WALTER AND DAVID AND RUSH AND GAIL: Should you care about Mitt Romney’s dog?


Part 3—Where does stupidity come from: With apologies for the blinding stupidity which follows:

When Mitt Romney pulled off the road in 1983 to clean up after his pet dog, did he refuse to let his wife and kids get out of the car?

On such points does “journalism” now turn! Last Thursday, Gail Collins devoted her entire New York Times column to this blindingly stupid, now-famous story about the candidate and his dog. In the course of her column, she stated that Romney made everyone else stay inside the car while he cleaned up after Seamus!

This was roughly the fortieth column in which Collins has stepped in this mess.

As we will see tomorrow, commenters responded with fury to this piece of misconduct by Romney—conduct which gave us an unerring look into the gentleman’s soul. Some commenters explained what this incident tells us about Mitt Romney’s wife. Others speculated about the effect on the kids, darkly wondering if Mitt and Ann were guilty of child abuse.

We liberals used to roll our eyes when conservatives displayed their blinding stupidity on talk radio programs. Now, we liberals have developed forums where we can show that we’re blindingly gullible too! But with so many potential voters finding so much meaning in this incident, one question surely does arise:

Did this incident actually happen? Did Romney make his wife stay in the car while he cleaned up Seamus’ mess? Or is Gail Collins simply making this up, perhaps in response to the inner voices other people don’t hear?

Like you, we don’t know if Romney made the family sit in the car while he cleaned up after Seamus. But as we noted yesterday, Neil Swidey said no such thing when he “broke this story” in the Boston Globe in June 2007. Swidey’s text rather plainly implied that the Romney kids did get out the car (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/13/12). He then proceeded to quote Tagg Romney describing the role his mother played in Mitt Romney’s world back in the 1980s.

This is Swidey’s account of what occurred when Romney “coolly” stopped the car to clean up after Seamus. This incident served as an introduction to Swidey’s lengthy profile of the Romneys’ courtship and marriage:
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.

And it offered his sons a rare unplanned stop.

“Think about it,” Tagg says, “a 12-hour drive and the only time we stop is to get gas. When we stop, you can buy your food and go to the bathroom, but that's the only time we're stopping, so you'd better get it all done at once.” Yet there was one exception to Mitt's nonstop policy. "As soon as my mom says, ‘I think I need to go to the bathroom,’ he pulls over instantly, and doesn't complain. ‘Anything for you, Ann.’ ”

Tagg didn't get it back then, but now at age 37 he finally understands why his father has been willing to suspend his regimented ways when it comes to his wife. “When they were dating,” Tagg says, “he felt like she was way better than him, and he was really lucky to have this catch. He really genuinely still feels that way, thinks, ‘I'm so lucky I've got her.’ So he puts her on a pedestal.”

He had always treated Ann that way, especially since he’d nearly lost her.
Does it sound like Romney made his wife stay in the car while he hosed down his dog? It doesn’t sound that way to us. But go ahead—punish yourselves! Read through Collins’ 691 comments, as outraged readers respond to her un-sourced claim that Romney committed this horrible act. And just for the record, the “journalist” Collins has told this troubling story before. Two months ago, she forced herself upon Diane Rehm, seeming to cite Swidey’s report as the source of her troubling tale:
COLLINS (1/23/12): Mitt Romney, when he was raising his family, at one point was taking the whole family, and it included four children—five children—to Canada for the summer and had this Irish Setter. And put the Irish setter in a crate on the top of the station wagon and took him off with them to Canada, driving down the highways with this poor dog on top of the car.

There have been controversies as to whether the dog liked it or not. Mitt Romney claims the dog really enjoyed this. But he got diarrhea while he was traveling so he couldn't have been that happy. And one of the kids confirmed this story to the Boston Globe, that once this was obviously happening, the kids are looking out the back window going, “Whew, whew, whew.” He pulls off— Although he only had designated rest stops that he would stop at, he pulled off at a non-designated rest stop, but kept everybody in the car. Jumped out, got a hose, hosed down the dog and the car, jumped back in the car and took back off down the highway, lest anyone get out and use an undesignated rest stop.

