumably would have been facing backward. Or he meant that the windshield he “specially fashioned” had somehow been affixed to the kennel, keeping air from flowing through any air vents.

As we’ll see on Thursday, Collins encouraged her readers to see a gap in Romney’s logic. He said there was an airtight container! But that doesn’t make any sense! And sure enough—behaving like perfect ditto-heads, her readers hurried to swallow the bait. Many, many, many readers bellowed about this troubling point, offering inane “analyses” of this gap in Romney’s logic.

Would Walter and David have fired Gail for this piece of bullshit alone? We’d like to think they would have. By the way, you might also note this: Collins finds it “hard to envision” Seamus scrambling to get to his rooftop perch—and so she assumes it couldn’t have happened!

We once would have found it “hard to envision” New York Times readers being this foolish. But when we read Collins’ comments last week, sure enough! Woop! There it was!

While we’re at it, let’s pass on a rumor! Already, Collins should have been fired; the text of her fantastical column should have been on the cutting-room floor. So what the heck! Why not go all the way! As she neared the end of her stations, she decided to pass on a rumor!

If this story actually matters, what follows is astonishing conduct. Once again, Collins was talking to herself, in bold. But is the New York Times still a newspaper? If so, what was this published?
COLLINS: I heard a rumor that when the family got to Canada, Seamus ran away.

Seeking sanctuary? Mitt's sister, Jane, told Swidey that the dog developed a tendency to wander, and that she took Seamus to her home in California where there was more space. She also gave The Globe an extremely cute picture of Seamus cuddling with some kittens.
In this passage, Collins repeats a rumor. She then seems to endorse the rumor with her “seeking sanctuary” remark. For the record, there is no journalistic evidence—zero; none; zilch—that this rumor is actually true. But when we reviewed Collins’ comments last week, we’ll saw a predictable reaction:

Collins’ third commenter was already repeating this rumor as if it were an established fact! On Thursday, we'll review this predictable reaction. But it only took that long.

Over and over and over again, Collins’ commenters make it clear—they think this story is very important. For better or worse, they regard this hoary old tale of a dog on a roof as a window into a candidate’s soul. Collins, of course, has encouraged this view—although even in last Thursday’s column, she was too dishonest (too passive-aggressive?) to state her own view of this matter in a simple, clear, direct manner.

Why does Collins keep pimping this tale? She still wouldn’t quite explain. But if this incident is important, it’s important that Collins report it in an accurate way. And she refuses to do this.

For ourselves, we increasingly tend to think that Collins has problems. But what about the New York Times editors, the ones who keep putting this shit into print? And what about the ghosts of Walter and David?

What do they think of this non-journalistic pile? Is it real hard to envision?

20 comments:

  1. "For ourselves, we increasingly tend to think that Collins has problems."

    That's lovely! The only remaining question being, who's the maddest obsessive, Collins or Somerby?

    However, as long as we can settle the Seamus matter in Bob's favor, and get a universal declaration that Al Gore never quite said he invented the internet, our political culture will be whole.

    It's a wonderful future. Goodbye, Bob. Enough is enough.

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    1. The Real AnonymousMarch 13, 2012 at 12:57 PM

      I think I get it.

      Collins=Limbaugh and if you don't see it you're using your lizard brain!!

      Delete
    2. What a trollish monster you are. Goodbye. Enough is enough for trollish monsters.

      Delete
    3. "It's a wonderful future. Goodbye, Bob. Enough is enough."

      Wahhh! Waaaaahhhhh!!!

      Stop raining on my bullshit parade, you rotten Bob Somerby! Don't you realize, while you think you're bravely standing up for journalistic standards, you're actually defending the vile Mitt Romney?

      If he becomes president, I'll blame you and your kind, Somerby!

      Talk about useful idiots!

      There's a reason Gail Collins has her podium and you've got this crap blog, you know. She knows how to connect with people! No one's interested in your whiny tales.

      The point is: Romney's awful -- Gail Collins knows that, even if you don't! So go ahead, keep trying to get Romney elected President, you dunce. But I won't be reading your propaganda.

      Get with the program. Stop holding liberals to a higher standard. If someone else can lie about Obama, we've got to be able to lie about Romney. The truth just won't out!

      I've had enough of your self-defeating insistence on so-called "truth" -- goodbye.

      [/Anonymous, Really]

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    4. And these responses would be evidence that the Elect here have their lizard brains under control?

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    5. "That's lovely! The only remaining question being, who's the maddest obsessive, Collins or Somerby?"

