This just in from the Beast: How pundits evaluate character!


The chimps take their cues from the dogs: Finally, somebody got the full story!

Over the past six months, Gail Collins has been enjoying a slow nervous breakdown concerning Mitt Romney’s roof-strapped dog. Ironically, it fell to the beast—the Daily Beast—to learn why Collins has done this.

Behind this story, there lies a key question: How do major American pundits evaluate candidates’ character?

Leslie Bennetts examined this matter for the Beast, in the slow painful death of this endless report. Why won’t Collins drop this mess? The incident in question is said to have occurred in the summer of 1983; Collins has now mentioned the incident in more than thirty columns. Typically, she describes this ancient alleged incident in a way which may mislead her readers. (She forgets to mention the crate in which poor Seamus rode, and the home-made windshield.) That said, why does this extremely daft pundit mention this bullroar at all?

Bennetts asked—and a high lady answered. In the feeble mind of this high-ranking pundit, the perhaps apocryphal ancient event offers a window into Romney's soul.

“I just love that story,” Collins is said to have said. Pitifully, here’s why:
BENNETTS (12/17/11): [T]his incomparable gem might have been lost to history were it not for the heroic efforts of New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins, who has made a point of mentioning Romney’s unusual strategy every single time she writes about him (which is, not surprisingly, often).

“How could anyone not want to mention it?” says Collins. “I just love that story, because it came from one of his sons, who thought of it as a story about Romney’s leadership qualities. It’s very Mitt Romney in every way, and it’s very much about control. The guy is rich, but he chose to get them all to Canada for the summer by packing five boys in the car with his wife and putting the dog on the roof. A rich person could have found an easier way to do this.”

Although Collins has performed a vital public service in keeping this story alive for the American electorate to ponder, the news was originally reported by The Boston Globe, in which the anecdote about Seamus was evidently intended to demonstrate his owner’s “emotion-free crisis management.” (It also demonstrated the limits of an Irish setter’s gastro-intestinal fortitude, since Seamus responded to the stress of hurtling along at high speed, trapped in a box, by succumbing to explosive diarrhea that streamed from the car roof down onto its windows, eliciting howls of “Gross!” from the Romney boys).

But during a campaign in which even the Mitt-Bot’s hair seems uptight, this event also illuminates other important issues. “The point, for the son, was that they designated a certain number of rest stops, and Mitt had those stops identified,” Collins explains. “When the dog got diarrhea, Mitt got out and hosed down the dog, but nobody else was allowed to get out of the car, because it wasn’t one of the designated rest stops.”
“How could anyone not want to mention it?” It’s almost impossible to be that dumb unless you’re a major pundit.

This alleged incident happened in 1983, almost thirty years in the past. Collins has cited it thirty times because, inside her feeble mind, it shows us things about Candidate Romney’s need for control.

Or something. Did we mention that no one on earth is ever this dumb except our major pundits?

Collins may be treating herself to a slow nervous breakdown, but the thinking behind this matter has driven pundit culture for decades. The slow stupid souls who get hired as pundits hate reviewing things that matter, like Romney’s policy recommendations or his past behavior as a major public official. Darlings, that stuff is boring! Instead, they seize upon fatuous stories—stories they themselves have often invented. Then, they tell us that these fatuous stories tell us the things we need to know about some candidate’s character:

We hear about Candidate Gore’s earth tones, and about Candidate Kerry’s wind-surfing. We hear about President Bush checking his watch—and we hear about the way this man requested a “splash” of coffee! (We hear that he was amazed by a scanner. Then we hear that the story was bogus.) We hear about the way Dukakis didn’t punch Bernie Shaw in the nose. We hear about the heroic way Candidate McCain hated to talk about Nam—even as every profile shows him doing just that!

Long ago, we heard about Candidate Muskie’s weeping. Fifteen years later, King Broder acknowledged that the candidate may not have wept at all! As it turned out, the pundits had made a private judgment concerning Candidate Muskie’s temperament. (Good God. This judgment was based upon the gentleman's conduct during a poker game!) Hence the story about his weeping! It helped us rubes reach the pundit corps' preferred judgment.

Go ahead—punish yourself! Read Bennetts’ entire report. In her endless piece, the slug from the Beast discusses the dogs of several candidates. If Bennetts and Collins truly are human, they are among the dumbest humans found anywhere on the earth.

That said, these life-forms have run things this way for a very long time. As Springsteen advised, take a good look around.

How is this crap working out?


  1. Is Gail Collins correct about Romney being rich? He's certainly rich today, but I don't know if he was rich in 1983. Furthermore, I bet Collilns doesn't know either.

  2. You forgot about Kerry going into a South Philly deli and ordering a cheese steak with SWISS CHEESE! instead of Provolone or Cheese Whiz.

    He probably first asked for a cheese steak with Brie and served on a baguette with Dijon mustard!

    He was lucky he wasn't thrown out on his ear, instead of becoming the laughing stock of Pennsylvanians.

    The press got it all wrong. Kerry won Pennsylvania in 2004.

  3. Excellent post. It would be funny if it weren't so tragic. You forgot Gore's "sighs" and Howard Dean's "scream." On such things, tragically, did Bush wind up in the White House the course of history change.

  4. The New York Observer also reports on Collins and Seamus:

    Seamus has long since passed on, but Ms. Collins carries his torch in her columns, where she has mentioned the incident no less than 30 times since its August 2007 debut (“Haunted by Seamus,” the column was aptly titled) and virtually every time Mr. Romney’s name appears.

    She is dead set on bringing it up in every Romney discussion until the primary is over, she told Off the Record.

    “Then I cannot do it anymore,” she said.

    Not that anyone is stopping her. Op-ed columnists get little more than a copy edit before going to print, Ms. Collins explained.

  5. Oh, and Matt Yglesias on twitter directs your attention to "Our [Slate] correspondent attempts to replicate Callista Gingrich's signature hairstyle"!/mattyglesias/status/148812671439994880

  6. From Anon above:

    This excerpt explains a lot about the Times opinion page:

    [Gail Collins] is dead set on bringing it up in every Romney discussion until the primary is over, she told Off the Record.

    “Then I cannot do it anymore,” she said.

    Not that anyone is stopping her. Op-ed columnists get little more than a copy edit before going to print, Ms. Collins explained.

    “[Opinions editor] Andy Rosenthal has not expressed any remorse,” she said.

    “Dog on the roof” has even become a jokey refrain in The Conversation, her weekly transcribed chats with David Brooks. He has conspired with Ms. Collins to work it in.

    Only copyediting, huh. I guess the Times isn't concerned with libel lawsuits, or even factual accuracy in their opinion pieces.

  7. NPR this morning asked why Gail Collins is so obsessed with Mitt Romney's dog. She says it's because she likes dogs.

  8. Matt Taibbi wrote best using a grand champion tournament format to determine the worst election pundit writers during the 2004 race. This article mirrors Taibbi's sentament. Check out "Spanking the Donkey", the way he skewers the media on the political beat is priceless.

  9. This thing with Collins and Romney's dog is not amusing; it is dangerous.

    How dangerous? Most of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's press while he was alive focused on his so-called eccentricities...He LOVES Hennessy cognac! He kidnapped a S. Korean director to make movies! He wore platform shoes! Ooooh, that hair! Those over-sized Ray Bans!

    Lost amidst this Seussical foolishness was the fact that this madman was responsible for the death and imprisonment of an untold number of his citizens.

    Collins and her other crayon-scribbling journos are just the latest iteration.

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