I can't believe—if the dog was comfortable before, he was not comfortable, I'm sure, after he'd been hosed down. But anyway, I just love this story, the story of Seamus, the Irish setter, on the roof of the car and Mitt Romney. And I try to bring it up whenever possible.
Here too, Collins had the family trapped in the car, “lest anyone get out and use an undesignated rest stop.” Discretion alone has kept her from advancing a claim of false imprisonment.

Has Collins simply imagined this “fact?” We have no way of knowing, although she also recited a “rumor” in last Thursday’s column, a truly astonishing bit of conduct on the part of a journalist. Completely predictably, her third commenter had already accepted this rumor as fact.

That’s why journalists, by tradition, didn’t parade around repeating “rumors.” Walter and David didn’t spout “rumors.”

The columnist Collins does.

Collins seems to be making up facts as she pimps the story she says she “just loves.” Unashamedly, she’s passing on rumor. But over the course of the past twenty years, this ridiculous post-journalistic conduct has come to define wide swaths of our public discourse. For example: Collins and her disgraceful colleagues invented many such tales about Candidate Gore, in a long, disgraceful, twenty-month process which sent George Bush to the White House.

This practice didn’t start there. The “press corps” had been making up stories about White House candidates dating back at least to Candidate Muskie, who was famously said to have wept, although he apparently didn’t. But people like Collins played this game hard all through the two years of Campaign 2000.

She has continued the practice today. Gullible commenters screech and rail, disturbed by the stories she tells them.

Why is a person like this allowed to publish in the Times? Please! The New York Times has been Bullshit Central for most of the past twenty years. But the practice of inventing these tales is hardly confined to the Times.

Let’s consider Swidey’s role in this unintelligent process.

You can’t blame Swidey for what Collins has done. To his substantial credit, he singled her out in a recent essay in the Globe, saying she has done the most to misinform the public about this now-famous tale.

Journalists never name-call colleagues that way, especially those who are higher-ranking. That said, it was Swidey who put this silly old tale into play! Let’s consider the apparent reasons why he did.

In his recent piece in the Globe, Swidey stated his own view of this affair. First point: He doesn’t think there was anything cruel about making poor Seamus ride on the roof! He doesn’t doubt the Romneys’ claim that Seamus enjoyed his rides up there.

He doesn’t think Mitt Romney was cruel to make poor Seamus go up on the roof. But in this passage, Swidey explains what we can learn from this incident:
SWIDEY (1/8/12): To me, Romney’s critics have focused on the wrong part of the anecdote. It’s not that Romney put his dog on the roof. Remember how different standards were in 1983. Back then, I was a kid sloshing around in the cargo section of my family’s station wagon, competing with my equally unbuckled younger sister to see how many passing truck drivers we could get to pull their horns. I’ll take the Romneys at their word that Seamus loved his alfresco rides. Hell, my dog loves doing all kinds of things I don’t, chief among them luxuriating in the stink of other dogs’ duffs. What is beyond debate, though, is that this far into this particular trip, Seamus had ceased enjoying his ride. Faced with such irrefutable evidence, most people, I suspect, would have relented and let the ailing dog cram into the back of the wagon, even if logic dictated that cleaning up a repeat episode of his gastric distress would be a whole lot messier than if he were returned to the roof.
Swidey doesn’t find it hard to believe that Seamus enjoyed his rides on the roof—but then, Swidey knows Seamus was in a doggy container protecting him from the wind:

According to Swidey, the real lesson we can take from this tale concerns Romney’s behavior after Seamus pooped. At that point, most people would have let Seamus ride in the car—or so Swidey says he “suspects.” Since most people would have done this, we are told we can reach some kind of conclusion from the fact that Romney did different.

