Monday, May 18th, 2009

Maureen Dowd's Tiny Error

Dowdy!Maureen Dowd picks up a funny little correction today, as her weekend column lifted a paragraph from a blog. And we do mean "little"!

Maureen Dowd's column on Sunday, about torture, failed to attribute a paragraph about the timeline for prisoner abuse to Josh Marshall's blog at Talking Points Memo.

So, "failed to attribute" is a funny phrase. It's a phrase that doesn't show up in other corrections in the paper. HOWEVER! It is a phrase that shows up in this July 10, 1864 account of General Sherman's movements, which you really should read! Man! If the newspaper read like this today, I would be jumping out of bed first thing in the morning to go get it!

Anyway. The official narrative of the correction is, therefore, that she simply meant to quote that blog.

But Dowd has emailed people, saying that a friend had sent her this language, which she subsumed without Googling in quotes, something the rest of us who steal from our friends never do.

Those two explanations are in total conflict. Clearly Dowd said one thing to Greg Brock, who is presumably still the corrections editor-and this is already an unusual situation, as the op-ed columnists are a segregated pod inside/beside the segregated pod that is the op-ed section.

And she said a totally different thing via emails.

So what have we learned? A bunch of non-writers who comment on blogs will denounce Dowd because she steals from her friends. They are ridiculous, because everyone steals from their friends, or else how would you get through the day?

But what we've really learned is that Dowd is too un-savvy with the current age, and too unused to getting publicly hand-slapped, to safely negotiate this tiny, tiny debacle. She made it worse-even while trying to do something smart, which was saying, publicly, "Oh I goofed! My bad!"-which when you do it right, blammo, the trouble disappears.

We're not climbing on the CRUCIFY HER bandwagon here. Guess what? You shovel out words constantly for a few decades, and mistakes happen. And Dowd has an incredibly low correction rate, even in her time as a reporter. Yes, she's run down some incredibly wrong roads in her time on the Op-Ed page. And you probably would have too!

Dowd put in some time as a hard-charging Metro reporter and as a magazine writer and also on National, for 12 years, before coming to the opinion page. No doubt her psycho-fiery style in the 80s and early 90s offended the holy hell out of the old guard at the Times, and if I were her, I'd be continually pissed that the kids today have no idea about this, since most of them were born in the 80s.And then also because most of the kids today are merely doing what she is doing, except without navigating an unfriendly and slow-moving newspaper hierarchy.

She is friends with a few other tough women at the Times, who keep to themselves and are mistrustful of the current age of public hue and cry, in part because they have all been abused by it-for reasons that are pretty much unknown to the abusers (youthful resentment). This correction psychodrama, while also totally Dowd's fault, will merely increase the remove of the op-ed columnists and the other now-old, formerly-new guard of opinionated writers and critics at the Times from the current real world. Lose, lose!

18 Comments / Post A Comment

awlsome (#706)

well done. and a lark to read, as well.

Dickdogfood (#650)

I have nothing to add other than to note she is wearing bacon shoes.

To that I would only add that her bacon shoes match her baconcat table.

ecgroom (#570)

More comments on that picture – she's reading/holding Maxim, plus Men's Health & Esquire are prominently displayed. Is this her usual reading material (if so, really?!) or was this an ad for Hearst?

mathnet (#27)

People, she is wearing nylons. Poolside.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I think I read this somewhere else first. But a friend told me to say that.

sigerson (#179)

A Big Shanty, indeed.

jfruh (#713)

For what it's worth, the linguists at the Language Log aren't buying it:

Oh, well, right! I mean, "talking to" clearly means "emailing with." I didn't even bother to address that because it seems so obvious! Except you/they are quite right, as she made things even worse by eliding that.

This strikes me as a little credulous, Choire. I think since the language is so similar, and so written-sounding, she would have gone to pains to say it was emailed rather than uttered. There is no way that paragraphs would just fall from someone's mouth in conversation. I think what's more likely is that she was trolling around for info/ideas, cut and pasted this into some kind of draft doc, etc. and somehow forgot or something. (The alternative being that she's just dumb enough to think that no one would notice a line lifted from such source, which, regardless of what I think of Dowd, I don't think she's stupid in that way.) This is perfectly understandable, to an extent, but imagine she had to explain the process honestly: "So, I basically read some other places' stuff and cut, paste, rephrase where necessary, and Violà!â€"with a few funny riffs on people's names and clothes thrown in for the sake of maintaining the brand."

Redline (#513)

That Sherman article is awesome. "[A] beautiful and interesting young lady was fearfully bruised and lacerated and torn…. A young man on board was extremely attentive, as we went along, to the young lady who had been so seriously wounded. Yet it was not much of a task to nurse a young and beautiful girl, and scarcely any of us felt gratitude toward him."

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Yeah, "…scarcely any of us felt gratitude to him" is snark of a different class than "She was train-wreck hot." — I would like to know more about the physics of the impending train wreck. The wheels on the runaway train t u r n i n g b a c k w a r d s with engines fully reversed but the train continuing to slide down the tracks and gain on the NY Times reporter's train all the same? (That would have been the old L&N line running down Monteagle Mtn in Franklin County TN, I think.)

katiebakes (#32)

I totally misread that first line of the last paragraph as containing the word "menstrual". (Esp with the word "cry" right there in the next line.)

And thought yeah right! Maybe back in the 90s!

No. This is an accountability moment. It's time the dinosaurs of the broadsheets learned, like so many Morning Zoo DJs herded into a pen at SXSW, that they cannot simply huaghtily ignore the new media who shepherd to them whatever page views they get like so many touts scalping tickets to SXSW–Ha, just kidding! As someone who misses Russell Baker's column I don't care about almost anything she does. Although, as a kind of writer, I am a bit bothered that she couldn't change more than one word.

momodo (#714)

That photo was taking as a publicity shot for her now remaindered book Are Men Necessary? She is clearly doing extensive research into the issue.

sigerson (#179)

If she were a blogger, wouldn't an "UPDATE" at the end of the original post, plus maybe some crossed out text, suffice to correct the error? Seems like sloppy and rushed drafting, which is a sin that surely NO ONE in the blogosphere has ever been guilty of committing…

CRUCIFY HER. For being irrelevant. It's bad enough she gets paid for doing very little work. But this incident shows that she can't even manage the smallish amount she's contracted for. The only people I know who read her only do so to make fun of her. CRUCIFY HER.

anildash (#487)


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