Times Dogged About Dog Days Coverage

While the paper has been beaten on some big scoops lately, it dominated what was undoubtedly the biggest story out of D.C. last week - the publication of a former blogger's first novel.

In recent months, the Washington bureau of the New York Times has been beaten on a number of big stories, from the Washington Post’s revelation of secret CIA detention centers in Europe to the Los Angeles Times’ scoop about the Bush administration’s undercover propaganda machine in Iraq. But over the past week, the Times has successfully dominated what is, without a doubt, the biggest and hottest story coming out of D.C. these days — specifically, the publication of a former blogger’s first novel.

To wit: Over the past week, the Times has provided unparalleled coverage of Dog Days, the new novel by Ana Marie Cox, including not just one but two reviews of the book, an op-ed by Cox herself, and a puffy profile of the former Wonkette-in-chief. Along the way, the Times has buried the competition. The editors at the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, for example, apparently deemed a single review of Dog Days sufficient — an inexplicable oversight, which helped open the door for the Times.

The Times began flooding the proverbial zone last Tuesday with a review of Dog Days by Janet Maslin, who ruthlessly and eloquently savaged the book.

Dog Days manages to be doubly conventional,” wrote Maslin. “It follows both an old-fashioned love-betrayal-redemption arc and the newer, bitchier nanny-Prada chick-lit motif.”

“Ms. Cox has made her own dent in the political process with www.wonkette.com, the foxy blog that has made her well known in Washington circles,” added Maslin. “And Dog Days is predicated on the thought that it is a short leap from a blog to a blovel … But getting the book deal proves easier than writing the book.”

All of which, no doubt, left the average Times reader thirsting for a first-hand sampling of the blovelist’s work. A few days later, the Times obliged.

On Thursday of last week, Cox popped up on the Op-Ed page of the Times with a piece called “Political Theater of the Absurd,” in which she speculated that the Jack Abramoff scandal will probably not result in prison time for many Washington power brokers — and, moreover, that it would be left up to voters to rid Washington of the crooks.

“While we should hesitate before defining corruption still further down (”No chiseler left behind!’), we don’t need to pause before throwing the bums out,” wrote Cox. “Ask any lawmaker: the harshest penalty one can receive isn’t prison; it’s losing.”

The originality of Cox’s argument (vote out the bad guys!) was nearly overshadowed by the frequency and density of the article’s punch lines, which were unrelenting if also somewhat unreadable. Sample joke: “Poor Paul Miller, who as president of the American League of Lobbyists (that’s the one with the designated-hitter rule) …”

So who was this author, capable not only of getting panned by Maslin but also of dropping the word “kerfuffles” in an opinion piece, all in single week?

Again, thankfully, the suspense was short-lived. On the same day Cox’s editorial was published, the Times helped clear up that mystery with a profile of Cox written by David Carr, which answered all of the pressing questions swirling around the publicity-shy author. Does she look like a stereotypical Washington insider? No. Does she drink alcohol? Yes. What kind? Gin martinis. Where? The Palm.

“[I]n a town full of pasty, overworked faces always framed by a credential around the neck, she sticks out,” wrote Carr. “With a flash of red hair, dark pants demarcated by chalk stripes and a black T-shirt that shows enough arm to reveal a tattoo she got in Reno instead of getting married one wild weekend, she plays a Katharine Hepburn with a severe case of potty mouth.”

”I contain multitudes,” Cox told Carr. ”I think a lot of writers are like that.”

Yesterday, in perhaps yet another attempt to capture Cox’s astounding multitudes, the Times published a second (and — dare we say — final?) review of Dog Days. This time, the reviewer, Christopher Buckley, enjoyed the book, which he described as “a brisk, smart, smutty, knowing and very well-written first novel.”

Finally, the tenacity of the Times’ saturation coverage had paid off. For at last the Times had managed to do what its competitors were apparently incapable of: find a reviewer who liked Cox’s book. (“Dog Days is chick lit at its most hackneyed,” Diana Wagman wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Dog Days is devoid of ideas or even references to ideas, thus giving an accurate picture of practical politics at campaign time, as if anyone needed this,” wrote P.J. O’Rourke in the Post.)

All of which is our way of saying, thank goodness for second reviews — a treatment, we must note, that is not without precedent at the Times. At least one other Washington insider turned author got the same space and consideration; specifically, some guy named Bill Clinton, whose autobiography My Life also merited two reviews in the Times.

And, as best as we can recall, Clinton wasn’t even a blogger.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.