DAZE OF OUR TIMES: By now, the Dowdism has burrowed!


Part 3—Explaining Mitt Romney’s non-temper: With great prescience, Katherine Boo complained about the “creeping Dowdism” all the way back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was still a governor. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/11.)

Twenty years later, the fatuous mind-set Boo decried suffuses America’s “press corps.” At our dumbest newspaper, the New York Times, one of Dowd’s fatuous “research assistants” is currently spreading the nonsense around, by-lined as a reporter. You’re getting your creeping Dowdism straight when you read silly blather like hers.

The piece was written by young Ashley Parker. The piece appeared this Monday morning, right on the Times front page:
PARKER (11/28/11): Moments before the start of a recent presidential debate at Dartmouth College, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain flung open the doors to their closet-size green rooms and ran into Newt Gingrich.

“Oh my God,” Mr. Gingrich marveled. “I’m looking at the ticket right now.”

Then he went in for the kill. “I just don’t know how you’re going to feel about being vice president, Governor Romney,” Mr. Gingrich deadpanned.

Was that gentle teasing among friends? Full-out mockery? Or was Mr. Gingrich taking a dig at Mr. Romney, whom he is now battling in the polls for the top of the field?
Parker didn't observe these pointless events; she attributes her account to "a witnesss." Whatever! This was the start to her front-page “Political Memo” about friendships among the Republican candidates. As the fatuous youngster proceeded, she gave readers a pile of provisional knowledge about the various bondings.

"Mr. Perry and Mr. Huntsman are perhaps closer than any other pair of candidates," we are told (our emphasis). And not only that: "Mr. Cain is perhaps closest to Mr. Gingrich." Meanwhile, "perhaps because [Gingrich] has been a party stalwart for so long, he seems to have developed relationships with all the candidates."

As Parker continues, she keeps telling us how things seem and what is perhaps the case. Early on, she offers the requisite justification for all this front-page blather:
PARKER: So don’t always believe what you see. Politicians are, well, politicians, and their charm and glad-handing is sometimes driven more by expediency and ambition and less by true friendship. But having some sense of how candidates relate to one another can offer clues for the future—especially if one is elected president.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. said, famously, in 2007, that Senator Barack Obama was “not yet ready” for the presidency. But a year or so later, Mr. Obama pronounced the two of them fast friends from their days on the Foreign Relations Committee and picked him as his running mate. Was the choice based in friendship, calculation, policy passions—or maybe some sort of combination?
In a post-journalistic age, a person like Parker must be skilled at explaining why she's dispensing 1500 words of piddle. In this case, we are told that her observations may offer us “clues for the future,” apparently about presidential appointments. We are then offered a murky anecdote about Obama and Biden, complete with a “famous” statement by Biden—a statement so famous that we ourselves don’t recall ever having heard it. And no, she never answers the question which ends the passage we’ve quoted:

Does that alleged former friendship explain why Biden is now vice president? To this day, Parker has no idea. And yet, the empty child goes thrashing about, pretending that she is seeking new “clues” to such future transactions.

In truth, she’s wasting our time with this silly twaddle because it’s so silly, such fun. This is the essence of the Dowdism which has crept all through our world.

That said, the Dowdism has crept far and wide in the days since Boo introduced the complaint. For a taste of the inanity which pervades our nation’s “election coverage,” consider Alex MacGillis’ remarkably Dowdist report in the current New Republic.

Kevin Drum rolled his eyes at this piece at the start of the week (click here). The piece in question helps us see that the Dowdism hasn’t just crept. By now, it has burrowed, quite deeply.

The piece in question bears this headline: “Temperamental Journey: The peculiar anger of Mitt Romney.” As he starts, MacGillis describes the recent non-event in which Romney tried to make Rick Perry stop interrupting and talking over him at a debate. After recalling this pointless event, MacGillis provides the requisite rationale for the nonsense which is to follow:
MACGILLIS (11/23/11): Moments later, Romney returned to his usual stiff good cheer. Still, a flush lingered, as did the questions swirling among political commentators. What had just happened? How could Perry have so easily provoked the polished former CEO known for his robotic self-control?

