DAZE OF OUR TIMES: Also channeling Collins!


Part 4—Something else this way creeps: All the way back in 1992, Katherine Boo complained about the fatuous culture she described as “creeping Dowdism.” (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/30/11.)

By now, the Dowdism has burrowed and surged; it suffuses the work of our “press corps.” Last night, the analysts wept and cried when Chris Matthews, one of Maureen Dowd’s dumbest friends, zeroed in on a troubling act by Mitt Romney.

It wasn’t Romney’s budget plan that had the loud silly man so upset. It wasn’t his stance on immigration; it was something more pressing. With the help of two well-scripted friends, Matthews examined the way Candidate Romney had crossed his legs during an interview with the Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier:
MATTHEWS (11/30/11): I’m beginning to see right now, thanks to Bret Baier, who’s done a very good interview here for Fox. I see Mitt Romney starting to get tagged as he’s never been tagged before, and he’s starting to sweat a little.

Watch his leg crossing, which he never does. It’s an odd bit of secondary characteristic. But this guy never moves when he's being interviewed. Here he is, readjusting his presentation in the middle of an interview. Mitt Romney was pretty much—avoided so far one-on-one interviews this political election, but perhaps now we know why.

Take a look at some of the more awkward moments, as I said, in this interview on Fox with Bret Baier. It’s yesterday. Let`s watch:


MATTHEWS: Well, David [Corn], it looks like he flip-flopped with his legs there, because—


MATTHEWS: —finally, the guy who is a human statue finally actually crossed his legs, like, “Give me a break here.”

CORN: Yes! Yes!

MATTHEWS: I don’t know what the body language people are saying about that particular gesture...
The crying analysts remembered the day when Matthews wondered what sort of sexual signal Candidate Gore was trying to send to women voters with his three-button suits. In those days, Gore was “the human statue” on this sub-human program, and many things which were much worse. (Matthews was drawing his million-dollar pay from the other team at that time.)

At any rate, this is what “journalistic” culture became as the Dowdism crept, then surged.

The Dowdism crept from the New York Times all through the upper-end “press corps.” Last Saturday, though, we realized that something else has started to creep from the Times to these precincts. A very strong air of Collinism suffused the latest piece by Alexandra Petri, the Washington Post’s “Ashley Parker type.” (Click here, then click once again.)

She didn’t mention Romney’s dog, strapped to the roof of that car for all time. But as she started, Petri—just 23 years old!—was channeling Collins rather deftly. She had her Gail Collins down cold:
PETRI (11/26/11): “Hey, did I miss anything?” people often ask, dashing in late on a night when their favorite show is airing.

The answer, for this week’s CNN National Security Debate, was “No.”

This was an uninspired mid-season episode that was probably necessary to advance the plot. But there were no real cliffhangers, except at the very end, when Rick Santorum began to say something about militant socialists and radical Islamists in South America bonding together to destroy our way of life. But no one pays attention to his subplot, anyway.

This debate was like watching a figure skater fail to qualify for medals. It was perfectly fine. Nobody fell. No one exploded in flames.
Some of you will naturally say, “But wasn’t she doing Lewis Lapham?” And yes, she was also channeling Lapham’s long-standing hook, in which all political activity is compared to a TV sitcom. But as she continued, Petri captured the essence of High Collinism:

The debates are so boring—and there are so many! Why do we have to watch them?

This has been Collins’ low-IQ hook for years. (Also: There are too many candidates! There are too many issues! They make too many speeches!) On Saturday, the precocious child amazed the elders, capturing the high lady’s tone:
PETRI: The camera kept cutting to Ron Paul for no apparent reason. This was especially exciting because people often began their sentences with “I agree with Ron Paul,” and he sometimes got a terrified, harried look as they began industriously shoveling words into his mouth, the look a hedgehog gets when it is crossing the road and catches sight of an approaching steamroller.

Other than that, the episode was very routine and somewhat dry. If this debate walked into a bar with the other debates, it would have to work pretty hard to induce anyone to take it home. It’s a six, at best, and some of these things have been eights. Even Herman Cain’s referring to moderator Wolf Blitzer as “Blitz” wasn’t enough to redeem the evening.


