ANTHROPOLOGY LESSONS: As the gods watch!

MONDAY, JUNE 23, 2014

Part 1—Famous Times pundit gone wild: If we can believe the writings of Homer, the gods once amused themselves on Olympus, very much at our expense.

They watched the things we mortals did. Often, they roared with laughter.

In a sense, Homer’s gods behaved like anthropologists. We mortals were the primitive beings whose habits and capabilities they surveyed, frequently shaking their heads.

Are the gods still watching from Olympus? We can’t answer that! But by now, they’re probably averting their gaze from the anthropology lessons awaiting them here on the earth

Why are the gods averting their gaze? Consider what happened when Hillary Clinton went out to discuss her new book.

The book is called Hard Choices. It concerns Clinton’s years as secretary of state, a topic which—let’s be frank—no one cares about.

Sales have been slow for Clinton’s book. But in line with established cultural norms, nonsensical reactions have been frequent. Let’s consider one striking example:

On Sunday, June 15, one the nation’s best known columnists offered her reactions to Clinton’s book. Her column appeared in the New York Times, a well-known American newspaper.

In fact, the column appeared on the front page of this newspaper’s Sunday Review, a very high-profile placement. Remarkably, the column started as shown below.

The ways of our world are apparent here. By now, even the gods must be embarrassed by such anthropology lessons:
DOWD (6/15/14): When Will Hillary Let It Go?

No one wrote about blondes like Raymond Chandler.

“There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare,” he wrote in “The Long Goodbye.” “There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.”

There’s the pale, anemic, languid blonde with the soft voice. “You can’t lay a finger on her,” Chandler notes, “because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading ‘The Waste Land’ or Dante in the original.” And when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith, he writes dryly, “she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.”

None of his descriptions, however, conjures the two regal blondes transfixing America at the moment: Hillary and Elsa.
When will Hillary let it go? In comments, several of Maureen Dowd’s readers noted the oddness of this obvious bit of projection.

But there you see the remarkable way Dowd began her discussion of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state. She began her discussion by asking what kind of blonde this former first lady might be.

What kind of blonde is Hillary Clinton! Seeing Dowd frame her column this way, even Homer’s imperious gods must have looked away.

Having said that, we’ll bite! What kind of blonde is Hillary Clinton? Rather plainly, she isn’t the kind who “smells lovely,” at least not to Maureen Dowd.

By the end of the 1200-word column, Dowd had managed to list a few serious topics about which Clinton might well be challenged. But she spent more time spinning oldies but goodies, not excluding the Whitewater pseudo-scandal and the failure of the Clinton health plan in 1994.

How inane can this columnist be when she gets her mojo twerkin’? We’ll examine the details of Dowd’s obsessions before the week is done. For today, let’s consider a few of the reasons why the gods may have averted their gaze from this latest anthropology lesson.

One lesson conveyed by this pitiful column concerns the madness of Dowd. But a second, more significant lesson concerns the cultural norms of the rest of the mainstream press corps and even the emerging fiery figures on the cultural pseudo-left.

Just imagine! On the front page of Sunday Review, Dowd opened a column about the previous secretary of state by listing the various types of blondes! In this way, she returned to the throwback gender norms which have made her work so appalling and so embarrassing for so many horrible years.

Dowd has assailed a long string of Democrats, male and female, in this throwback manner. She has assailed a long string of Democratic candidates, and, in the case of male contenders, even a string of their wives.

That said, it wasn’t until June 2008 that a major figure in the national press corps finally told her to stop. That person was Clark Hoyt, then the New York Times public editor.

Hoyt should be revered.

In June 2008, Hoyt wrote a column about the way Dowd covered Candidate Clinton during the 2008 Democratic nomination campaign. In a startling piece, he savaged Dowd for “assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column.”

Hoyt’s column was many years overdue. The gentleman started like this:

HOYT (6/22/08): Some supporters of Hillary Clinton believe that sexism colored news coverage of her presidential campaign. The Times reported in a front-page article on June 13 that many are proposing boycotts of cable news networks and that a ''Media Hall of Shame'' has been created by the National Organization for Women.

The Times itself, however, was barely mentioned, even though two of its Op-Ed columnists, Maureen Dowd and William Kristol, were named in the Hall of Shame.

Peggy Aulisio of South Dartmouth, Mass., said, ''A real review of your own stories and columns is warranted.'' I think so too. And I think a fair reading suggests that The Times did a reasonably good job in its news articles. But Dowd's columns about Clinton's campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband that they could easily have been listed in that Times article on sexism...


Over the course of the campaign, I received complaints that Times coverage of Clinton included too much emphasis on her appearance, too many stereotypical words that appeared to put her down and dismiss a woman's potential for leadership and too many snide references to her as cold or unlikable. When I pressed for details, the subject often boiled down to Dowd.
That column, which was long overdue, appeared six years ago. Six years later, there was Dowd, starting a front-page Sunday column by wondering if Clinton is “the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters” or is perhaps “the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare.”

Dowd’s moral and intellectual illnesses have long been apparent. What may have even the gods embarrassed is the concomitant silence of her colleagues in the mainstream press corps, even in emerging news orgs which define the pseudo-left.

It was quite an anthropology lesson, to see that Dowd felt free to play her pitiful gender cards again. A second anthropology lesson involves the silence of the lambs all through the press/pundit world.

Tomorrow: Of all people, Diane Sawyer was troubled by all that cash!


  1. Maureen Dowd is a scarily prejudiced writer, but she is nonetheless highly influential and a person who criticizes her runs a significant risk. This is distressing, but I can see no resolution to the problem since Dowd never responds to any criticism.

    1. What exactly has the "highly influential" Dowd actually influenced?

    2. She has the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.

  2. Unfortunately all the damage to Hillary settled in for a whole week before TDH came to remind everyone how bad Dowd really is.

    1. If you don't like it you don't have to be here. The topic needs consistent repeating because Maureen Dowd still has a column and continues to write sexist rubbish.

    2. Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway.

  3. After a month buried in the numbers, four long, lonley weeks of reciting, repeating, and recycling the repeats of stats somebody punched into a far away computer, we wondered if Somerby still had the stomach for the hard stuff.

    Then she came into the room and he awakened like anyone from a prolonged bender.

    He released the Kraken.

    1. What exactly is your problem? You complain that Bob didn't cover this issue, and then when he does, you criticize what you knew he would say about it. If you have no appreciation for what Bob says about anything, why are you here?

    2. The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little

    3. 12:43 is trying to make me believe the writings of Homer.

    4. It's Raymond Chandler who has a phrase for it. Actually several clause, namely "The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little." From The Long Goodbye.

      Is Chandler right about the French having the phrase? And if he is, is he right about the French being right?

    5. I think you could say, with regard to Bob Somerby, that he has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.

      As to Chandler being right about the French? Mostly he just kills time and it dies hard.

    6. Is it just me, or is it getting kind of noir in here?

    7. It seems like a nice blog to have bad habits in.

  4. When are we going to get to the teacher tenure story?

    1. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

    2. It's true what they say. Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano. Sure it'll clean you out. But it'll leave you hollow inside.

    3. Police business is a hell of a problem. It’s a good deal like politics. It asks for the highest type of men, and there’s nothing in it to attract the highest type of men. So we have to work with what we get.

    4. It's a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans.