THE QUESTIONABLE COGNITION FILES: The New York Times does it again!


And again and again and again:
“Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun.”

As you may know, we're quoting from the New York Times—from an official Opinion section tweet, a tweet which sought to direct attention to the newspaper's latest large bungle.

As things turned out, the ham-handed tweet replaced that high-profile Sunday report as the newspaper's latest large bungle. It also recalled the peculiar, throwback "sexual politics" the famous newspaper has often put on peculiar display over the past many years.

The facts behind these successive large bungles have been widely discussed in the past two days. As far as we know, the author of that ham-handed tweet remains unnamed, and we hope it remains that way.

The tweet was directing attention to the featured essay in last weekend's Sunday Review. For the background on that bungled essay, we'll direct you to Margaret Sullivan, wringing her hands and tearing her hair in today's Washington Post.

We'd only wonder why Sullivan still seems surprised by nonsense like this at the famous Times.

Over the weekend, the bungles were flying thick and fast from the New York Times. At the start of the weekend, Andrew Sullivan had suggested that it might not be the greatest idea for this pathetically flawed, high-profile org to assign itself the task of rewriting the whole of American history, the latest major "journalistic" project the Times has undertaken.

Sullivan's essay was widely read and was, in our view, quite worthwhile. We'll discuss its assessments, and add to its claims, by the end of the week.

For today, we thought it might be best to turn to The Questionable Cognition Files—to review the problematic cognitive state which is frequently on display at the New York Times.

Is the state of Candidate Biden's cognition a reasonable topic at this time? In our view, yes, it is—and we don't regard that as "ageism," the pitiful moniker dumped on this question just yesterday by former senator Boxer.

Boxer was working within the cognitive bubble favored by our floundering tribe, in which every sentence has a noun and a verb and a word ending with "—ism."

In fact, as we all know, many people do experience cognitive decline as they reach a certain age. Given the office Biden seeks, it would be strange to ignore this well-known fact, especially in the face of the candidate's various stumbles.

In our view, the state of Candidate Biden's cognition should be up for review. But how about the cognitive state of the glorious Times? In our view, the general state of its staff's cognition should be questioned too.

Basic background: there has been little question, in recent decades, about the cognitive state of the Democratic Party's presidential nominees.

In 1992, Candidate Clinton was a former Rhodes scholar. No one questioned how such a thing come have come to pass.

In 2008, Candidate Obama was a former editor of the Harvard Law Review. He was also the author of a 1995 memoir which was quite favorably reviewed in real time, before he became a public figure.

In Campaign 2000, the party's nominee had been Vice President Gore. In 1992, he'd written a major book about climate change—a book which was very favorably reviewed in real time, by both the Washington Post and the New York Times.

For excerpts from those real-time reviews, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/07. In 2007, Gore was awarded a Nobel prize for his long-time work in this area.

The cognitive traits of these nominees seemed beyond reproach. That brings us to the peculiar cognitive traits of an amazing number of major players at the New York Times.

As a quick starter, consider Gore's widely-praised 1992 book.

By the end of 1999, Candidate Gore was under attack all over the mainstream press, and certainly so at the New York Times.
The paper specialized in inventing weird "quotations" by Gore and, of course, in questioning his masculinity.

For these reasons, his widely-praised book was reviewed again, along with books by the other major candidates. On the paper's front page, the paper's long-standing book reviewer now offered this:
KAKUTANI (11/22/99): Vice President Al Gore emerges from ''Earth in the Balance'' (Plume), his 1992 book about the environment, as the quintessential A-student who has belatedly discovered New Age psychobabble. Like his speeches, his book veers between detailed policy assessments (predictably illustrated with lots of charts and graphs) and high-decibel outbursts of passion, between energetically researched historical disquisitions and loony asides about ''inner ecology'' and ''spiritual triangulation''—asides that may help explain his curious affinity with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf.
Gore's book was now psychobabble and loony asides, with repeated citations of Naomi Wolf, who had played exactly zero role in its composition.

Kakutani devoted 800 words to Gore's book. She kept suggesting that Gore was some species of "loony," and she weirdly mentioned Wolf three separate times.

Kakutani's front-page review stands as one of the strangest pieces of journalism of the modern era. For a detailed review of its manifest weirdness, see that same DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/07, with links to a four-part report in real time.

Kakutani's bizarre review came to the public live and direct from The Puzzling Cognition Files. For another sample from those files, consider a column which appeared in this weekend's Sunday Review. And yes, we refer to the same high-profile section which was fronted, this past weekend, by the Times' latest large bungle!

With apologies, the column in question was written by Maureen Dowd. No one has done more to define the strangeness of New York Times journalism and cognitive states over the past thirty years.

