Pundit watch: Why must they fight?


Maureen Dowd snarls at Collins: Tomorrow, we'll be returning to full HOWLER services. Today, before we head for the train, we chronicle a nasty feud which has broken out at the very top of the of the pundit corps.

As Grandmother always used to say, "Why must they fight?"

The fued involves two New York Times columnists, Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd. Many saw Collins as a Dowd wannabe when she began her work as a sillybill columnist.

This weekend, the resentment spilled out.

Overall, the similarity of viewpoint was on clear display. On Saturday, Collins helped us see what a dope Perry was at last week's GOP debate. On Sunday, Dowd helped us see that too:
COLLINS (9/25/11): But it was impossible to watch that debate without realizing that Perry is not presidential timber, or even presidential polyurethane.

Here was Perry's answer to the inevitable question about what he'd do if the White House phone rang at 3 a.m. In this case, the hypothetical call informed the hypothetical President Perry that the Taliban had gotten control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that's one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with--and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country--so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States."

DOWD (9/26/11): The only reason Perry got in the race in the first place was that Republicans yearned for an alternative to Romney. (This weekend, they were drunk-texting Chris Christie.) But for now, Perry is proving to be Romney's best asset.

Asked the 3 a.m. question by a moderator, Bret Baier of Fox News, what would a President Perry do if he got a call saying Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban, the Texas governor offered a Palinesque meditation on "the Pakistani country."

"Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region," he said. "And that's one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with--and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country--so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States." But can he see the Taj Mahal from his house?
Dowd threw in that Taj Mahal crack as a way of topping Collins. She would play the Palin card because her rival hadn't! (She also mentioned drunk-texting. Youngsters, always write about the things you know!) But Dowd's ultimate power move involved a topic Collins has made her own: The strapping of Mitt Romney's dog.

On Saturday, Collins raised the topic for at least the twentieth time. Indeed, she played her favorite card early on. This was the start of her column:
COLLINS: Gloom pervades the land. Some people believe it's the economy. Others blame the weather. I think it's because the country is gradually coming to grips with the fact that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee for president.

It is a scientific fact. Every minute, somewhere in America, another citizen realizes that Mitt is going to be in our face for the next 14 months. Conceivably for the next nine years. Children now in third grade might graduate from high school without ever experiencing a totally Romney-free day.

This is not something I'm happy pointing out. For one thing, I don't want to believe I live in a country that would seriously consider bestowing the nation's highest office on a man who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Plus, we have barely gotten started on Rick Perry, the last great Mitt alternative. Have you noticed how huge his chest and shoulders are? Looming over his lectern at Thursday's debate, he looked like a float.
Perry's chest and shoulders are too large, but Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car! It was good solid hard-hitting stuff. At any rate, Collins dropped the Seamus reference at our feet, much as Seamus would have done with his master's slippers. If he hadn't been strapped to the roof of that infernal car!

The next day, Dowd fought back. The upstart had made this play once too often. Dowd now said it was hers:
DOWD: In "Pretty Woman," Richard Gere played a financial shark who downsized companies; he wore expensive suits, went to polo matches and drove an expensive sports car. (No dog or hooker tied to the roof.) Romney, by contrast, is trying to downplay his downsizing fortune and his upgrading of his snazzy La Jolla beach house.
There! She even worked in the beach house. And of course, she mentioned hookers, topping Collins again! East Coast owns St. Louis!

Dowd went on to do the Carl Jr.'s stuff, using last week's tough-as-nails reporting by Ashley Parker. But when Dowd muscles in on the Seamus account, it's pretty clear that the New York Times has a real fight on its hands.

Krugman and Brooks have squabbled at times. This makes the pair look like playful puppies next door to a Michael Vick house party!

Collins has worked the Seamus account since August 4, 2007, when she told us this, quite correctly as things have turned out: "Every time Mitt Romney walks on stage, a sodden Irish setter is going to flash before my eyes." Her headline said this: "Haunted by Seamus." We should have seen it coming then. At the Times, Dowd had always owned the "haunted" beat; haunted belonged to her. More specifically, she owned the "haunted Irish" beat, and Seamus wasn't just any dog.

As Grandmother always said, "Why must they fight?" At one time, Dowd would have settled for the Carl Jr.'s stuff, letting Collins handle the pets. Now, it seems the agreement have changed. As we close, let's state the obvious:

The American people will be the big losers if this thing turns into a teeth-baring brawl. Readers will be hungry for Romney trivia for months, perhaps years, to come. We think the Times should step in now to settle this dispute.


  1. Mr. Somerby, you and your analysts know these two are going to go this route again and again. It's all they know. I would say that I can't wait until Dowd starts her wacky pscyhologizing of Romney, but I can. I really don't want to read it. I do hope, however, that you will tackle some of the New York Times's other recent, Versailles-style coverage, such as Gia Bellafante's very sneering article on the OccupyWallStreet protests, which could easily have been written by someone peering down on the rabble from one of the gilded apartements in Revolutionary-era France.

    This was, mind you, the first full Times article on the event that did not focus on the arrests to make the front page of the online section (the rest have been City Room blog posts), and the paper chose a pop culture/TV reporter to write it. She was so dismissive and obnoxious it wasn't even funny, and the Times promptly shut the comments section down, one supposes because many (most?) readers did not agree with her perspective or tone.

    Also, I think someone has already pointed this out, but Gail Collins is from Cincinnati, and went to school in Milwaukee and Amherst, Massachusetts. I don't think she has any ties to Saint Louis, but I could be wrong. She's even professing these days, at Columbia University. She is also, it appears, cut from the same Gaelic cloth as you and Ms. Dowd. Slainte!

  2. Are the two really rivals? I mean, do you have an insider's (in some sense of that term) perspective on this? Or are you constructing a rivalry? Either way, interesting way to read the two of them -- well, I hardly ever read Dowd. I prefer to keep my breakfast in my stomach. I never took to her for a second. Loathsome was she in the Clinton years. I happen to know no readers of the Times who thought otherwise. Any attention she's paid seems to come from the silliest of the Versailles set.
    Collins at least has a certain midwestern sensibility that I like. (Or maybe I'm projecting.) Still. I used to think of her as the Times' attempt to bring back Russell Baker (who cut his teeth in Baltimore!). Now I'm not sure anyone left at the Times even remembers Baker's name.
    There's a true sophistication in a Baker, a sophistication born of a rare combination of intelligence and earthiness (well, maybe not rare except in WRITERS! Many people live it.) Collins aspires to that, but -- and here's a test -- she never even tries to write a column that is straightforwardly "serious." Most of the time Baker would play light and clever and in the midst of that (to various degrees) insightful, but he could also just lay out a thoughtful, contemplative essay. Have I somehow missed Colllins even trying that?
    Puts me in mind of great comedic actors. The test comes when they do "serious"/tragic parts. The best also make the very best tragic actors. (Others are a little embarrassing. See Robin Williams.) It can work the other way, of course. The "serious" actor who turns to parts where s/he's be a brilliant comedic actor -- and is frustrated at not being respected for what s/he considers that greater achievement, the comedic talent.
    I'm put in mind of Socrates and Aristophanes arguing at the end of the Symposium....