Running on Empty

Ah, the sport of online champions: bashing Maureen Dowd. She makes it so easy. Today’s Dowd breaks down like this:

1) I don’t read the Internet!
2) Neither does Leon Wieseltier!
3) But I hear that someone abused anonymity on the Internet.
4) Specifically, an anonymous blogger called a woman a skank and a ho.
5) One lawsuit later, the anonymous blogger was revealed to be a “cafe society acquaintance” of the defamed person. Whatever the hell that means. More lawsuits coming.
6) In the real world, there are “noble pseudonyms” of the kind that revolutionaries in France and the great poet Fernando Pessoa had.
7) The Internet is bad because there are anonymous people there. Also there’s no accountability.

The hilarious thing is that she quotes Wieseltier complaining that online writers have no memory, that their conversations go nowhere, that it’s like closing time at a bar where everyone is “drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes”. The conversation about anonymity, pseudonymity, real names and reputation capital is a long-running one in online discussion, with thoughtful contributions on all sides of the debate. Here comes Dowd, acting like she just crashed into Hispaniola and planted her flag on terra nova. That’s a fabulous example of amnesiac fogginess. If Dowd’s column were a blog entry, she’d have to cover her ears to drown out the roar of the yawns at so elementary a restatement of the basics of this long-standing debate. Anybody with skin in that game has gone beyond just noticing that the issue exists.

On some level, this kind of ouroboroic self-consumption is just what happens to columnists who have nothing left to say but have been given a permanent soapbox. But there is a particular kind of event horizon here: a print columnist complaining about the Internet in terms that are almost a parodistic reproduction of the writing that swirls around the ninth circle of blogging hell. The definition of “no accountability” is a Dowd column (or really, most op-eds at the remaining big papers): you’ll never be expected to do any reporting, never be expected to get your facts straight, and you can pretty much spin out whatever fleeting thoughts come into your head over your morning coffee.

I thought print journalism was the last refuge of reporting, of higher standards, of thoughtfulness? If the Times wants to demonstrate that, they’d be better off just running a whitespace blank on the right-hand of the op-ed pages.

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5 Responses to Running on Empty

  1. Alan Jacobs says:

    Not only do I agree with this, I plan to use the phrase “ouroboroic self-consumption” at least ten times in the coming week.

  2. G. Weaire says:

    “…*happens* to columnists who have nothing *left* to say…” Was there ever a time when Dowd was different? Serious question – I didn’t grow up in the States and might not be aware of some previous Dowd era.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    I’ve never particularly liked her column, but it had a bit more wit and bite in the 1990s, and she occasionally did something that vaguely resembled reporting.

  4. hwc says:

    Are you sure that you want to admit to reading Maureen Dowd?

  5. G. Weaire says:

    My memory of ’90s Dowd may be edited, but honestly, what I remember at best said little, but said it cleverly. I’m even inclined to be more forgiving of this particular column, seeing as for years people online have been very nasty about her personally. (Including me, just now… But I’m thinking more of how Dowd brings out a certain strain of misogyny in some online discussions.)

    However, I realized that I lacked the competence to read the US op-ed the moment I saw Tim Russert tell William Safire how much he loved those columns where Safire pretended to be reporting the inner thoughts of someone. And I grew up with the British and Irish presses – hardly sources of enlightenment and insight.

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