Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rose Defends Dowd

David Denby went on to The Charlie Rose Show to flog his rather thin and poorly researched treatise on snark, cleverly called Snark. See my earlier post about that flaming pile. About half the segment dealt, either directly or indirectly, with Denby’s perplexingly misguided focus on Maureen Dowd on what he sees as the faults of snark. As second movie string critic for the New Yorker (a magazine I am assured by some DailyKos diarists is still read and loved) Denby is a frequent guest on Rose's show critquing movies and other pop cultural flotsam. This time Denby is the one on the hot seat.

The full segment (link here) is nearly twenty minutes long, so I have painstakingly transcribed the portions that pertain most directly to Dowd. It is not an official transcript and I have done minor editing for clarity. For example, there is a lot of cross-talk that I have consolidated. That said, all errors is spelling, grammar, and punctuation that are not evident from the taped archive are mine alone.

I’m also dispensing with my usual color-coded blockquote format for just this post. My parenthetical asides are in italics.

Denby: Some people ask me “How you can attack Maureen Dowd of the New York Times for being snarky…

Rose: Exactly.

Denby: …and praise John Stewart?”

Rose: Yes!

Denby: “Isn’t he snarky? Or Keith Olbermann?”

Rose: It’s seems to me those are very different people because they’re in very different mediums, but go ahead.

Denby: My point was that Stewart and Colbert and Olbermann have a political passion. They think the government should not lie to the people. They think our civil liberties should not be invaded. Maureen Dowd makes fun of people’s appearance and affect and manner and so on. I don’t see any political idea at all of what government should be doing or what the point of government is or what the point of politics is. It’s all about ambition and sham.

So I’m to assume that by inference Denby is accusing Dowd of thinking the government should lie and invade our civil liberties. That is a shameful slur.

Rose: I’ll rise to defend Maureen because I differ with you about this. Plus, I like her and she’s a friend and all of that.

Denby: There is nothing personal here.

Really? Sure could have fooled me. The discussion veers off into what is and isn't snark, with the emphasis on what may or may not cover Maureen Dowd but not, say, John Stewart.

Denby: Look, Maureen Dowd, to come back to her, is brilliant. Look, We’re not talking talent here.

Rose: A Pulitzer Prize winner, I think.

Denby: Look, more than that. She’s brilliant with what she can do with language, but what I don’t see is any value there being defended. No matter what you’ve got, she’s against it. If you expose your throat, she’s going to leap with fangs. I mean she went after both Al Gore and George Bush in 2000. She reduced Gore, who is after all a serious guy who presents himself awkwardly to the public, she reduced him to a caricature.

Rose: Let me just say this...

Denby: She was widely imitated and it hurt.

Rose: If Al Gore can’t survive this, and he can. Look what happened to him, he’s done quite well. If Al Gore can’t survive whatever Maureen Dowd said…

Denby: What if he had been president instead of the disaster we had?

Rose: Wait, wait a minute…

Denby: She played a small role. She played a role. She played a role in that mess.

And here we are back to the camel's back theory of “It’s all Maureen’s fault because she said anything bad at all. If she had only be more of a team player..” hindsight. It doesn’t make sense to shoot the messenger no matter how accurate her aim was.

Rose: She played? I don’t want to make this about her because the theme is more important than one particular person, She said very, very difficult things about President Clinton at the height of his problems.

Denby: (nodding) President Bush.

Rose: …President Bush. And I suspect that at some point she will say very difficult things about President Obama.

Denby: She’s got trouble at the moment because he’s serious. He’s accountable. She can’t get a handle on him.

Rose: That criticism has been raised about everybody with respect to him.

Denby then goes on a long diatribe about how brilliant a satirist Colbert is because he is skewering right wing blowhards like O'Reilly while explaining Supreme Court decisions.

Denby: It’s not just making fun of someone who is physically vulnerable or has a strange manner or something. That’s the difference to me.

I had no idea Gore was such an drooling invalid, but Denby seems to think attacking him is on par with making fun of oddly dressed retards.

