November 02, 2003

The Dowdification of the Dead

I quit reading Maureen Dowd for anything but the acquisition of propaganda info last summer, when she intentionally mangled a quote by Bush in order to make it fit her agenda, and then failed to 'fess up to her manipulation. It was blatant--many papers around the county actually published corrections when Dowd herself refused.

In her NEW YORK TIMES column today, ironically titled "Pros at the Con," Maureen Dowd rants about the Bush administration spin on Iraq, using the "Big Lie" argument of which the Left has grown so fond. In her piece she uses a 1996 anecdote about then-editor of THE NEW REPUBLIC Michael Kelly writing a "very angry" letter defending TNR reporter Stephen Glass to illustrate her theme on how people can be suckered in to enabling the "Big Lie." Glass, of course, is the serial fabricator fired from TNR for making up sources and stories. Once again, Dowd's column is notable more for what it doesn't say.

Dowd brings up Kelly's purported defense of Glass and immediately notes Kelly's firing from TNR and Glass' firing by Kelly's successor, Chuck Lane, implying they are closely linked without quite saying so. And that's simply not true. Dowd never mentions that Kelly's defense of Glass is part of the upcoming movie on Glass--which raises the possibility that Dowd lifted her "anecdote" from the movie, and not from real life. Did Dowd manufacture her anecdote from the movie to justify her rant on journalistic fabrication? In the movie, Kelly reportedly calls and checks on the source before dismissing the complaint, a point Dowd doesn't mention.

Kelly was fired by New Republic owner Martin Peretz, a close friend of Vice-President Al Gore, in the fall of 1997 for his relentless criticism of the Clinton/Gore administration. Dowd merely notes he was fired after fighting with Peretz, vaguely implying he was fighting about Glass. During 1996, the year in which Dowd claims Kelly was defending Glass, Glass' work for TNR was apparently exemplary, and there was only one (published) complaint about his accuracy and sourcing. At the time he had nearly two years of work for both TNR and POLICY REVIEW. It was not until 1997, the year Kelly was fired, that Glass apparently began to fabricate his work wholesale, making up sources and events to punch up his stories. And it took Kelly's successor Chuck Lane the best part of a year to "out" Glass and cease publishing him. Glass wrote for and was published by TNR right up until May 1998. All of which makes Dowd's anecdote about Kelly's 1996 defense of Glass and Kelly's subsequent dismissal from TNR less than useful for the point she is trying to make, and illustrative of nearly nothing--except what it says about Dowd.

Could Kelly have stopped Glass earlier? Certainly. The complaints on Glass were starting to stack up during the summer of 1997, and close checking would have revealed his fabrications sooner, though the level of attention paid to Glass' veracity problems, both before and after Kelly's firing, can be gauged by the amount of time it took Chuck Lane to fire Glass. But also stacking up were Kelly's problems with Peretz, and his struggle to publish stories critical of the Clinton/Gore administration over Peretz's objections. One suspects Kelly was a bit distracted at the time.

In her column, Dowd says "It's bad enough to try to hide critical information when you can get away with it. It's really insulting to try to hide it when you can't get away with it. Those who go for the big con, who audaciously paint false pictures, think everyone else is stupid. They want to promote themselves based on the gullibility of others."

I agree completely. Kelly's work is on the record, as is Glass', and the timeline shows that in 1996 Kelly had little reason NOT to defend Glass, who appeared to be a promising young journalist stacking up an impressive resume. The reason for Kelly's departure from TNR is also on the record, and had nothing to do with Glass and everything to do with his pursuit of truth in the face of extreme opposition from TNR's owner and the Clinton/Gore administration.

Dowd also says, "This sort of airbrushing is tasteless, because it diminishes our war heroes instead of honoring them."

Once again, I agree completely. Michael Kelly died in Iraq pursuing the facts. Airbrushing his career with false colors diminishes his memory. We should be honoring him for his pursuit of the truth and the price he paid to bring it to us, not flinging mud at his coffin as Dowd has done.

As for Dowd, I hope that someday she mentions that her greatest inspirational source of righteous rhetoric is self-reflection on her own flaws as a journalist. But I'm not holding my breath.

No comments: