Part 2—Treating Times readers like dogs: There was a time when you wouldn’t have heard about Mitt Romney’s dog.
For better or worse, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley wouldn’t have dealt with this subject. And in those days, for better or worse, people unlike Walter and David simply weren’t allowed on TV.
Or in the New York Times.
But then, one day, it happened! Someone gave Imus a radio show; then they said, “Why not Howard Stern?” Before long, even Rush Limbaugh was allowed on the air.
This slow, steady decline opened the door for Gail Collins.
As standards have fallen, people like Collins have extended the “creeping Dowdism” at the degraded Times. In the process, you get to read about Mitt Romney’s dog. With endless errors thrown in, just to heighten the fun!
Is there any point to the tale of the dog on the roof? We’ll examine the question of relevance starting tomorrow. But if we believe the tale of the dog is a relevant tale, then we ought to insist that a New York Times columnist give her readers accurate information about it.
This brings us back to what Neil Swidey wrote in the Boston Globe just a few months ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/12/12). For better or worse, Swidey broke the tale of the dog on the roof back in June 2007. In his opinion, Collins has been spreading misinformation about this now-famous tale.
Once again, this is Swidey’s recent recap of the now-famous tale, with a bit more detail from his indictment of Collins’ ongoing conduct:
SWIDEY (1/8/12): To recap: Sometime during a 12-hour drive from Boston to Canada in 1983, Mitt’s oldest son, Tagg, noticed a brown liquid running down the rear window of the family station wagon. Realizing the liquid was being discharged by their dog, Mitt pulled off the highway and into a gas station, borrowed a hose to wash down Seamus and the car, and then returned the dog to his rooftop carrier for the duration of the trip. Most media reports have accurately relayed those basics. However, exaggerations and faulty assumptions have been advanced, most notably by New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who has trotted out the ghost of poor Seamus in more than 30 of her pieces since 2007.That’s as far as Swidey went in calling the roll of Collins’ distortions. As he continued, he pondered the reasons why this tale has garnered so much attention.
The exaggerations tend to be patently absurd, like the implication that Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car with nothing more than rope, rather than in a carrier with a specially fashioned windshield. The assumptions, however, are more subtle, and therefore more believable, but just as untrue. For the record, neither Tagg nor any other Romney was my original source for the anecdote. Collins and others have pushed this silly line to suggest how tone-deaf the Romney brood must be...
No one is forced to agree with Swidey’s view of Collins’ performance, of course. But it’s very rare for a major journalist to name another in such a rude fashion. Just for starters, let’s consider the two distortions he cited in this passage.
Let’s start with the “exaggeration” he describes as “patently absurd.”
Is it true that people have come to believe that Romney “strapped his dog to the roof of his car with nothing more than rope, rather than in a carrier with a specially fashioned windshield?” That he drove to Canada in that fashion, with his dog strapped to the roof of the car—full stop? Presumably, Swidey knows much more about what people think regarding this incident than we do. That said:
About a month ago, this thought did enter our head. Collins constantly writes that Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car—full stop, no mention of any container. For some reason, we finally wondered: Is it possible that her outraged readers actually think that Seamus himself was strapped to the roof of the car? That there was no doggy container?
The way they tied our lord to the cross? Given Collins' persistent construction, could that be what readers think happened?
We don’t recall why that thought finally entered our head, but we did make a few inquiries. And yes, we’ll have to admit: From the handful of people to whom we spoke, we got the impression that some people have been picturing the incident that way, in part because of the way Collins keeps describing the incident.
Swidey featured that exaggeration. We’ll assume that he has encountered this view from more than a couple of readers. We wish he had offered more information, especially since Collins has continued to thunder apace.
Second: Has Collins “pushed the silly line” that Tagg was Swidey’s original source? Has she “pushed this silly line to suggest how tone-deaf the Romney brood must be?” We don’t know, but that inaccuracy strikes us as benign compared to some of the bullshit that Collins is pushing.
Let’s consider three items of bullshit Collins pimped in last Thursday’s column. Remember: If you, like many of Collins’ readers, think this incident is important, then it should be reported with care.
Collins refuses to do that. A tale of three errors, not even counting omissions:
They weren’t allowed to get out of the car! The apparent distortions started quickly in Collins’ pitiful column. Early on, she too recapped the hoary old tale. As she did, she included a claim which had many commenters fuming:
COLLINS (3/8/12): The story took place in 1983, when the Romney family made a 12-hour pilgrimage from Boston to a vacation home in Canada. Romney, his wife, Ann, and five sons were in the station wagon. Seamus was in a crate, or kennel, on the roof.On this occasion, Collins finally managed to mention the fact that Seamus was in a crate, or kennel—although she still forgot to mention that “specially fashioned windshield.” But note the claim she included, then stressed. When Romney pulled off to attend to Seamus, “he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog!”
At some point—possibly in response to the excitement about being passed by tractor-trailers while floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car, Seamus developed diarrhea. And Romney, who had designated all the acceptable rest stops before beginning the trip, was forced to make an unscheduled trip to a gas station. Where he kept the family in the car while he hosed down the station wagon and the dog, then returned to the highway.
