Maureen Dowd discusses ‘comic book villain’ Trump, journalism’s evolution

Maureen Dowd discusses the evolution of journalism under Trump

The New York Times columnist spoke to an audience at Hendricks Chapel as part of the University Lectures series.
Published: April 15, 2018
Portrait of Maureen Dowd

Pulitzer Prize winner Maureen Dowd has covered stories from George H.W. Bush’s shower with his beloved dog to Bill Clinton’s affair with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but it’s the current president who she thinks is “saving journalism.”

That’s what Dowd, who has worked at The New York Times since 1983, told the audience at Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel on Friday evening. Dowd was interviewed by Charisse L’Pree Corsbie-Massay, an assistant professor of communications and media studies at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, as part of the spring University Lectures series. The conversation mainly focused on Dowd’s political coverage, including her biting editorials about Clinton and President Donald Trump and the evolution of journalism under the Trump administration. 

Dowd, who started her career at The Times as a metro reporter, took up opinion writing at the paper in 1995 and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary four years later for her work regarding the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. She said early in the conversation on Friday that she was controversial when she began writing about politics at The Times because she focused on the president as a person — not just a politician.

“If you don’t focus on the person, you’re missing everything,” Dowd said. “And that’s obviously especially true in the case of Trump because Trump is focused on himself constantly, so we have to be focused on him.”

There is a codependency between Trump and the press, she said, because Trump is an “attention addict” and the press is made up of “Trump addicts.” During a time when the print media industry is declining, Dowd said Trump, a “comic book villain,” is “saving journalism for the moment,” as The Times and The Washington Post have hundreds of thousands more digital subscribers than they did before his election. 

She added that it is a strange time to be an opinion writer, though, because print deadlines make it difficult to keep up with the current happenings in the Trump administration. Dowd joked that she has taken up yoga to relax because now, “every joke has been made, every take has been done.”

Dowd also recalled that Bob Woodward, an investigative reporter at The Washington Post who reported on the Watergate scandal, said “every president gets the psychoanalyst they deserve,” and told her she was Clinton’s, alluding to her heavy criticism of Clinton for his part in the scandal with Lewinsky.

Dowd, who was raised in Washington, D.C. with a father who worked in security for the United States Senate, said that while growing up, she understood politicians “got into trouble with women” and cheated on their wives. On Friday, she explained why she thinks Clinton and Trump’s relationships with and treatment of women have had opposite effects on feminism. 

She said that because Clinton had progressive policies for women, feminists — including then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, then Secretary-of-State Madeleine Albright and feminist activist Gloria Steinem — “gathered to protect him on his retrogressive behavior with women.” As a result, she said, Clinton created two classes of feminists: “the upper-crust” and “Bill Clinton’s girlfriends.”

“Bill Clinton, to me, corrupted feminism,” Dowd said. “To me, that was the low point for institutional feminism.”

Trump, on the other hand, “completely revived feminism,” she said, because a lot of women were “furious” after his election, fueling the women’s marches, the power of the #MeToo movement and the wave of women running for political office. She added that no two presidents have done more to hurt and “inadvertently help” feminism than Clinton and Trump, respectively.

“[Trump has] revived all these things by being antithetical to them,” Dowd said, “like feminism, liberalism, Stephen Colbert, ACLU, student protests and shrinks and bars, I think are all doing good business — and journalism — because of Trump.”

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is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.