WALTER AND DAVID AND RUSH AND GAIL: The story of Mitt and the car wash!

FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2012

Part 5—Has Gail Collins been dishonest: Does Seamus’ ride on the roof of the car give us a look into Mitt Romney’s character?

Stating our question a different way: Is Seamus’ story relevant? Is it relevant in any way at all?

Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know, although we’re strongly inclined, for several obvious reasons, to stay away from such tales. But if you’re going to build your judgments around a 1983 car ride, you presumably need to have accurate facts about that mystery ride.

This brings us back to the gruesome conduct of a very bad pseudo-journalist—the public clown known as Gail Collins. She clowns for the New York Times.

Collins has been clowning us rubes for years concerning this hoary old story. Before we’re done with this topic, we’ll speculate about the reasons for her extremely bad conduct. But in her column last Thursday, Collins did, or seemed to do, the following things:

She withheld some basic facts about this hoary old story.
She seemed to invent an unflattering fact about Mitt Romney’s bad conduct.
She pretended that she was puzzled about something Romney has said.

Most remarkably, she repeated a “rumor.” Then, she seemed to endorse it.

Traditionally, journalists aren’t supposed to go around repeating rumors. If you don’t know why, consider the case of Bob Neer.

A bit of background:

In January, the Boston Globe’s Neil Swidey described the way he broke this story in 2007. Early on, he reviewed the basic facts of the tale. After that, he named Gail Collins as the person in the media who has done most to distort this tale.

Swidey journeyed onward from there. Debunking one of Collins’ claims, he told a comical tale:
SWIDEY (1/8/12): 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.

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. In fact, I went to the then 37-year-old Tagg only after having heard the Seamus story at the very end of a long interview with a close friend of the Romney family. Seeking to penetrate the stock image of the air-brushed family, I had asked that friend what stories the Romneys reminisced about in the privacy of their own home. As soon as the Seamus road trip anecdote passed his lips, I knew it was a gem. But I was determined to avoid a situation where Romney’s handlers could call into question the anecdote—or the entire article—because I had gotten some small detail wrong. So I insisted that Tagg poll his mother and brothers and persisted until I had confirmed every last fact. Far from being tone-deaf, Tagg realized as I dug deeper that the story could cause his father grief. Yet Tagg’s participation actually helped his dad. After all, the first version of the story I’d heard from the family friend—who hadn’t been an eyewitness—improbably had Mitt driving the station wagon right through a carwash. Imagine the howls from PETA if Seamus had been introduced to the world with the image of high-pressure wraparound brushes pummeling a defenseless, diarrheal dog.
A family friend “who hadn’t been an eyewitness” had told an “improbable” tale. Romney simply drove through a car wash! With Seamus strapped to the roof of his car! In a defenseless posture!

Presumably, it didn’t occur to Swidey that he needed to state his apparent belief—this comical tale was a big pile of poo. But we the people have a small problem—when it comes to matters like this, we’re mentally/intellectually ill.

Below, you see what was done with this part of Swidey’s report at Blue Mass Group, a major Bay State web site. This post appeared the next day:
NEER (1/9/12): After almost five years, hero journalist Neil Swidey has ended his silence and offered incredible new details about the story he broke: The Long Ride of Seamus Romney, the heartbreaking story of a little guy robbed of his pride by Mitt Romney and pushed beyond the bounds of endurance by callous, potentially criminal, indifference, who responded with a gesture of such humble defiance that he forced even the millionaire’s devoted sons to side against their father, and made history.

First, although it might seem unremarkable to those who know that Romney has hired political dirty tricks practitioner Eric “Crazy Khazei” Fehrnstom to help run his campaign, the Seamus story may actually have been more brutal than reported:

“[T]he first version of the story I’d heard from the family friend—who hadn’t been an eyewitness—improbably had Mitt driving the station wagon right through a carwash. Imagine the howls from PETA if Seamus had been introduced to the world with the image of high-pressure wraparound brushes pummeling a defenseless, diarrheal dog.”

Imagine the howls from Seamus! In any event, this part of the story has apparently been hard to verify.
You’re right—it sounds like this post may have been tongue-in-cheek, a parody of all the excitement surrounding the dog on the roof of the car. Reading the author’s various posts on this topic, we’ll have to say that we have reached the opposite judgment.

With no disrespect intended for fish, this post was offered by a Blue Mass Grouper named Bob Neer. Note the way he reacted to the part of Swidey’s report which he quoted. To Neer, Swidey’s story about the car wash didn’t mean that unknowing people sometimes tell comical, bogus tales.

To Neer, this party of Swidey’s report indicated “that the Seamus story may actually have been more brutal than” we knew! Instead, he seemed to think that Swidey had "offered incredible new details about the story he broke."

Did Romney simply drive through a car wash to clean the poop off his dog and his car? According to Neer, “this part of the story has apparently been hard to verify!”

Presumably, the bullshit moved on from there. One recent related example:

Yesterday morning, the Seamus story hit the front page of the Washington Post. Ruth Marcus responded with a column saying this is a stupid way to judge Romney’s character.

Her column appears in this morning’s hard-copy Post. Yesterday afternoon, the column was posted on-line—and comments began to appear.

In a standard act of professional courtesy, Marcus failed to name Collins’ name or explain her role in this ongoing process. But in the earliest comments to Marcus’ column, one Post reader offered this, passing on the pleasing tale of Romney in the car wash:
COMMENTER (3/15/12): The author of the original Boston Globe story based on his interview with Tagg, said he learned later that Mitt did not hose down the car but took it through the car wash.
Well actually, no—that isn’t what the author of the original story said. But so what! Thanks to this excitable reader, others will read the car wash tale. Some will pass this shit on.

Alas! We the people are enormously dumb; presumably, we always have been. We’re also extremely ardent where the tribe is concerned. We love to believe the worst about Them and the very best about Us. At times like these, it pretty much doesn’t enter our heads that our basic facts may be wrong. Instead, we rush to spread the facts—the facts as we think we know them.

We rush to spread our bogus facts—the facts as we think we know them! That’s what two of Collins’ commenters did in response to last week's column. Two months after Swidey’s essay, they were still spreading the bullshit around concerning his original source:
COMMENTER (3/8/12): And wasn't it one of the sons who originally told this story to Swidey? The Oedipal subplot is staggering...

COMMENTER (3/8/12): My favorite part of this story is that Mitt's staff VOLUNTEERED it to a Boston Globe reporter as evidence of the boss's executive decision-making skills. You think the staff might have been sending some kind of a message here? Just saying.
In January, Swidey directly addressed this topic; he said Collins has misled her readers about it. Two months later, each of these commenters had the facts wrong. But so what? The first, a woman from upstate New York, shared a psychiatric assessment based on her bogus account of the facts. The second, a person from St. Louis, passed on a second inaccurate fact. After all, it was his or her “favorite part of this story!”

"Just saying," this person wrote. Next time, maybe he shouldn't!

We liberals used to laugh about the way “those people” would do this. Ditto-heads said the darnedest things! And they would say these stupid things right on the air, as they blathered with Rush! We liberals would roll our eyes and note how stupid the other tribe was.

Those were very good times!

Unfortunately, liberal reaction to Collins’ clowning has produced the same sorts of reactions. It’s hard to be a whole lot dumber than a lot of Collins’ commenters were. And there’s another important trait they seem to share with Limbaugh’s followers:

It doesn’t seem to enter their heads that they are possibly being deceived by the person they trust—in this case, by Gail Collins. It doesn’t seem to enter their heads that they may be getting a pile of bogus facts from a person who is dishonest—or perhaps even disturbed.

Has Lady Collins been dishonest in the course of this long, deeply stupid affair? Did she deliberately withhold some facts when she typed her column last week? Does she have some basis for the claim that Romney kept his family trapped in the car while he handled Seamus’ poop? (This claim produced a great deal of fury among her credulous readers.)

Is she really confused about Mitt Romney’s “air-tight” remark? Or was she simply pretending?

Has Gail Collins been dishonest? We have no way of knowing. But there’s one thing that everyone knows: Journalists aren’t supposed to pass on “rumors.” The obvious reason for this stricture is on display in the car wash tale. We the people are very stupid—and we the people are highly suggestible. Beyond that, we the people are filled with hate:

We love repeating all sorts of claims, as long as those claims reflect very poorly on those in the other tribe.

Why did Collins include a “rumor” in last week’s column? We’ll give you two choices: Dishonest, disturbed.

Tomorrow! Who the heck is Bob Neer? And we'll ponder one last question:

Can our culture survive the changes we have made since the anti-democratic days of Walter and David?


  1. This is how only 10-15% of Mississippi and Alabama Republican primary voters think Obama is a Christian. Yet, Matthews, Schultz, and O'Donnell pretend to not understand how those voters can be so deceived as they dissemble some bogus Romney claim or trot out some old chestnut like Gore introduced Willie Horton which O'Donnell did last month. It is a shame that so many posters on this site think the analysis of Collins' work is arcane.


  2. Not arcane, but he needs to give it a rest already. It has been written about for days and days. Days and days and days. This blog has a habit of being repetitive to the point of boredom, and this story has now reached that point.

    1. Collins wrote about it 50 times. I appreciate Bob's attention to exposing her lies and insanity.

    2. Mea culpa! This morning I watched a clip from Countdown and KO brought up Seamus while talking to Lewis Black. And LB said good on Gail for rehashing this over and over. Lewis Black, for f***s sake! I hereby disown my previous comment; Mr. Somerby can't write about this enough.

  3. Unfortunately, Bob is showing quite convincingly that many of us (unknowingly, I suspect) believe Hume:

    "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

    1. I don't really think that's what Hume meant. I think that he meant that we can't give reasons for the deepest or ultimate motivations to what we do, i.e.: "It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger." We have no ultimate reason to prefer to continue to exist, than to not to, rather our passions motivate us to do so. And that isn't a bad thing...

    2. Yep, when it all comes down to it, there's nothing worse than a paper cut.

    3. Papercuts are bad, but they aren't as bad as the universe not existing, but I can't put forth an argument purely based on reason for it, you have to rely on emotion to do so, and that isn't a bad thing.

      For more on this please see here

    4. But it is not a radical interpretation to read him as strongly implying that often reason is what comes after, to support our emotional judgements, rather than being the source of our judgements. Even if this is not what Hume actually believed, it is something I see everyday in our lovely species.

    5. People do that a lot, and I'm not sure what you says is contradictory to what I wrote, people prefer to exist due to emotion, and then come up with reasons to serve that feeling afterwards.

  4. Is Somerby's blog still relevant? Is it relevant in any way at all?
    These questions make me sad, because Gail Collins was never relevant.

  5. I'm not certain these things are unknowable. I suggest digging up a number of 1983 pet carriers and having 10 to 20 management consultants specializing in leveraged buyouts design wind shields for them and a method to strap the carrier + windshield to the top of station wagons. Then I suggest Bob take 10 to 20 rides back and forth from Toronto inside the various carriers. I'm sure it will be just as pleasant as he imagines. No noise, flapping oscillation, reverberation, shifting, wind pressure, or spontaneous disintegration.

    Report back soon.