Maureen Dowd is a twice-weekly Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.
Dowd was born in January 1952 in Washington, D.C., the youngest of five children of an Irish-Catholic homemaker mother and a D.C. policeman father who was in charge of security at the U.S. Senate. She attended Roman Catholic Immaculata High School in Washington, and in 1973 earned a BA degree in English from Catholic University.
Dowd’s eldest brother intervened to get her a job taking dictation from reporters at the now-defunct Washington Star newspaper. Before long, she was also writing her own stories for that publication.
In 1981 Dowd moved to New York City to take a job with Time Magazine, but she soon found it unsatisfying to be part of team gathering facts and anecdotes that others fabricated into articles.
Two years later she was hired as a metro reporter by New York Times metro editor Anna Quindlen, now back-page columnist for Newsweek Magazine. While writing for the Times, Dowd moonlighted by writing a monthly career-advice column for the women's magazine Mademoiselle under the pen name "Rebecca Sharp."
In 1986 Dowd moved back to Washington, D.C., to join the Times bureau there. Bureau chief Howell Raines assigned her to cover the White House during the George H.W. Bush Administration. She became a columnist on The New York Times Op-Ed page in 1995.
Dowd describes her approach to public figures as doing "cultural profiles" that seek to reveal fresh insight by asking about a person's favorite music, movies, literature and other personal interests or aversions. Her writing is characterized by an acerbic, often polemical style displaying irreverence for powerful figures, particularly in the realms of politics and religion (most notably Christian conservatives). "The Rapture is coming," Dowd told fellow Democrat Chris Matthews on his November 7, 2004 NBC program, and "you and I are going up [to heaven]" but "all these hypocritical conservatives" are not. Dowd is also a passionate critic of George W. Bush, who she has accused of presiding over a theocracy.
Dowd won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for Distinguished Commentary for a series of columns that considered the psychology of those involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, in particular Ms. Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton. In 2000, she received the Damon Runyon award for outstanding contributions to journalism.
An October 2002 Josh Chafetz article in the Weekly Standard depicted Dowd as a narcissistic writer tending to reduce “all political phenomena … to caricatures of the personalities involved. … And, of course, with every caricature goes a nickname.” For example, Dowd depicted President Clinton’s accuser Linda Tripp as a woman who “rides on a broomstick”; Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr as a “sex addict”; those in favor of invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein as the "Whack-Iraq tribe"; and those suspicious of the Bush administration’s real motives for going to war as the "Pesky Questions tribe." She has commonly referred to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as “Rummy.”
The same Chafetz article asserts that Dowd not only finds it “easier to whine than to take a stand or offer solutions,” but also thinks it “better to be cute than coherent.” “Along these lines,” writes Chafetz, “Dowd's favorite rhetorical device is parallelism. For example, from her June 12 column: ’The Islamic enemy strums on our nerves to hurt our economy and get power. The American president strums on our nerves to help his popularity and retain power.’ And from August 18: ‘[Bush Sr.]'s proudest legacy, after all, was painstakingly stitching together a global coalition to stand up for the principle that one country cannot simply invade another without provocation. Now the son may blow off the coalition so he can invade another country without provocation.’ Her phrasing is so cute that the outrageous moral equivalence she's drawing almost slips by unnoticed: She just compared the president of the United States to the September 11 terrorists and to Saddam Hussein.”
While Dowd commonly characterizes conservatives as lacking in compassion, her own writing is often peppered with phrases and references that can accurately be classified as offensive. In 2004, for instance, she referred to those who oppose the embryonic stem-cell research she favors as "extra-chromosome conservatives," i.e., people suffering the mental impairment of Down Syndrome.
In 2003 Dowd mocked Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for his opposition to racial quotas and set-asides by declaring that Thomas had gotten his political appointment through affirmative action. "President Bush and Justice Thomas have brought me around," wrote Dowd. "I don't want affirmative action. I want whatever they got."
In one 2003 column, Dowd sparked public controversy when she distorted a quote by George W. Bush, and, in doing so, entirely changed the meaning of what the President had said. Wrote Dowd: "Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. 'Al Qaeda is on the run,' President Bush said last week. 'That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated … They're not a problem anymore."
The dots in this quote are ellipses, marks to show that text has been deleted. Ethical journals do this to compress text, but not to change the meaning of what the person quoted has said or written. What follows is what President Bush actually said:
"Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore."
Dowd elliptically deleted some of the President's words in a way that reversed the meaning of what he said. Dowd was reluctant to apologize when this misquotation was pointed out to her.
In 2005, Dowd was awarded the Mary Alice Davis Lectureship award from the College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin
In a 2007 interview with Reason magazine, Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, said that Dowd has “played a counterproductive role” in journalism. Explained Rauch: “I'm not a fan of the idea that the journalist and the journalist's attitude should be front and center. I think that a good journalist's duty is to get out of the way. ... a much higher art than being clever -- is just to get out of the way … Just to be [the reader’s] eyes and ears. … I think Maureen Dowd is very good at what she does. But the problem is that lots of people who aren't any good at it think this is journalism. [They think] it's what we should all be doing, showing off our attitude. I think that sets a bad example. The blogosphere tends to further the [notion] that journalism is about opinion and not about fact. I think that's wrong. Most people think they know truth and think that what they know is right. They're usually wrong. Journalists are among the few people in society who are actually paid to try go out and learn things."
On May 17, 2009, it was reported that Dowd had lifted an entire paragraph (with the exception of two words) from a previous week's blog post by Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall. When confronted with this apparent act of plagiarism, Dowd, in an email to the Huffington Post, offered this version of the events in question:
“josh is right. I didn't read his blog last week, and didn't have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now.
“i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent -- and I assumed spontaneous -- way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.
“but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we're fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.”
In mid-July 2009, Dowd penned an op-ed piece titled “White Man’s Last Stand,” which was critical of the white Republican senators who, at that time, were asking probing questions of Barack Obama's Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor. “After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.” Dowd then proceeded to attack former President George W. Bush for the “disgrace” of appointing “two white men to a [Supreme] court stocked with white men.”