That logic strikes us as very weak—blindingly so, in fact. But so was Swidey’s original logic in 2007, when he presented this incident as an example of Romney’s “emotion-free crisis management.” Romney “coolly” pulled off the highway, we were told in Swidey’s original piece—as if a more emotional man would have careened across six lanes of traffic in order to clean up Seamus’ mess and free him from his discomfort.

Even then, Swidey was crafting the type of novelized tale in which modern “journalists” take delight—silly, novelized “slices of life” which are presented in an attempt to make us see a certain candidate in a particular way. In his recent piece in the Globe, Swidey described this process—although, as our journalists constantly do, he fudges the source of this practice:
SWIDEY (1/8/12): In his 2009 book, And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture, Bill Wasik uses Seamus as a case study of what he terms “the nanostory,” something that generates intense media interest but then fades away. Partisans use political nanostories, he says, “to construct narratives that paint a dire picture of life under rule by the other side.” The Seamus story, he now admits, hung on longer than he expected, though lately the context has been more media than politics. Wasik, an editor at Wired magazine, predicts the Seamus citations will become more political and more plentiful if Romney becomes the GOP nominee, as President Obama partisans use it to paint Romney as a cruel character who, as Wasik puts it, will “sort of tie us all to the roof of the car.”
“Partisans” use these stories to shape our view of a candidate’s character. That’s true, of course—but in this initial instance, it was Swidey himself who was making us think that we could gain insight into Romney’s character and temperament from this tale. From the fact that Romney “coolly” pulled off the highway, giving us a helpful glimpse of his “emotion-free crisis management.”

Today, Collins has quadrupled down on this blindingly silly piddle. To all appearances, she has simply invented a tale in which Ann Romney was forced to sit in the car, lest she escape her husband’s chains in order to take her own leisurely piss. But without any question, Collins has deliberately passed on a “rumor.” And she pretends that she is utterly bollixed concerning that “airtight container.”

Do you believe that? We don’t.

Collins’ readers are outraged by her novelized claims, as we will see in tomorrow’s post. But then, years ago, her readers may have been outraged by the ridiculous shit she pimped about Candidate Gore—the shit which sent Bush to the White House.

Collins has done this for many years. People are dead all over the world because of such deeply strange conduct. Today, though, liberals cheer her on. Her stories are pleasing to us.

At one time, people like Collins weren’t allowed to play this way. Then along came Imus and Howard Stern. After them, we accepted Rush Limbaugh.

After Rush, the deluge.

Tomorrow: We are now ditto-heads too!


  1. Why do you hate the Irish so? [/dumb]

  2. Bob asks, "Why is a person like this allowed to publish in the Times?" IMHO the blame goes one place. It's not Rush Limbaugh and it's not the Irish. The blame for Collins and Dowd goes to Arthur Ochs (Pinch) Sulzberger, Jr., who has been the Publisher of The New York Times since 1992.

    Pinch maintains direct control of the opinion pages. When the Jayson Blair scandal forced Pinch to add a Public Editor, Pinch prohibited the Public Editor from commenting about the opinion pages. He's the person who accepts nonsense from Dowd and Collins. For all we know, Pinch may encourage them to write nonsense.

    Bob points out that ridiculous post-journalistic conduct has prevailed during the past 20 years. IMHO it's not a coincidence that 20 years is also the period Pinch has reigned as Publisher of the New York Times.

  3. Bob, I'm as bored with your continued writing about this as you are with Gail Collins' fixation on it.

  4. Being bored with Bob is beside the point. The only way to refute this harmful nonsense is to wade deep into the weeds and show where it came from and how the truth was bent at each step along the way. This can only be done, unfortunately, at great length -- which is exactly why Collins, Dowd, Rich, Russert, Breitbart, etc., get away with it. Most people aren't interested in investing the time to learn why these stories are untrue. This site, as I see it, is for people who have the desire and patience to see these things refuted effectually. That takes length -- and, to make it stick, it takes repetition. Only Bob is performing this public service, and I'm glad he is -- it's why I happily support this site.