The confrontation hinted that perhaps there was more to Romney’s emotional makeup than the reserved, overly programmed manner that is usually ascribed to him in the press. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that Romney has a genuine temper. “I’m always very surprised when people talk about Romney as stoic, because I never saw that,” says Brian Lees, the former GOP leader in the Massachusetts state Senate. “He got very animated about lots of things, impassioned, and sometimes angry.” Romney himself has acknowledged as much. In a June interview on CNN, he said his sons had come up with a name for any flare-up involving their father: They call it a “Mitt-frontation.”

A certain level of passion is a perfectly normal thing, of course. Yet Romney (whose campaign did not respond to questions for this article) has several times over the years found himself in embarrassing situations, ranging from confrontations with law enforcement officials to an altercation with a hip-hop star. These incidents raise the question of whether voters and journalists have completely misread the temperament of the likely Republican nominee.
Good lord! Have voters and journalists “completely misread” Candidate Romney’s temperament? Having advanced this provocative premise, MacGillis proceeds to burn up thousands of words discussing the “several times over the years” when Romney has “found himself in embarrassing situations” due to his troubling temper.

The key phrase is “over the years.” MacGillis’ first example occurs in June 1981, when Romney was 34 years old. He then skips forward some twenty-one years, to a thoroughly pointless, undocumented event at the Salt Lake City Olympics. If we accept MacGillis’ account of these two events, this would mean that Romney has had two bouts of troubling temper over the past thirty years. (According to MacGillis, these are “the most extreme indications that Romney might have a temper.”) But should we accept MacGillis’ accounts? Eventually, we get a look at his reportorial method in the case of the Utah incident:
MACGILLIS: In the days after the incident, the state’s top law enforcement official decided against an investigation. But the officer in charge of security at the downhill site, Weber County Sheriff’s Office Captain Terry Shaw, said a police sergeant from Colorado working under his command had corroborated Knopp’s account, and Shaw demanded an apology from Romney.

When I reached Shaw, who has since retired, he told me that he had not witnessed Romney’s fury; by the time Romney made it to Shaw at the front of the traffic jam, he had calmed down somewhat, though Shaw speculated that Romney’s softer tone may also have had to do with Shaw’s higher rank. Shaw told me he later demanded the apology anyway to back up his subordinates. Romney was initially unrepentant. “I won’t say it was exactly an apology. Things were left undecided,” Shaw told me. Subsequently, Romney attended a meeting with Shaw where he expressed regret for having lost his cool but still denied Knopp’s version.
For unknown reasons, MacGillis has interviewed Shaw, who didn’t witness this pointless incident but is willing to "speculate." MacGillis hasn’t interviewed the two people who actually witnessed the incident, nor does he explain why he didn’t.

(For the record, Knopp was 18 years old at the time—and he seems to have said that Romney used the F-word! With the emphasis on seems to have said.)

Why didn’t MacGillis interview Knopp, or the Colorado lieutenant, about this troubling matter? No word! The scribe did interview Fraser Bullock, a Romney associate who witnessed the non-event. Did Romney actually use the F-word? MacGillis gives us a thrill by quoting the old reports in which Knopp seems to say that he did. But he oddly fails to tell us what Bullock said about this central question.

This is Dowdism, pure and simple. And no—this isn’t “reporting.”

To which far planet do news orgs go to hire “journalists” of this type? In the case of MacGillis, TNR went to the Washington Post, a planet to which the Dowdism crept a good long time ago. At famous “newspapers” like the Post, “journalists” learn to compose such blather—silly twaddle in which they pretend to examine a candidate’s “temperament” or “character.”

You’ve seen this silly stupid shit through many White House cycles. It’s the artifact of a low-IQ, upper-class cohort which has replaced what was once called the “press corps.” You’ve seen Al Gore’s “character” thrashed in these ways; you’ve seen Dowdists worry why Candidate Obama would ask for orange juice in a bar. Why in the world did Candidate Kerry order Swiss cheese on his Philly cheesesteak? Why would he go windsurfing? You’ve seen this silly shit extended to almost all who walk on the stage, with especially low standards observed in the case of targeted candidates.