Mitt Romney continued to inspire aggressive indifference in everyone around him, except Perry, who seemed to notice for the first time that Mitt has been repeating a line about magnets and immigration at every debate. As a result, he appeared momentarily terrified that he was stuck in some horrifying recurrent nightmare in which he shows up at a Republican debate for which he is unprepared.

But even he wasn’t so bad. Pity. Train wrecks are fun to watch. This was no train wreck.

All in all, it was the sort of episode where they announce that no one is going home, and you shrug and admit that that probably makes sense. Cut to commercial.

I, for one, am starting to be impatient for the finale.
Poor Petri! Just 23, and already so bored! But skilled beyond her tender years in adopting the tone of Collinism, which has also started to creep.

For the record, we fact-checked one of this silly child’s claims; for our finding, see below. But as this culture seeps out from the Times, your nation keeps spiraling downward.

Parker and Petri? The new generation! Do they inspire hope for the future? As for Columnist Collins herself, her effort today is, as always, a fount of crucial political knowledge. This is the way her piece ends:

“On immigration, we could all agree to let Romney rant about amnesty now if he will concede that he didn’t give a fig about the whole question back when his lawn was being clipped by undocumented workers in 2006.

“And maybe we could get over his driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car if he’d just admit it was because he was too cheap to hire a dog-sitter. Maybe.”

That lawn-care hook is so stupid it squeaks. Meanwhile, did Romney strap his dog to the roof of his car? Now, where in the world have we heard that before? We’ll have to do a fact-check some time.

For this, we sent her to Harvard? Poor Petri! Bored to tears, she was forced to watch the GOP hopefuls debating national security. It wasn’t exciting, the pundit complained. It was dry. It wasn’t fun.

At one point, though, Petri did attempt to make a factual claim. According to Petri, Candidate Perry “seemed to notice for the first time that Mitt has been repeating a line about magnets and immigration at every debate.”

Effortlessly, we fact-checked the young Harvard grad, entering the appropriate terms into the whirring Nexis search engines. Our finding:

According to Nexis, the term “magnet” had last been used at the October 18 debate, the debate where Anderson Cooper made such a fool of himself. According to Nexis—maybe they’re lying!—this is the way it came up:
COOPER (10/18/11): Governor Perry, in the last debate, Governor Romney pointed out that Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country, over one million kids. You did not get an opportunity to respond to that. What do you say? How do you explain that?

PERRY: Well, we've got one of the finest health care systems in the world in Texas. As a matter of fact, the Houston, Texas, Medical Center, there's more doctors and nurses that go to work there every morning than any other place in America. But the idea that you can't have access to health care, some of the finest health care in the world—but we have a 1,200-mile border with Mexico, and the fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country.

And they're coming into this country because the federal government has failed to secure that border. But they're coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs. And those people that hire illegals ought to be penalized.

And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.
Perry, who’s almost as dumb as Collins, killed time with the lawn care talking-point too. But as you can see, Petri was just impressively wrong when she tried to advance a real fact.


Full disclosure—we didn’t know what we would find when we fact-checked Petri’s snark. But after all these years, we can’t say we were surprised to see that the Washington Post’s Next Big Thing didn’t know what she was talking about—and hadn’t bothered to check.

For this, we sent her to Harvard? But then, in a press corps defined by Rampaging Dowdism, only tone and narrative matter. Petri had rolled her eyes in approved directions. Dearest darlings, thanks to the creep, the facts no longer count!


  1. The "lawn care" talking point isn't dumb. It goes to the heart of who Mitt Romney is. He rails against undocumented immigrants, yet repeatedly contracted with a company employing them even after he learned that the company was doing so. He would just as soon allow the continued exploitation by US businesses of undocumented workers as any of his Republican predecessors, and Perry called him out on this.

    But then the entire GOP continues to play games with immigration. They know their business backers want massive undocumented and visa-abuse immigration. Just go to New Jersey and you'll see how many visa workers from south Asia are in the country working for the US banking industry. Ask yourself why you've never seen a single mention in public about this, why the media keep silent, why not a single Republican railing against immigration ever mentions how these banks and other companies seeking back office or lower-cost technical workers are using visas to bring waves of people from south Asia to do work that Americans could and used to do? Why did it take student J-1 visa holders from across the globe to strike to call attention to how Hershey was abusing their visa status by getting them to do work that heavy-lifting work that American union workers once did?

