The mystery of the missing Sunday column is solved. While in the press enoturage with Dubya's week-long Middle East blitz, Maureen Dowd developed a stomach flu and required the help of Dubya's personal physician to beat the bug. Michael Abromowitz of the Washington Post gave the full story including more information than we needed to know:
Once she arrived in Jerusalem last Tuesday (the day of the New Hampshire primary), Dowd fell sick - and started second-guessing her decision to leave the campaign trail for the presidential bubble abroad. She was suffering some kind of stomach bug that left her nauseous, weak and feeling feverish.In order for Maureen to be near the doctor in case of a relapse, they made room for her on Air Force One instead of the press plane. Dowd was grateful and gracious for the assistance.
"I'm not sure it was a New Hampshire fever or Jerusalem food poisoning," Dowd said.
Presidential aides, including press secretary Dana Perino, made clear early on that Dowd could see Dr. Richard J. Tubb, the Air Force brigadier general who oversees the White House medical office and takes care of the president at home and abroad.
But Dowd declined. With no medication, she tried to soldier on by grabbing whatever rest she could in her hotel room--not easy to do in a trip of constant movements. By the time the presidential entourage moved to Bahrain from Kuwait on Saturday, she felt even worse. She was so sick, in fact, that she could not write her regular Sunday column.
Dowd finally decided to take up the White House on its offer.
A young press aide, Carlton Carroll, helped arrange for Dowd to visit Tubb at the Emirates Palace, the over-the-top $3 billion luxury hotel where the president and his aides were staying. The hotel is so vast that Dowd and her escorts got lost twice in the marble and gold hallways. She finally found herself in a fully-staffed doctors' office with a trunk full of various medications, a solicitous nurse and a super-competent White House physician.
Tubb gave her a few tablets of Cipro and some Pepto-Bismol and told her to check back with him the next day. She turned down Tubb's offer of an IV (so there was no chance of an "accidental" poisoning, she joked).
"I was thinking that if I ran into Bush, I would have to apologize for it not being a fatal disease," Dowd said. "He was very generous to share his doctor--even if he didn't know it."The one part of the article that is raising eyes in the media at places like mediabistro and Gawker is the $20,000 bill for a journalist to travel with the prez.
Dowd said Tubb and the rest of the White House staff who helped her were "fantastic"--and nobody complained about her columns.
"That's not the time they take you to task," Dowd said.
The only people who might be complaining about the whole affair could well be Dowd's editors, who may end up paying for one the most expensive columns in her illustrious career. The Middle East trip could well cost upwards of $20,000 for each journalist along. With no column last Sunday, Dowd was doing the math Tuesday afternoon to figure out how much each word of her Wednesday column would cost the Times.
"I am not sure my bosses will think this is money well spent," she acknowledged. "The only thing to come out of it so far is a Washington Post item."
She did file a Rich-sized travelogue today, but that still comes to more than ten bucks a word.