Maureen Dowd of the NY Times took on the controversy over the arrest of Harvard's Skip Gates for disorderly conduct in her most recent column. Ms. Dowd is famous for modifying a quote from President Bush back in 2003 in a way that completely changed the meaning of the quote, the better to beat Mr. Bush over the head with it. James Taranto, who pens the Wall Street Journal's 'Best of the Web' column, noted the story in this BOW posting from May 28, 2003, then was, I believe, the first to call it 'Dowdification' in a subsequent BOW on May 30.
Ms. Dowd is at it again, this time basing her column around her own interpretation of Mr. Obama's initial response to the Gates question in his press conference. Here's her take:
Except that's not what Mr. Obama said the first time. He didn't point out that the episode had a "stupid ending," and his initial assessment was far from soothing - which was why he needed a second and third shot at it. Here's his exact quote.
Now, I've -- I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. [ed: he should have stopped right here] But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportion ately. That's just a fact.
I don't need to "dowdify" the quote to show that Ms. Dowd is wrong here. Mr. Obama would have been correct to say that it had a "stupid ending," and such a conclusion, given that he admitted not knowing all the facts, would have been appropriately non-accusative. Either party could be wrong in such a "stupid ending," and without all the facts that's about all he could really say.
However, that's not what Mr. Obama said. The President said that "the Cambridge police acted stupidly." That's not the comment of an informed neutral observer. That's advocating for one side, that of his friend, in a situation where, as he just stated, he doesn't have all the facts. Frankly, that's just stupid. Adding insult to injury, he implied in his point three that he believed the episode represented racial profiling by even bringing up that history.
Ms. Dowd's column has a lot of other problems, such as talking to Professor Gates to get his side but not to Sgt. Crowley. And, after asserting that "two good people got snared in a bad moment" she allows the one party she interviews - Gates - to repeatedly smear Crowley while playing for sympathy. It's sad, because the NY Times and Maureen Dowd can and should do better. She needs to stop making the facts fit the point she wishes to drive home, and instead assess honestly the facts, and draw her conclusions from them.
7/27/09 0615: Mr. Taranto stopped by to point out that this is not, in fact, an example of 'dowdification'. That's true, and I know it to be true, but I was at a loss for another term directly referencing Ms. Dowd which would refer to a deliberate and convenient misinterpretation of the meaning of a quote (as opposed to to true 'dowdification,' editing out selected material in a quote by which the meaning is altered). Perhaps I've done this to the term 'dowdification' itself?