Did Maureen Dowd go too far?

The New York Times' public editor examines whether sexism played a role in Clinton's coverage by the paper of record.

Published June 23, 2008 1:50PM (EDT)

It's interesting that the media, more than two weeks after Hillary Clinton conceded, is now taking a step back and actively assessing its sexism. Not that it's a bad thing; it's just, perhaps, a late thing. As Rebecca Traister writes in a story about ticked-off Clinton voters in Salon Monday, "It is painfully obvious that this was a conversation that could only be had once Clinton stopped threatening Obama's prospects, or men generally. This is really depressing."

Now it's the New York Times' turn to answer for itself on the issue. In one of those dry, wonkish reads -- the media equivalent of that awkward moment when students are asked to grade their own performance -- Clark Hoyt, public editor for the Times, examines the question of sexism and Clinton in the paper of record. Hoyt asks an intern to do an archive search for terms like "shrill" and "strident" -- those trusty old female dismissals -- or references to Clinton's appearance and ultimately finds Times reporters were "on the careful end" of the spectrum when it came to their portrayal of Clinton. Nice. The Times rewards itself with a solid B.

But -- and this is where it gets interesting -- the paper's feisty columnist Maureen Dowd doesn't fare as well. We've discussed the divisive and difficult Dowd here many times before, and now, Hoyt turns the spotlight on her and asks not merely if her treatment of Clinton was sexist but also if her salty columns, with their breathless depictions of Clinton's suffocating presence and references to Hillary as a "female victim," would have been published were she a man. Ooh, interesting. Dowd's editor, Andrew Rosenthal, says she would have. He would have. Whatever.

But Hoyt begs to differ! In his understated way, of course. In his conclusion he offers a chaste slap on the wrist: "Of course, there is no such man, and I do not think another one could have used Dowd's language. Even she, I think, by assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column, went over the top this election season."

Over the top? Maureen Dowd? Tell me when she has ever been anything but. (And we haven't even discussed her truly offensive use of puns!) Still, I think Dowd has seen her final grade for this season: Needs improvement.

By Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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