As a general matter, we'd say that Dowd's column this Sunday actually made good sense. She warned that the current crop of Democratic candidates are actually making it possible to imagine Donald J. Trump's re-election.

That said, the pundit offered the manifest nonsense shown below at one point. We'd have to say that this astonishing passage qualifies as vintage "crackpot Times," live and direct from The Damaged Cognition Files:
DOWD (9/15/19): Tactics [at the Democratic debate] superseded passion and vision. Everyone seemed one tick off. Unlike with Barack Obama in 2008, none made you feel like you wanted to pump your fist in the air and march into the future behind them.

“Being a good politician doesn’t matter anymore,” lamented one freaked-out congressional Democrat afterward. “It’s like being a great used car salesman. We need a Holden Caulfield to call out all the phonies.”
Say what? Editors were letting Dowd pretend that, back in 2008, Candidate Obama had made her feel "like [she] wanted to pump [her] fist in the air and march into the future behind [him]."

For those who retain some modest degree of normal cognition, this characterization will perhaps seem insulting and daft.

How did Dowd portray Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008? We've often recalled the insulting, gender-crazy way she wrote about the "diffident debutante." To avoid quoting ourselves, we'll quote Zachary Roth, in real time, at the Columbia Journalism Review.

"Another day, another shockingly dumb column by Maureen Dowd," Roth wrote in July 2008. Here's a taste of the way Obama was being portrayed by the Times' highest-profile columnist back then, in real time:
ROTH (7/16/08): ...Dowd has another concern about Obama. He’s “in danger of seeming too prissy about food.”

In reality, it would be more accurate to say that he already seems this way—to Maureen Dowd. During the primaries, Dowd began to sense that Obama might not be a big fan of junk food. Since then, she has elevated this observation to the status of a brilliant character-revealing aperçu. She has mined every available piece of evidence in a dogged campaign to turn Obama’s eating habits into a proxy for his alleged inability to relate to those white working-class Americans for whom, from her Georgetown townhouse, she claims to speak.

In last week’s column, titled “No Ice Cream, Senator?”, she criticized his “finicky, abstemious tastes,”
and highlighted the fact that his daughter had revealed he doesn’t like sweets or ice cream.

In April, she noted that, after Obama “force-fed” himself waffles, pancakes, sausage, and a Philly cheese steak, he was “clearly a man who can’t wait to get back to his organic scrambled egg whites.”

The previous week, she had described him as “resisting as the natives tried to fatten him up like a foie-gras goose.”

And two weeks before that, she had revealed to readers that, at a Pennsylvania chocolate shop, Obama “spent most of his time skittering away from chocolate goodies, as though he were a starlet obsessing on a svelte waistline,” and that he declined a chocolate cake with frosting, saying “that’s too decadent for me.”

Is it just me, or is there something a bit sad about using your New York Times column to pay this level of attention to a candidate’s eating habits?
The sheer inanity of Dowd's work was on display all through that campaign. There was no sign that the candidate in question made her feel like she wanted to pump her fist in the air and march into the future behind him.

Nor was Roth the only person who managed to notice the relentless stupidity with which Dowd kept attacking Obama, as with others before him. At this link from the press criticism site FAIR, you'll find a compilation of complaints about Dowd's endlessly ridiculous work. We'll post a few examples:
In her January 18 New York Times column, Maureen Dowd decided that the best way to criticize the Democratic Party was to feminize it. Calling Al Gore and John Kerry “girlie men” and equating the Democrats with “Desperate Housewives,” she argued that the Democrats do not have enough fight in them and their attacks will never yield success “as long as they’re perceived as the party in skirts.”

—Lauren Pruneski, Campus Progress (1/24/06)

If the point of the stories about Edwards’ wealth is to delegitimize his arguments on behalf of the poor, the haircut obsession is designed to feminize the candidate and thereby undermine his credentials as macho-man for president—which are, by the way, those deemed to be the most important by the media. . . . Maureen Dowd use[s] the term “Breck Girl.” . . . Dowd also accuses Obama of preening like a “46-year-old virgin,” demonstrating “loose” body language and being “hung up on being seen as thoughtful,” while secretly fearing “being seen as ‘a dumb blond.'” Still, it’s a kind of progress over her Gore coverage.

—Eric Alterman, the Nation (9/13/07)

In March 2004, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd highlighted the “Breck Girl” label as an example of the “nasty Republican habit of portraying opponents as less than fully masculine.” Still, it’s a habit she can’t kick: She has used the phrase “Breck Girl” four times in three columns since then—not to mention countless other occasions when she has compared Barack Obama to Scarlett O’Hara or called him “Obambi” or otherwise indulged her own “nasty habit.”

—Media Matters (3/9/07)

Back in March, Dowd’s Obama was “effete.” Today, she goes for something more vivid, likening him to a “diffident debutante.”

