BEATING HIS WIFE: Dowd quotes Obama!


Interlude—How not to quote a candidate: The New York Times rarely fails to amaze.

One example from today’s paper involves the way a famous columnist quotes a sitting president.

Maureen Dowd has never cared all that much for Obama. He keeps refusing to ask her out. He married somebody else.

This has produced an understandable pique on the columnist’s part. That pique is apparent as she starts today’s column—but then, Dear Jack and all the saints! Look at the way the Pulitzer winner “quotes” the puzzling president:
DOWD (8/12/12): Barack Obama is able to convey an impression of likability to voters. Given how private he is, an enigma even to some who are close to him, it’s an incredible performance.

The Times’s Amy Chozick wrote that the president “has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country’s political discussion.”

He can be thin-skinned and insecure at times, but he radiates self-sufficiency, such a clean, simple aesthetic that he could have been designed by Steve Jobs—Siri without the warmth.

(A poll by Purple Strategies asked which candidate seemed more like Apple, and it was, naturally, Obama.)

Yet voters see something genuine, and that is why Obama seems to be surviving the stalled economy and his own chuckleheaded remark: “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Because she has nothing whatever to say, Dowd examines “likability” in today’s worthless column. To review the work of another such columnist, enjoy Frank Bruni’s latest space-filler, this one about the reasons why he likes the Olympics.

If we’re reading Bruni correctly, he feels the Olympics can be inspiring. To analyze his musings, click here.

Back to Dowd: One rule of the game is quickly applied. Because Obama has criticized the press, he must be dsecribed as “thin-skinned.” (Choizik used the same term in her own piece.) But then, good lord and all the saints! Look at the way Dowd “quotes” Obama:

“If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

For starters, it’s true. In the most literal sense, Obama did say that.

Obama spoke every one of those words. All the words are in the right order. From the first quoted word to the last, no words have been omitted.

Therefore, in the most literal sense, Dowd’s quotation is anactual quotation. And yet, many HOWLER readers will know that this “quotation” is highly misleading, for reasons which have been reviewed again and again by now.

Unfortunately, most of Dowd’s sophisticated readers New York Times won’t know that. They will think that Obama meant to convey the “chuckleheaded” notion implied by that quotation. They will think he said, for some reason, that if you own a business, you didn’t build your business. Somebody else made it happen!

Dowd’s quotation is technically perfect. Obama did say every word, in the order presented. She didn’t leave any words out.

But there are many ways to quote a candidate which are misleading, bogus, unfair. As usual, the New York Times let its Pulitzer winner engage in this sort of conduct.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Rachel Maddow, engaging in similar conduct.

Readers respond to Dowd: An early commenter to Dowd’s column offered a sensible thought:
COMMENTER FROM PITTSFIELD: I honestly cannot figure out your dislike of Obama. Is it because he won't be your soulmate and reveal all?
In our view, that commenter came uncomfortably close to the truth. Instructively, a string of other readers chose to respond to the Pittsfield reader. To read those comments, click here.

We assumed our comment wouldn’t be posted. As of right now, we were wrong.


  1. So do tell, Bob. Do you think your comment on Dowd's stupid post was... what, wise, thoughtful, to the point, enlightening, contributing to some sort of discussion?

    To my eye, it was even more sophomoric than Dowd.

    Are you proud of that?

    1. Sophomoric? That is an insult to sophomores. Bob's lame attempt to outsnark Dowd in that particular discussion was more like a sixth-grade playground insult.

      And this from the author of the Marquis de Somerby Rules of political engagement, applied only to "progressives": Never, ever crawl in the gutter with your opponent. Stick to the issues that matter and use your superior powers of reason and persuasion. Only then will people who firmly believe that Obama is a Kenyan-born, Marxist, Muslim terrorist surely come to your point of view.

    2. I think you've illustrated a bit of the tribalism this blog addresses.

      The country is not divided into "us" and the camp that thinks Obama is a....etc..etc..

      There's some people in between. Yes, really.

    3. Wow, that's a quantum leap of logic in another feeble attempt to turn yet another discussion into one you think you can win.

      Never once did I say that there weren't "some people in between."

      What I did say that there are people out there who firmly believe that Obama is a Kenyan-born, Marxis, Muslim terrorist.

      Now please, Cecelia. Try to deny that.

    4. Why would I deny that? No one brought them up but you in a snarky suggestion that these are the people who Somerby suggests you aim to win, rather than the in between people who you admit exist.

      You you did that in order to paint him as being ridiculous and unreasonable.

      I don't know what you mean by winning, but I do know that you aren't having any real discussion with that bit of disingenuousness.

  2. Dowd does what she does because much of her audience likes it. They like the snark, like the cynicism, like the assumption of moral and intellectual superiority that is Dowd's stock in trade, and by reading Dowd, they get to vicariously experience a consistent rush of superiority themeselves. You're psychoanalyzing the wrong target, Bob. The right target is the one that gives Dowd her job, because without her audience she wouldn't exist.

    Those folks in the comments are all fired up because we're a few months away from the election, and partisan feelings are running high, but presidential elections only come along every 48 months, and for 44 or 45 of those months those same people are willing to tolerate Dowd and Dowdism, even enjoy it. If they really cared, they would make it clear that bullshit like that is always unacceptable, election or not. It's the only way to put an end to it.

    1. I have no idea who Maureen Dowd's audience would be, since I don't know of a single person who regularly reads Dowd's column enough to be called part of "her audience."

      As for me, I might sometimes read a couple of paragraphs of a Dowd column (syndicated in the daily newspaper I take), see if she has anything interesting to say on a subject I'm interested in (she very occasionally does), and if not, I move on.

      Kinda like I do with all op-ed columnists.

  3. Stopped reading her a long time ago, back when she was lobbing snark against a guy in a brown suit. Hopefully her column then carried as much weight as it deserved. I don't know how I could live with myself if I, a national columnist, contributed to the antipathy felt towards a guy who just barely lost an election, in a state in which the NYT is widely read. Lots of lives lost in the following 14 years. She's lazy as hell, always writes the same meandering pseudo psychological fodder, and obtains far more credibility from her employers than they from her.

  4. Your comment was dumb, Bob. I expected better. Not that Dowd deserves better (her column is a disgrace and I don't mean this particular piece, but her body of work), but you might have written something intelligent on the off-chance that it might have made an impression on the not terribly sophisticated NYT readers.

  5. Day late and a dollar short, but I want to agree heartily with Anonymous at 11:08AM. I'd pit my contempt for Maureen Dowd against anyone's. She's a shallow thinker and a lazy columnist who's musings are usually an embarrassment to all concerned. Yet even though she may ask for it, there's no excuse for the sexism that characterizes so much criticism of her shortcomings as a columnist -- yours included, Bob. (George Will is also shallow and lazy, yet we don't see too many critiques suggesting that he writes as he does because he can't get a date and didn't get laid last night.) Why not treat Times readers some of your close reading on the issues? They would benefit and women would be spared unnecessary and unhelpful reminders of 20th-century sexism.

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