“It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management,” Swidey wrote.
People, does any of this sound appealing? Elect Mitt Romney and he will take the nation on the road to the future. Some of us will be stuck on the roof. The rest of us will be inside singing camp songs and waiting for the day when the master plan lets us stop to visit the bathroom. Plus, anybody who screws up on the way to the future gets the hose.
People! They weren’t even allowed to get out of the car! They had to wait for the day when the master would let them visit the bathroom!
Many of Collins’ gullible commenters bellowed about this gruesome misconduct. Sadly, there is no sign in Swidey’s original report that any such conduct occurred. Indeed, Swidey’s report seems to say the opposite.
We aren’t linking to Swidey’s report because we can no longer find it on-line (except through Nexis). But this is what the gentleman wrote back in 2007:
SWIDEY (6/27/07): As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.Swidey never said the family was forced to stay in the car. In the highlighted sentence, he rather plainly seemed to imply the opposite. Indeed: Elsewhere in his short account of this now-famous doggy disaster, he quoted Tagg Romney noting that Mitt would quickly pull off the highway anytime his wife, Ann Romney, wanted a bathroom break.
And it offered his sons a rare unplanned stop.
Within the fevered mind of Collins, a very different picture emerged. Her gullible readers were suitably furious, as we’ll note on Thursday.
Remember: If this story is actually relevant, it ought to be told in an accurate fashion. But Collins didn’t bother with that. Soon, she was playing it dumb about the case of the airtight container.
The case of the airtight container! In last Thursday’s column, Collins was talking to herself, something she may do fairly often. Her questions to self were printed in bold, a practice we will follow.
Before too long, she was asking herself about the airtight container:
COLLINS: “This is a completely air-tight kennel, mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself,'' Romney told Chris Wallace in a Fox interview that began with Wallace, a dog owner, demanding: ''What were you thinking?”Classic Collins! She asks herself the world’s stupidest question, then tells her readers it’s excellent. But what did Romney actually mean when he said the container was air-tight? Presumably, he meant one of two fairly obvious things: He meant the container had solid walls except for the grill-type door, which presumably would have been facing backward. Or he meant that the windshield he “specially fashioned” had somehow been affixed to the kennel, keeping air from flowing through any air vents.
Wait a minute, if the kennel was air-tight, how did Seamus breathe?
Excellent question. Also hard to envision the animal continually trying to leap on top of the station wagon in order to enjoy its delights.
As we’ll see on Thursday, Collins encouraged her readers to see a gap in Romney’s logic. He said there was an airtight container! But that doesn’t make any sense! And sure enough—behaving like perfect ditto-heads, her readers hurried to swallow the bait. Many, many, many readers bellowed about this troubling point, offering inane “analyses” of this gap in Romney’s logic.
Would Walter and David have fired Gail for this piece of bullshit alone? We’d like to think they would have. By the way, you might also note this: Collins finds it “hard to envision” Seamus scrambling to get to his rooftop perch—and so she assumes it couldn’t have happened!
We once would have found it “hard to envision” New York Times readers being this foolish. But when we read Collins’ comments last week, sure enough! Woop! There it was!
While we’re at it, let’s pass on a rumor! Already, Collins should have been fired; the text of her fantastical column should have been on the cutting-room floor. So what the heck! Why not go all the way! As she neared the end of her stations, she decided to pass on a rumor!
If this story actually matters, what follows is astonishing conduct. Once again, Collins was talking to herself, in bold. But is the New York Times still a newspaper? If so, what was this published?
COLLINS: I heard a rumor that when the family got to Canada, Seamus ran away.In this passage, Collins repeats a rumor. She then seems to endorse the rumor with her “seeking sanctuary” remark. For the record, there is no journalistic evidence—zero; none; zilch—that this rumor is actually true. But when we reviewed Collins’ comments last week, we’ll saw a predictable reaction:
Seeking sanctuary? Mitt's sister, Jane, told Swidey that the dog developed a tendency to wander, and that she took Seamus to her home in California where there was more space. She also gave The Globe an extremely cute picture of Seamus cuddling with some kittens.
Collins’ third commenter was already repeating this rumor as if it were an established fact! On Thursday, we'll review this predictable reaction. But it only took that long.
Over and over and over again, Collins’ commenters make it clear—they think this story is very important. For better or worse, they regard this hoary old tale of a dog on a roof as a window into a candidate’s soul. Collins, of course, has encouraged this view—although even in last Thursday’s column, she was too dishonest (too passive-aggressive?) to state her own view of this matter in a simple, clear, direct manner.
Why does Collins keep pimping this tale? She still wouldn’t quite explain. But if this incident is important, it’s important that Collins report it in an accurate way. And she refuses to do this.
For ourselves, we increasingly tend to think that Collins has problems. But what about the New York Times editors, the ones who keep putting this shit into print? And what about the ghosts of Walter and David?
What do they think of this non-journalistic pile? Is it real hard to envision?