Rose: I think you are putting too much emphasis on that. You may have picked one or two columns. I mean, day in and day out, I know columnists, and I would include Maureen in this, are people who view the world of Washington with a sharp eye and sharp language. And it’s not just as you would suggest a long riff on people’s appearance.

Denby: Yes, I have no problem with that. I’m talking about a particular kind of malicious, nasty undermining humor which is value free.

Rose: Alright, let me roll tape. Here is Maureen Dowd on our show. Roll tape:

The clip is dated 8/27/04.

Dowd: The first couple of years of my column I just spent rolled up on the floor just crying. I mean, I found it so hard. And not the genre. The genre of column writing is hard, but they psychological pressure of being really tough. And with a woman they do tend to use different words. It’s like, you’re mean or you’re vituperative or you’re venomous which you don’t hear so much about Tom.

It’s like she is predicting Denby word for word.

Rose: Nobody is calling Tom Friedman “The Cobra.”

Dowd: Yeah, well you want to be liked. They don’t want everybody kind of hating.

Rose: Is there part of you that wants to be liked?

Dowd: All of me wants to be liked. What do you mean part of me? Yeah.

Rose: You like Bill Clinton?

She deftly avoids that minefield.

Dowd: Tom Friedman said once you get a column, you never make another friend.

Rose: That’s not true.

No, because Charlie has clearly become smitten.
The clip ends.

Denby: Tom Friedman is trying to save the world. He’s full of ideas.

Rose: So, wait, wait. The test of who’s snarky and who’s not snarky is what they want to do, what's their ambition in what they’re writing? That’s the test?

Denby: Yes. Seriousness in purpose. No matter how funny and nasty you are, if there is something serious behind it. And satire does that brilliantly from Jonathon Swift on down. Makes fun, but there’s some reforming instinct there. If you are just jumping at somebody’s weakness that is snark.

Rose: Alright, let’s move beyond that because if that is your test you have no basis to criticize Maureen Dowd if your test is seriousness of purpose.

Game, set and match goes to Rose. Denby’s accusations of Dowd are based on a false premise.

Denby: What is her values except that we should all be honest?

Rose: Her value is that she writes brilliantly and gives us an insight into sort of the behavioral aspects of people who aspire to lead.

Denby: She attacks everyone, Charlie. What would she have done with Abe Lincoln. I mean Honest Abe, really? Or FDR?

This is the sacred cows theory of criticism. Denby thinks some people should be above ridicule.

Rose: Hello? No worse than five or six other writers did with Abe Lincoln by the way.

Denby: Okay! But my point is that she’s often wrong.

And here is the crux of Denby’s attacks. He hates Dowd because she disagrees with him.

Rose: Moving beyond her only because it sounds like I’m trying to defend her because she’s a friend and I’m not. I think on the merit it looks that way.

No, Charlie, you’re dealing with a pompous ass with no internal logic to his arguments. Thank you for revealing that Denby’s grudge is against Dowd because he disagrees with her, not because of anything in particular about her style.

Me again. Nobody can say Maureen Dowd isn’t snarky. It’s her signature feature. What is in dispute is why Denby singles her out as the archetype of what he feels is wrong with snark. He accuses her of shallowness and a lack of perspective. He feels that some people are above criticism and he is the arbiter of what is and isn’t serious and high minded. Rose really skewers him on this point, but Denby wriggles away.

Denby postures as being high-minded and noble, but he is really just as mean and vicious as what he accuses Dowd of being. And he is far more deceptive about it and much less witty. And that is a far greater sin than being merely snarky.

1 comment:

Pain said...

We feel that Denby accurately made his point that what Modo does has no foundation in an obtaining purpose. It is attack for attack's sake which has a home in the blogosphere but no place on the pages of the Times.

There is no question that Dowd is a great writer nor is there any dount in Our opinion that she uses her column as a weapon of mass distruction.

Qu'ul cuda praedex nihil!