OFF THE GRID

Maureen Dowd Is All in Your Head

May 20, 09 | 9:25 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Here’s the most boring question I’ve been asked in the last 24 hours: What do you think of Maureen Dowd’s plagiarism? Here’s the most boring question I’m regularly asked: What do you think of Maureen Dowd?

Here’s my question: Why are boring people so interested in her? Ever since she began her column in the mid-nineties it has been de rigueur among people who, relatively speaking, have no opinions about anything to have very firm opinions about Dowd. Among a great swatch of uninteresting people she is the officially sanctioned, government-approved lightning rod.

She’s titillating to the I-made-the-effort-to-read-the-New-York-Times-and-so-have-got-to-take-it-seriously crowd. She’s catnip to the I-can-be-a-media-insider-too wannabes. She infuriates the I-have-opinions-too-so-why-does-she-get-a-column bunch.

This pretty much defines the great bulge of obsessive news bloggers and therefore answers the question of why an uninteresting sentence, which turns out not to be Dowd’s, in an uninteresting Dowd column, is all the talk.


(Getty Images)

Dowd is like some much-vaunted high school type whose success and popularity drive everybody else mad with either envy and spite or inspire a perverse (evidence of great-self-loathing) desire to be her way-too-loyal friend and supporter.

Indeed, she is famously surrounded by an inside circle of friends and supporters—other famous-type columnists and New York Times reporters—who famously help her write her column. She regularly lifts their thoughts and sentences, which, since they are unpublished (supposedly), is not plagiarism—though it certainly is insiderism.

Such insiderism is why so many people, especially the outsider-type bloggers, despise her. Her evident self-satisfaction and the obvious echo chamber in which she resides, not to mention her apparent ability to get by without doing too much work, rankles. On the other hand, this same being in with the in-crowd is enchanting to many other people. That in-crowd, by the way, has rushed to defend her and dismiss the meaning and possible venality of her purloined 43 words.

It’s very simple and boring: Because she has power, garnered from the New York Times and a long history of courting (and being courted by) powerful people, the establishment likes her; because she has power, the unallied and unpowerful bloggers (as opposed to the power bloggers like Josh Marshall, from who she stole the 43 words, who has forgiven her, and Jack Schafer, at Slate, who has absolved her) don’t.

This is not a tempest about journalism or ethical conduct; it’s about status, and station, and who’s holding on to his or her advantage in the world, and who sees a chance to grab a leg up (or pull someone down).

Please don’t ask me about Maureen Dowd. I don't care.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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