Not yet up to Al Gore is “practically lactating” snuff. But give her time.

—Liz Cox Barrett, Columbia Journalism Review (5/14/08)
Candidate Gore had been "practically lactating," and Candidate Edwards was the Breck Girl. Candidate Obama was "effete," "the diffident debutante," one who secretly feared "being seen as a dumb blond." Not to mention the food!

On Sunday, the New York Times let this perpetual crackpot pretend that she had swooned over Obama. As we wonder about the state of Candidate Biden's cognition, what would keep us from asking similar questions about the deeply peculiar, Hamptons-based gang inside the New York Times?

"Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun!" So someone within this crackpot fraternal/sororal order officially tweeted this weekend.

We don't want to know who it was! But that tweet was offered to promote the featured piece in the Sunday Review—a featured piece which turned out to contain the newspaper's latest large bungle. This pitiful bullshit never stops at this deeply ridiculous newspaper, a paper which has long branded itself as brightest in all the land.

In that same Sunday Review, Dowd was pretending that she swooned for Candidate "Obambi" in 2008. Surely, Dowd's editors knew how bogus that passage was—but the Times has long run on such fuel, and nothing is likely to change.

The New York Times has seemed to be impaired for decades now. The paper routinely displays the broken soul, and the limited intellect, of a fatuous upper-class Antoinette-styled elite.

Now, the flyweights inside this Animal House have assigned themselves the task of rewriting the whole of American history in The One True Accurate Manner. Sullivan thinks that's a lousy idea. We may think it's even dumber than that.

We'll discuss those points by the end of the week. Tomorrow, though, we'll move on to another mission the Times seems to be on—and the Times is a very dumb newspaper.

Is Biden's cognition open to question? In our view, yes, it is—but what about that of the Times?

Tomorrow: The newspaper's second mission


  1. "In fact, as we all know, many people do experience cognitive decline as they reach a certain age."

    Well, in case of Creepy Joe, it doesn't appear to be age-related.

    He just isn't one of your favorite smooth-talking robotic zombie politicians, like your 'Candidate Gore', for example.

    He looks more like a Mafia-boss character, of the good old days. And that, actually, works to his advantage, dear Bob...

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  2. “we'd say that Dowd's column this Sunday actually made good sense. She warned that the current crop of Democratic candidates are actually making it possible to imagine Donald J. Trump's re-election.”

    Dowd is just doing what she always does: undermining the Democrats. The primaries haven’t even started. As soon as the Dems nominate someone, Dowd will attack that person relentlessly, just as she did every other Dem nominee.

    Somerby fails to point out Dowd’s continuing war on Democrats because he agrees with her this time.

  3. Re Clinton, Gore, and Obama’s unquestioned cognitive abilities:

    A degree from Yale or Harvard has not exactly been taken as prima facie evidence of good “cognitive traits” here at the Howler.

  4. Somerby has apparently decided that the 1619 project sucks, so he is searching for opinions, like Sullivan’s, that match his own. Aside from the laziness of outsourcing his opinion to someone else, he does not examine Sullivan’s column for evidence of *Sullivan’s* bias.

    And that is the difference between a media critic and someone with a bias looking for support for his bias.

    1. @1:06
      Don't agree with you there. If anything, Sullivan is echoing TDH in calling out The NYT for bad journalism.

      In essence, Sullivan sees The NYT using The 1619 Project to slant all their coverage through a focus on "400 years American slavery" - never mind that the current world is ridiculously more complicated than that.

      TDH will probably fixate on The NYT not even being able to do this much lazy virtue signaling correctly.

    2. Here's a lengthy analysis claiming that the Times is inaccurate about the history of slavery.

      What the 1619 Project Gets Wrong about Slavery and Economics

  5. Gore, like most Presidential candidates, learned no science in college. His view of global warming has no particular validity. Gore's view simply reflects which climate scientists he chooses to believe.

    1. Yes, Ilya. All of them. Also all of us. The models and data are too complex for any of us to figure out. I try to at least look at the actual data. However, there are different temperature histories, and they don't agree. So, one must even choose which data source to believe.

  6. Kakutani was being kind when she described Gore ad the "quintessential A student who has discovered New Age psychobabble." Gore was nowhere near an A student. He got bad grades at Harvard.

    1. Gore wasn't a great student because he didn't play act as one on "The Apprentice".

    2. Gore is a cum laude graduate of Harvard.
      David in Cal is the Village Idiot in the commentariat of a blog nobody reads.

    3. "Last June, a record 91 percent of Harvard students graduated summa, magna, or cum laude". Graduating cum laude puts one in the lower part of Harvard's graduating class.

    4. Correction:
      Gore is a 1969 cum laude graduate of Harvard.
      David in Cal is currently the Village Idiot in the commentariat of a blog nobody reads

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