  5. Look who won the Mississippi and Alabama primaries. Mitt is really suffering because of the liberal attacks. Why won't Collins stop this? Mitt has no defense against these Times attacks. They go after his hair. They go after his jokes. They go after his wealth. They go after his religion. It's just a non stop attack. Poor Mitt. It's good somebody is standing up for him, with people like Collins and Dowd and all the vicious liberal TV hosts on his tail.

  6. Bob Somerby is a rare breed these days: someone who has the discipline to look things up and track things down. As a longtime fan, I have to admit I kind of miss the old, no-comments version of the site. At least back then we didn't have to put up with boring trolls like Swan.

  7. "Today, though, liberals cheer her on. Her stories are pleasing to us."

    It's not at clear which liberals Bob has in mind, but it's not surprising he would make such a charge. What he doesn't get -- and apparently will never "get" -- is that liberalism in its pre-Clinton/Gore sense has no representation in American life today. The last socially liberal administration (notwithstanding its criminal prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia) was that of Richard Nixon. Yes, there are still a handful of them still left in Congress, and one or two in the Senate (one of whom describes himself as a socialist). None has any prospect of getting liberal ideals into law. Direct comparison to other countries are problematic -- the American form of madness is unique -- but Obama, for example, is generally well to the right of Angela Merkel.

    So Bob's endless parsing -- see, they all do it! -- strikes most actual liberals as gratuitous, silly or offensive, because liberalism has no power or influence in American life today, and actual liberals can hardly be expected to answer for the likes of Collins or Bill Mahar.

    Bob, meanwhile, thinks the 8-years of Cinton/Gore represented liberal governance. He has no idea what actually went on in the Clinton/Gore Whitehouse. Civil liberties, financial deregulation, media conglomeration, environment, intervention in Haiti, etc., -- he knows nothing about it. And doesn't care that he knows nothing.

    There's a word for the pursuit of detail for its own sake -- "pedantry" ("slavish attention to rules, details, etc."), even forgetting the absurdity of comparing the misdeeds of a tyrant with those of a chambermaid.

    1. "Bob's endless parsing...strikes most actual liberals as gratuitous, silly or offensive."

      Uh, if we follow your thinking we are compelled to ask: What "actual liberals?"

      You want to have it both ways, Anonymous.

      A more transparent phrasing of your statement above might be:

      "So Bob's endless parsing -- see, they all do it! -- strikes most supporters of the Democratic party as gratuitous, silly or offensive."

      Of course, that's perfectly true. And makes a perfect mockery of your next clause: "because Democrats have no power or influence in American life today, and Democrats can hardly be expected to answer for the likes of Collins or Bill Mahar."

      You may believe there's no difference worth noting between Democrats and Republicans, and/or that there's no "real" liberalism in US government today, but that's hardly relevant.

      The US populace still very clearly feel there *are* differences and contested policies. Whether those differences should be characterized as "liberal" or not doesn't matter at all.

      The questions at hand are about the morality and utility of deceit and the manipulation of ignorance in pursuing political change.

      (For Bob Somerby, it would appear utility is his primary concern, with the continual refrain "how do you like they way that worked out"," but there does seem to be an undercurrent of moral concern as well.)

      Finally, your idiotic clever turn at the end is ridiculous. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are hardly the chambermaids of our system to Bush and Romney's tyranny. They are all agents of power. To pretend otherwise is to try to speak with a corpse in your mouth.

      If you want to come out and say there's no difference between them, go for it -- it would be more honest of you and we'd at least know what kind of fool you really are.

  8. @Swan

    Oh dear. So first you re-write what anonymous 5:08 said, then refute your rewritten version of his/her post? And this passes for intellectual honesty?

    One needn't assert that there's no difference between Republicans and Democrats, to maintain that the Democratic party is not liberal, as that term is historically understood, and that therefore the whole discussion is a little silly, because nothing of substance is actually being discussed.

