NYT Public Editor Misses The Trouble With Dowd

“[B]y assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column” — 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1 —”[Maureen Dowd] went over the top this election season.” So said the New York Times’s public editor, Clark Hoyt, yesterday. Hoyt studied specific reader complaints about “sexism” in the Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton, called on the expertise of professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and came to this conclusion (along with the more general findings that the Times “did a reasonably good job in its news articles” and, per Jamieson, was “on the careful end” of the “comparative continuum.” Back-pats, all around.)

While I understand why Hoyt zoomed in on Dowd’s treatment of Clinton, focusing on this one element of Dowd’s body of work, to my mind, actually lets Dowd off the hook. The Trouble With Dowd really isn’t Clinton-specific. By making that the focus, you allow Dowd to dismiss the criticism with a, “But I subject the men to my patented gender-twist, too!” As if the biggest problem was an unequal application of the technique, not (the tedium of) the technique itself. And, Hoyt reports without question, “[Dowd] said nobody had objected to her use of similar images about men over seven presidential campaigns.” (Which is, of course, simply not true.)

In Dowd’s own words: “From the time I started writing about politics, I have always played with gender stereotypes and mined them and twisted them to force the reader to be conscious of how differently we view the sexes. You are asking me to treat Hillary differently than I’ve treated the male candidates all these years, with kid gloves.”

No, I — for one— am asking you (your editors?) to treat all the candidates differently. Not with “kid gloves,” to be sure, but not with Dowd gloves either (in politics, left-leaning men — for the most part— are delicate flowers; women are cold and emasculating). As I wrote last November:

Why can’t the Times get someone on its op-ed page who can write about [gender] in a new and thoughtful way? What an op-editorialist says (over and over) in The New York Times is not — as much as we might wish it were so— without real impact. And besides, Mo Do’s m.o. is tired.

How tired?

In Dowd’s world 2007, Hillary Clinton is the “debate dominatrix,” a “control freak,” someone who “iced” opponents and used to subject her husband to belittling treatment. In Dowd’s world circa 1999, Liddy Dole was “an Oprah dominatrix” at the Republican Convention, a “control freak,” someone who “icily corrected” a reporter and belittled her husband.

Same Shtick. Different year.

A shtick that has become “facile and destructive,” as Zachary Roth wrote here, rather than insightful and instructive.

UPDATE: Blogger Digby on Hoyt on Dowd:

Again, the question isn’t whether she should have treated Clinton any differently. It’s that her entire worldview is toxic, both culturally and politically. She uses explicitly sexist and homophobic imagery that favors traditional authoritarian leadership to explain politics. She gets away with it because she has a rapier wit and is a physically beautiful person, thus insulating herself from the kind of criticism others would receive for writing this crud. But in truth she’s a walking anachronism…

She is considered by many to be the top political columnist in the country (and her columns are often the most emailed articles in the Times.) Certainly she is Village Royalty. And that is undoubtedly one reason why people like Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson felt that it was perfectly acceptable to say the things they said during this campaign. She’s their misogymuse.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.