      Please, Bob's forum, if you look at the top of the page is for "musings on the 'main stream' press corps." Please keep this in mind. Bob is not published in the "newspaper of record," a once highly regarded newspaper, that has degenerated into a mindless source of "bafflegab," gossip, and deceit.
      If you can't separate this idea from your prejudged ideas of Mr. Somerby, why bother reading him?

      Hoser

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  2. Anon -- IMHO opinion it's reasonable for Bob to keep correcting Collins, because she keeps misreporting this utterly unimportant story, and because the myth is widely repeated. E.g., a recent New Yorker magazine cover showed Santorum in a dog-house strapped to the roof of Romney's car.

    Another baseless rumor was started by Collins in the text quoted above:

    At some point—possibly in response to the excitement about being passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea.

    I've seen a number of commenters assume this cause-and-effect, even though there's no evidence and no veteranary has ever opined on the likelihood of such causality.

    In a way, I can't blame those who make this false assumption. This item has been flagged so often, that people naturally assume that it's an example of Romney doing something wrong. So, they make up a story that being on the roof caused the diarrhea or that he ran away. It's difficult for non-readers of this blog to believe that such a widely repeated story of a Romney mis-deed actually contains no misdeed of any kind.

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  3. Day after day Collins goes after Mitt. She's doing her best to prove that liberals attack nonstop. Remember what people said about Al Gore, attack attack attack. Attack attack attack. Poor Mitt. Did Seamus even exist? How do we know this? We do know that Collins has lost her mind. Bob says so all the time. I just wonder how poor David Brooks puts up with her.

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  4. Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd are beyond shameful, but Collins has methodically lied for months and the editors at the NY Times have allowed the lies to continue. Of course, beyond the lying, the story of the dog is an affront to any person who cares about meaningful journalism and democracy.

    This must be stressed and I am deeply grateful to Somerby as is every friend I have told the true story to.

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  5. Maureen Down by the way had a crazed column on Sunday:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/opinion/sunday/dowd-manlashes-manscara-and-mantyhose.html

    March 10, 2012

    Manlashes, Manscara and Mantyhose
    By MAUREEN DOWD

    USUALLY I’m the one musing about the end of men.

    But this time it was my friend John, who sent me an alarmed e-mail: “Crying Putin, manscara and now mantyhose. We are over.”

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    1. A correction is appended to this column:

      An earlier version of this column misspelled the given name of John Krasinski as Jon.

      The Times is happy to print a correction -- provided that the error is insignificant.

      Delete
  6. The column by Dowd was vicious and degrading, just crazy.

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  7. Every friend I have spoken to has heard or read the dog story somewhere other than in the columns by Collins. Same here. Collins simply went about trying to destroy Romney and be persisting found others to help.

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  8. Collins's ever shaggier dog story is probably closer to the Quayle Potatoe famine than any other intellectual blight of the political press.
    But Anonymous the first is sadly correct. The New York Times may itself be trying to forge a "he's so stupid" narrative, but at this point they've already overplayed it so badly it will probably create a backlash in it's favor.
    Gail Collins writes one hell of a stupid, unfunny political humor column and the fact that the Times pays her to recycle the same gag week after week is indeed scandalous. But so is the latest Adam Sandler movie, it is the small tragedy of our general unfunniness where comedy is concerned.
    The idea that Collins must be correct on her details of the pooch story is fairly absurd. National ob ed writers get there facts wrong all the time and print outrageous nonsense, hiding behind the "this is an opinion" excuse. Collins and Dowd are just latter day versions of Hedda Hopper (who wrote about politics too) they've just moved it from entertainment to infotainment.
    But obsessing on Collins just seems boring, anal retentive, and at this point part of the problem.

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    1. Yes, Bob Somerby's being the (virtually) lone voice to call out Collins' BS is definitely "part of the problem." [/stupidity]

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    2. @Swan

      Except that Collins doesn't even count as a side-show, in the nation's discourse.

      Has it occurred to you that perhaps the rest of the world wrote-off Collins, long, long ago, as utterly irrelevant and without interest? Particularly when there are far graver *journalistic* lapses, in what passes for news, in the NYT every day?

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    3. Have "they" written her off? Hmmmm, let's see number of comments on her column = hundreds. Not counting the ones that diss her.

      I would say you are quite wrong.

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    4. The people who are pro Collins are rah rah Dems who just want to win again and view this dumb bunny stuff as the way the game is played. How many, many times has The Daily Howler made excuses for the right wingers whom he often views as victims of the terrible press. Collins fans don't get that excuse, I guess. It might be fair to speculate they are people who have grown up on Dennis Miller, David Spade, South Park, and Saturday Night Live (home of the endlessly repeated single joke sketch) and just have really undeveloped senses of humor.

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  9. should be "in Romney's" favor.

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  10. and op ed, for that matter.

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