    We know why, because they're complicit in it and want it to keep happening, just as they want illegal immigrants to work for nothing not just on farm jobs in Alabama and Georgia, but on road crews in Illinois, in restaurants in New York and California, alongside wildcatters in Texas, and everywhere else.

    Until and unless we really have a real discussion about immigration, this sort of abuse is going to keep happening, and Perry, for all his fumbling, was right.

  2. In most of the "Debates" Romney is standing behind a podium, so it is not possible to tell what he is doing with his legs.

    By happenstance, I didn't change channels immediately after Rev.Al Sharpton's Politics Nation, and was unfortunate enough to catch Chris and his leg crossing expose of Romney.

    It was clear Romney didn't want to be cross-examined on his flip flopping, especially on amnesty.
    He shifted in his chair, and chided Bret Baier for not researching the subject before asking questions. (Attack the messenger).

    Perhaps Romney was emboldened by Newt's crack that, “One of the real changes that comes when you start running for President — as opposed to being an analyst on Fox — is I have to actually know what I’m talking about.” (PS He didn't at the time.)

    Does this signify a Republican challenge of Fox News?
    Will Fox counterattack?

    Tune in next November for the exciting conclusion.

    Question: In what purgatory will some 11 million illegal immigrants await their destiny? Willard won't say.

  3. Quaker in a BasementDecember 1, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    ...in a press corps defined by Rampaging Dowdism, only tone and narrative matter.

    Rampaging? Galloping, that's how I'd characterize it.

  4. While Petri ignores the issues, there's lots of vital things going on regarding foreign affairs. Iran's nuclear development. The war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda. Mexico's drug war. Developments in Egypt. How Iraq will fare once the US troops all leave. The EU financial crisis. It would be nice if Petri told us what the candidates said about these things.

  5. Bob, if we ignored Collins, Dowd, Parker, and Petri, would they go away? You always provide a link to these columns. The more people click on the links, the more the NYT is going to think people are reading the columns, and the longer the columnists are going to be in business. Newspapers don't care why people are clicking on links, only that they are.

  6. Bob, you really need to get over your Chris Matthews obsession.

    It's clear you don't realize that your habit of calling out and becoming outraged over 30-some seconds of silliness in an hour-long show is exactly the equivalent of "Lady Collins" needing to cite Romney's (disgraceful, IMO) treatment of his dog over and over again, or Dowd or her assistant fussing about his hairstyle.

    Seriously, grow up. Get over it. Matthews behaved abominably towards Gore and both Clintons night after night for months, maybe years when you add it all up. Paste him for that, but give us (and yourself) a break on his occasional digressions into stuff like Romney's leg-crossing.

  7. Bob, keep up the links, especially to Paul Krugman. Quote the others so I won't have to go there.
    I don't want to use up all of my 20 free accesses per month too quickly.
    I try to ration them.
    Frankly, If I were going to pay The NYT, it would be for their crossword puzzles, not the tripe they call opinion.

  8. I really don't know what's more tiresome: Petri and Dowd's columns, or the millions upon millions of words devoted to Talmudic exegesis of their work. It's just too close to call.

    By the way, Gail Collins is a perfectly fine and funny columnist. The bit about Romney's dog is a running gag, regardless of whether this blog finds it cute or funny. She repeats it often. That's part of the gag. Bob, on the other hand, obsesses relentlessly over Gore Gore Gore Gore. Enough!!! He lost!! Even though he won!!! Life. Goes. On.

  9. P.S. I voted for Gore in 2000. Love him. Love Clinton too.

    Even with my bias toward Gore --- who would've made a very good president; and how much better life would've been... --- I can say, honestly, that without any help from Matthews or Dowd or anyone else, watching the man debate Bradley then Bush *with my own eyes*, I found he could be condescending, offputting, tedious. Annoyed me, but surely not enough not to vote for an obviously qualified man.

    Millions of Americans similarly observed Gore, unmediated by people like Dowd, Rich, Matthews, et al. (Millions of people don't know who Dowd, Rich, etc ARE.) They came to the conclusion that he was a weenie. Clearly, he lacked any of Clinton's natural touch, charm, and good instincts.

    Both Clinton and Gore were savaged by the press. One emerged hugely popular. The other went down in defeat (with an assist from Ralph and the Supremes). Does it ever occur to anyone on this blog that maybe, just maybe, some of the perceptions of Gore were, uh, reality?