    But this site is clearly the ditto head destination for some -- the folks who think manipulation of racist attitudes don't play a huge part in American politics, who love Clinton/Gore, and (lately) who are evidently uncomfortable with Church/State separation. So sit back, you've found your home.

    1. "nothing of substance is actually being discussed"

      Well, that would be your fault.

      To repeat myself:

      You may believe... there's no "real" liberalism in US government today, but that's hardly relevant.

      The US populace still very clearly feel there *are* differences and contested policies. Whether those differences should be characterized as "liberal" or not doesn't matter at all.

      The questions at hand are about the morality and utility of deceit and the manipulation of ignorance in pursuing political change.

      There are plenty of people who feel those are important questions.

      Your uninformed guesses about others' political views are exactly what contributes "nothing of substance."

    2. @Swan:

      No need to repeat yourself. You're wrong no matter how many times you say it.

      Note that that some find both the NYT op-ed page and MSNBC to be irrelevant to the actual exercise of power (much less debate of the issues) in the U.S. today, and that this group, the endless preoccupation with Seamus is silly, whether it's Gail's or Bob's preoccupation.

      But if you believe Seamus is the real substance of the debate today (as you evidently do), by all means, encourage Bob to keep it up.

    3. If you think that dishonest trivia is not a powerful component of the Mainstream Media in present times, you are an ostrich. Is not an informed populous a necessary ingredient in a functioning democracy? The elitist phrases "actual exercise of power," and "real substance of debate today," show someone who doesn't seem to know the difference between governance and elections.

    4. Anon of 8:02: "But if you believe Seamus is the real substance of the debate today (as you evidently do)."

      Anyone who can read will struggle in vain to find support for this in my comment, but you're welcome to try to show us where it is.

      The real substance of the debate remains, as it has been almost constantly since the Howler's inception:

      The morality and utility of deceit and the manipulation of ignorance in pursuing political change.

      To this question, you apparently have nothing to contribute -- Your continuing insistence on proving it is not admirable.

    5. "The elitist phrases "actual exercise of power," and "real substance of debate today," show someone who doesn't seem to know the difference between governance and elections."

      Don't know what's "elitist" about references to reality, but the argument here is precisely that this endless parsing of election coverage is a side-show, as it mainstream media coverage of the election. And as are the elections themselves.

      In other words, preoccupation with election coverage is silly, not least of all because the campaigns themselves -- including Al Gore's campaign of 2000 -- are also vacuous and deceitful.

      If you want to get anywhere, you'll need to step outside that frame, and pay attention to what matters. Or, for anyone determined to remain within it, focusing on Gail Collins would seem rather a waste of effort. You'd really need to turn to the broadcast networks, because they at least have influence and are in a far better position to reveal the deceit of the candidates.

      Unfortunately for Bob, however, he can't make his tribal arguments with the networks, because they're more obviously corporate shills.

      As for @swan, it's understood that you qualify as "admirable". Your views on others are of less concern.

    6. At last, a tiny bit of meat.

      Even though it's not "what matters" (according to you), Bob should talk about the networks, not print. Print has no influence. You don't say what it is that REALLY matters (it's not elections, either -- they're just a sideshow, you tell us).

      And of course, you're wrong about print having no influence.

      But never mind all that --

      What is it that REALLY matters, Anon? Help us get beyond the time-wasting sideshow of elections!

    7. How very tiresome you are, Swan. You're not fooling anyone -- the winger/trolls who come here try various approaches, though it must be said you're one of the more gruesome examples.

    8. Hey Sideshow! So... you got nothin'

      Called on your tantrum, you can't tell us "what matters." You just want Somerby to somehow change his tune and me to leave you alone when you BS.

      Neither is likely to happen.

    9. @Swan

      That rapier wit again.

      If you don't know what the foundational issues in America are today, there's no helping you.