DAZE OF OUR TIMES: The insights spread!


Part 2—The Dowdism creeps to Ruth Marcus: Things get silly very fast when the New York Times’ Ashley Parker gets her inner Dowd on.

Last Friday, Parker penned a front-page “news report”—a report about Mitt Romney’s hair. In line with High Pundit Law, she and her beard, Michael Barbaro, felt the need to construct an excuse for their mountain of silly-shit nonsense.

Why did Parker compile this mountain of bilge? Of course! She blamed her own rock-bottom IQ on pretty much everyone else:
PARKER (11/25/11): A certain segment of the political world seems riveted by the topic. During a Republican presidential debate in Michigan two weeks ago, blogs and Twitter feeds suddenly lighted up with commentary: a few errant strands of hair had appeared to drape over Mr. Romney's forehead.

''Switched to CNBC in HD to confirm a 7th Romney hair straying down,'' Rick Klein, a political analyst and senior editor at ABC News, posted on Twitter.

Esquire magazine registered its disapproval. ''Romney's hair has officially lost its glory,'' tut-tutted one of its bloggers.

Interviews with voters on the campaign trail suggest that, if anything, Mr. Romney's age-defying hair is an asset, especially with women.

At a recent campaign stop in Manchester, N.H., Caroline Cagan acknowledged a weakness for his lush locks.

''A lot of people would pay a lot of money to have hair like that,'' said Ms. Cagan, a local Chamber of Commerce member. ''It projects youth. And, honestly, you can't help but think that people with good hair are in good health.”
It isn’t that Parker enjoys this dumb shit. She’s forced to go there, thanks to “a certain segment of the political world.” And those silly-shit voters think this way too! Especially the women! At least, that’s what “interviews suggest”—“interviews” which may have involved as many as three or four people.

This is utterly fatuous work—the lowest of all pseudo-journalism. But this has been the norm at our dumbest newspaper for quite a few cycles now. In 1999, Melinda Henneberger composed a dumb-as-shit New York Times “news report” about Candidate Gore’s body language, which she found disturbing, distracting; in her case, she marveled at the way New Hampshire voters didn’t seem to care about this critical manifestation. (Click here, search on Henneberger.) But it’s much more common for these life-forms to pretend that they’re forced to discuss this dumb silly shit because of the way the voters think, or because “a certain segment of the political world seems riveted by the topic.” The Parkers never mention the fact that they themselves are part of that segment—that they themselves are “riveted” by dumb shit like Romney’s hair.

All the way back in 1992, Katherine Boo discussed this growing culture in a piece for the Washington Monthly. She coined a term, “Creeping Dowdism,” thus placing the blame for this vacuous culture on a well-known, vacuous source.

Today, Dowdism rules at the New York Times, especially when the great ex-newspaper talks about a new gang of White House candidates. Yesterday, Parker was back on the paper’s front page with this sad, silly “Political Memo” about friendship patterns among the GOP candidates. This morning, Trip Gabriel fumbles about, pretending to discuss the fact that Newt Gingrich started out as an historian. That topic might even be semi-worthwhile. But with remarkable speed, Gabriel is offering this:
GABRIEL (11/28/11): Mr. Gingrich taught college history before entering politics, and his historical references on the campaign trail are such a feature of his public remarks as to be nearly a rhetorical tic. They strike some as evidence that Mr. Gingrich is the smartest candidate in the room—and others that he is a man determined to let you know how much he knows.

In an election season rife with factual misstatements, deliberate and otherwise, Mr. Gingrich sometimes seems to stand out for exhibiting an excess of knowledge. It is hard to imagine him not knowing that the Battle of Lexington and Concord took place in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire, where Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota located it this year.
It’s hard to imagine Gingrich not knowing that fact? Our analysts chuckled, then cried.

Gabriel’s topic is less fatuous, on its face, than those pursued by Parker—but Parker comes straight from the cult. For five years, she served as “research assistant” to Dowd, whatever that assignment could possibly have entailed. This paper’s Dowdism comes to you straight when Dowd’s young assistants ascend to power. (The fatuous Parker is just 28. She’ll be around longer than Clarence Thomas—if your nation can survive her type.) Elsewhere, though, the Dowdism creeps, even to other newspapers.

Consider Sunday’s op-ed piece by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post. (Click here, then click once again.)

Good lord. Marcus writes for the Washington Post, not for the New York Times. More significantly, she isn’t part of the throwback culture according to which the Times has assembled a gang of women who write as if they're back in the 1950s, composing the “women’s pages” which were so common during that pre-Friedan era. Dowd, Collins and Parker type like refugees from that mid-century. It’s hard to deny that this seems to be part of their newspaper’s strange, throwback gender culture.

By way of contrast, Marcus normally writes about serious topics. Whatever you may think of her views, she conducts herself like a grown person.

Sunday, Marcus wrote about Mitt Romney’s hair on the Washington Post’s op-ed page, discussing Parker’s inane report. Alas! As is clear in the highlighted passages, the crackpot “logic” of Creeping Dowdism has long since crept to the Post:
MARCUS (11/27/11): Then there is the unavoidable matter of hair-as-metaphor. As the Times reported, Romney’s “head of impeccably coiffed black hair has become something of a cosmetological Rorschach test on the campaign trail, with many seeing in his thick locks everything they love and loathe about the Republican candidate for the White House. (Commanding, reassuring, presidential, crow fans; too stiff, too slick, too perfect, complain critics.)”

It would be easy to dismiss this as back-seat barbering, over-interpreting trivial choices, but listen to Romney’s barber: “He wants a look that is very controlled,” Leon de Magistris told the Times. “He is a very controlled man. The hair goes with the man.” When he advises Romney “to mess it up a little bit,” de Magistris said, the candidate resists.

Sometimes a hairdo is only a hairdo. But in Romney’s case, it may also be an insight—into ourselves and what we are searching for in a president, no doubt, but also into the candidate himself.
“It would be easy to dismiss this” bullshit, Marcus writes. And then, searching for “insight,” the journalist dumbly resists.

By now, the dumbness of this Dowdist culture has crept all through the nation’s press. For the past twenty years, the “press” has been searching for insights in the various candidates’ hair, body language, wardrobe, preferred beverages and sandwich condiments, choices in spare-time sports. Sometimes they blame their dumbness on somebody else; sometimes, they pretend that real insights are involved. But can your nation survive this dumbness? The answer keeps tilting toward no.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a quintessentially dumb new piece in the New Republic. And we’ll consider the way Gail Collinsism has crept to the Washington Post.

Tomorrow: Mitt Romney’s temper


  1. The other problem with creeping Dowdism is that important things aren't being communicated to the populace. E.g., Romney should stand out because of demonstrated administrative success, both in private business and in saving the troubled 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. IMHO those achievements ought to get a lot more attention than his hair style.

  2. Well, sorry David in Cal, love that Willard fired all those people so he could run away with a boat load of money!Run the USA like Bain Capital! Great idea!

  3. You're being sarcastic, Anonymous, but I love what you're proposing. The federal government is woefully overstaffed with all kinds of duplicative departments. IMHO the government would run better as well as at lower expense if a bunch of departments were shut down and a bunch of people were terminated.