That said, MacGillis’ piece represents some of the purest Dowdism you’ll ever encounter. After wasting everyone’s time with his tiny number of alleged incidents, he then wastes your time some more, listing seven (7) different theories for Romney’s temper—the temper which has gone on display three or four times in the past thirty years. (Or not.)

How low is the IQ of this “press corps?” How low is our IQ as a nation? As the Dowdism creeps and surges and burrows, the question is asked by very few people. Even in the “liberal” world, it’s exceptionally hard to insult our intelligence, a fact we seem intent on displaying. And sure enough! In the massive dumbness which fills the news hole, our failing nation keeps sliding down Dowd’s Hill toward the wine-dark sea.

Tomorrow: Creeping Gail Collinsism

Seven attempts to explain: What explains Romney’s explosive temper? In a brilliant display of long-form Dowdism, MacGillis lists seven (7!) theories. We’ll give you a taste of each:

“One centered around his adolescence.”

“Another school of thought centers around Romney’s fixation on decorum.”

“There is the repression explanation.”

“Birmingham and others also point to another theory: the entitlement of an executive.”

“I heard a slight variation on this theory from someone who was a high-level Romney appointee in Massachusetts.”

“There is one final theory that might explain Romney’s occasional outbursts: He may simply be a genuinely quirky person.”

“This time around, Duprey says, Romney seems determined to stand up for himself...'He’s less programmed about letting it show, whether it’s anger or humor.’”

The Dowdism just keeps getting dumber. Few seem to notice or care.


  1. I may be sticking my head in the lion's den here, but I for one, would like to get a better sense of who Mitt Romney is. He may be the most closed off candidate ever. He never seems to give interviews, we know virtually nothing about him personally, and little about his past. I think this spate of Romney hair stories, trivial as they are individually, reflects this sense of remoteness, the press feels, perhaps unconsciously, about Romney.

  2. Good post Bob.

    What bull crap indeed!

    Anonymous, stop it. You're killing me.

    What personality traits would you like to know?

    For me, the only personality traits I care abut are those that affect Romney's role in our government. Specifically, will he stand up to the fascists that run this country or will he be a willing servant?

    I have engaged in enough armchair psychoanalysis to know the answer to that questions. Romney is the same willing fascist that Barack Obama is and I don't need a NY Times cub reporter to spin a Dowdy tale for me to figure that out.

    But of course the NY Times won't go there. Hell, the NY Times would exhibit the same sociopath personality traits if it was on the couch itself.

    We have multiple examples of the NY Times making similar decisions as Obama and Romney. For instance, when they hid the vast lawless eavesdropping our government was engaging in--just as the politicians like Obama and Romney did.

    As soon as the NY Times asks what makes politicians like Obama tick so that he can kill tens of thousands of people in the name of his fascist masters, then I will start finding this psycho babble crap interesting.

    As is, it's the mental masturbation of the next generation of sycophants, i.e. Ashly Parker.

    She's a servant of power and nothing but a propagandist.

  3. Well, it's a weird world. Years ago Bill Maher declared on his show that the two critical voices in Washington he absolutely HAD to read were Christopher Hitchens and Mo Dowd. Maher, owing it seems to palling around with Bob back in his stand up days, always rates a pass from "The Daily Howler" and Hitchens has gone basically unmentioned since his glory days in The Impeachment.
    Dowd is also treated with kid gloves by Charlie Rose, and one of the main points of David Denby's "Snark" was the tragic decline of Dowd's great talent. Possibly relevant point: the daily scribes of old used to publish collections of their work that hit the bookstores every few years. Although they all seem to cob out SOME kind of book, you don't see this so much anymore. A retrospective of Dowd over the 9-11 period, when She used her post mostly to beat up on an out of office Al Gore, would be really interesting to see. Same goes for LA's king of bad writing and "get Clinton" swill, Marc Cooper.

  4. Devastating post, Bob. The combination of focusing on trivial events and then not even taking the trouble to find out what really happened in these events is amazing. I think you're dead right to call it Dowdism. Dowd's attitude is that what she imagines is more important than what's real. Sadly, this approach has many, many fans.