So Maureen Dowd plagiarized, or something. Eric Zorn has a good roundup, and the most thoughtful response so far. But I think worrying about it masks a much larger point.

My reaction, upon hearing that a paragraph from Josh Marshall ended up in her column was Great! Hell, if she used Josh Marshall’s words every week, I’d feel a lot better about the NYT editorial page. Steal from the best, as they say. Baby steps!

Seriously, take the long view:

1. Maureen Dowd uses someone else’s perfectly reasonable paragraph -> FREAKOUT.

2. Maureen Dowd uses her own snide, shallow words to sully American political writing for years -> not of interest to all but dirty hippie bloggers.

Obvious rules about plagiarism aside, this is sort of a problem. And, yes, I know she won a Pulitzer. Jethro Tull won a Grammy, and I don’t like rock flute any more for that.

I’ve long ceased reading her, for the same reason I stopped watching snuff films and Total Request Live: if I wanted to actively particpate in the dumbing down and destruction of American culture, I could at least get paid for it. Fortunately, there are people watchdogging the watchdogs, and they’ve done a fine job of chronicling her sins against thoughtful political observation. A sampling:

* Evgenia Peretz in Vanity Fair:  

“Maureen Dowd boiled the choice between Gore and Bush down to that between the ‘pious smarty-pants’ and the ‘amiable idler,’ and made it perfectly clear which of the presidential candidates had a better chance of getting a date. ‘Al Gore is desperate to get chicks,’ she said in her column. ‘Married chicks. Single chicks. Old chicks. Young chicks. If he doesn’t stop turning off women, he’ll never be president.'”


“Dowd wrote in one column that ‘Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he’s practically lactating.’ In another, referring to his consideration of putting a Webcam in the Oval Office, she wrote, ‘I have zero desire to see President Gore round the clock, putting comely interns to sleep with charts and lectures on gaseous reduction.'”

* Bob Somerby details how Dowd pushed the fake “Gore thinks Love Story was based on him” story.

* Scott Lemieux: “The Bush presidency that Dowd started decrying when it was too late to do anything about it came about in no small part because large parts of the media covered an election for President of the United States in a manner that might be appropriate for a junior high student council election. And Dowd was one of the worst offenders. Making the personal into the political is a valuable form of analysis. But for Dowd, the ‘personal’ consists of crude cliches, and there’s essentially no ‘politics’ at all. While her colleague Paul Krugman was pointing out little details like the fact that Bush was outright lying about his fiscal policies during the debates, Dowd was repeating a bunch of memes that were 1) generally made up out of whole cloth, and 2) would be utterly irrelevant to anything if they were true.”

[Lots of good links to Dowd’s facile, creepy editorializing in Lemieux’s post.]

* Molly Ivors: “More dismayingly, it has freed Maureen Dowd to invent another in her line of patented Bullshit Scenarios™ between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, in an imaginary 2012 where these voracious women have dispatched the men who helped them get into office and are now head-to-head. She dubs them ‘the gun-toting hockey mom and the shot-swilling Warrior Queen of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits’ (the comparative number of adjectives tells you where her oatmeal-sharp wit really wants to sink its blade, of course).”

* The NYT’s own freaking public editor: “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, right along with the comments of Chris Matthews, Mike Barnicle, Tucker Carlson or, for that matter, Kristol, who made the Hall of Shame for a comment on Fox News, not for his Times work.”

* Digby: “I would just add that there’s a secondary dogwhistle in this one too, that stems from Maureen Dowd’s nasty little jibes about Obama being an ‘anorexic starlet.’

* More Digby (who, FWIW, is female): “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, more like a character in Mad Men than a modern sophisticate.”

Honestly, that’s just a tiny, tiny sampling. It’s not for nothing that Lemieux files all Dowdiana under the category FREE DAHLIA LITHWICK . Dowd’s not merely frustratingly shallow; her retrograde sexual politics and elitist faux-identification with the hoi polloi have been actively damaging to establishment media, which continues to take her seriously out of what I can only assume is Stockholm syndrome.

I propose a new, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency Creative Commons license: “for use without attribution if it will keep you from writing something genuinely destructive.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to call David Brooks and just start randomly reading paragraphs from Daniel Larison blog posts, because it seems to do a lot more good than writing letters to the editor.