Columnists Honor Maureen Dowd of the New York Times
(Photo of Maureen Dowd and NSNC president Lisa Smith Molinari at awards dinner)
On Saturday, June 10, 2017 Maureen Dowd of the New York Times received the 2017 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. The event was part of the NSNC’s annual conference held at the Manchester Radisson in New Hampshire. Lisa Smith Molinari is the 2017 president and Mike Morin is the 2017 Conference Chair. Executive Director Suzette Martinez Standring taped her acceptance speech and talk, and Maureen Dowd gave permission to post the video.
Also, Ms. Dowd graciously sent the NSNC her acceptance speech for publication, which appears below in its entirety.
ACCEPTANCE SPEECH BY MAUREEN DOWD, NSNC ERNIE PYLE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD WINNER
“Thank you for this amazing award, named after such a brave man with such a beautiful way of seeing and writing.
It was hard to drag myself away from infrastructure week in Washington.
But tonight is especially meaningful to me because, at terrifying moments of my career — going into headwinds where powerful people did not want their transgressions revealed or their judgment challenged — I have always been bucked up by generous columnists.
When I was a young reporter at The Washington Star, trepidacious about covering politics, Mary McGrory instructed me on how to enter a reception full of Washington big shots: “Always,’’ she said, “always approach the shrimp bowl like you own it.”
Once at the Times in the 80s, when a bunch of powerful men were in full cry, howling at me over a story I’d broken, I got a letter from the great Russell Baker: “Just remember,’’ he wrote, “these are all the same guys you went to high school with.’’
I went to an all-girls Catholic school, but I got what he was saying.
And whenever I was in danger of losing my nerve, the wonderful William Safire would take me out to lunch at the Army-Navy Club downstairs from our office.
He gave me a trick for getting my calls returned. He said when Administration officials I wanted to talk to were ghosting me, I should scare them by leaving a one-word message with their assistants: “Malfeasance.”
Of course, in the case of the current White House, that would not really be an exaggeration. They probably get hundreds of those messages every day.
Listen, I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if it’s irresponsible of me to leave the First Child alone at home, screaming at his 60-inch flat screen TV, beneath his glittering chandelier, binging on junk food and chocolate cream pie with two scoops of ice cream, making play dates with his hooligan Russian and Turkish friends, plotting to fire Spicey and put that nice Irish lass, Melissa McCarthy, out of a job on Saturday Night Live.
But don’t worry. We now refer to the White House as federally funded daycare.
It is true that our new president is a little, teensy weensy bit loco. Bumper stickers are staring to pop up: Caligula 2020.
But we have several generals who have made a pact to go running over to the White House if things start to get really crazy.
The old primal fear in Washington, as expressed in the Kirk Douglas-Burt Lancaster classic, “Seven Days in May,” was that generals would execute a coup on a peaceable president. Now it’s the reverse. Everyone is praying for the generals around Trump to stage a coup.
The White House is a warp speed merger of politics, reality TV and social media. As the Times Nick Confessore notes, Trump would not have been president without Twitter and he wouldn’t have so swiftly ravaged his presidency without Twitter.
President Trump is erratic, to put it mildly.
He urged his then F.B.I. chief James Comey to throw reporters in jail for reporting on intelligence leaks and then he leaked intelligence to the Russians.
He said Hillary Clinton could not be president because she was careless with sensitive information and then he dispensed sensitive information like Tic Tacs to impress some Russian spies, just the way he used to show off Shaq’s size-22 shoe and Mike Tyson’s glittering championship belt to visitors to his Fifth Avenue office.
Trump tweeted that President Obama was a sick, bad guy who taped him in Trump Tower. And then Trump tweeted that he might have taped Comey during their meeting in the Oval Office.
He has earned the moniker bestowed on him by his biographer, Tim O’Brien: the Emperor of Chaos. He’s like one of those mad German kings locked in his castle, terrifying his staff and family and spreading shivers throughout the land.
The president even tried to intervene to save his pal, Michael Flynn, who used to scream “Lock Her Up!” at Trump rallies, from being locked up.
Trump used to think climate change was the greatest hoax in the world, perpetrated by the Chinese. Now, Eric Trump told Sean Hannity, the family thinks the Russia probe is the greatest hoax in the world.
Eric told Sean that the media and Democrats in Washington are “not even people,’’ which is funny, because I never thought of his dad as a person. I always thought of him as a toon, like Jessica Rabbit, with worse hair.
In one more sign of the apocalypse in D.C.’s Bizzaro World, President Trump has started a trade war with Canada, whose leader is as cute as a panda, even as he indulges in a perverse bromance with Russia, whose leader is a murderous thug who tried to fix our election and destroy our democracy.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Jake Tapper that he has grave concerns that our institutions are under assault from within. It’s like that movie where the babysitter realizes that the killer is calling from INSIDE the house!
That’s what Washington feels like right now. Checks and balances are going down the tubes and the Leader of the Free World is busy handing out color-coded maps with the states he won shaded in blotchy red to anyone who comes in the Oval Office.
And yet. . . even though it seems like we’re in a shame spiral, I have come tonight not to bury Trump but to praise him. “Here’s the beauty of Trump,’’ as Trump likes to say. I want to reassure you about the fate of the Republic.
First of all, do not freak out that we have a president who is a clinical narcissist and delusional fabulist sinking into a dark state of paranoia about the Deep State being out to get him.
Because here’s the comforting part. We have had several presidents in modern times who were mentally imbalanced and we have gotten through it, even though, as Arthur Schlesinger fretted in his diary, “There is no provision in the Constitution for nuts.”
LBJ’s aides used to argue about whether he was a manic-depressive or a paranoid. It recently came out that JFK and Richard Nixon kept psychotropic drugs in their medicine cabinets, and Nixon used to get sloshed and talk to the White House portraits at night.
So, no need to panic. No need to gain a lot of weight stressing, like Barbra Streisand. No need to lose a lot of weight stressing, like Lena Dunham. No need to race out and do what many people in Washington are doing: Going to dermatologists for Botox shots to freeze the muscles in their jaws so they can stop clenching and grinding their teeth.
A lot of reporters – including Woodward and Bernstein – are breathlessly proclaiming this is Watergate on steroids and counting down to impeachment and resignation, declaring it the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the beginning of the end.
As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo tweeted: “It’s like fast forward Nixon: Yes I obstructed justice. Yes, I’m a crook. Yes, I taped my conversations.’’
James Clapper has declared that Watergate pales in comparison to the Trump-Russia scandal.
It is true that Nixon and Trump have similarities. They are brothers in aggrievement, prone to galloping paranoia and the odd use of the third-person when talking about themselves.
“You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more,” Nixon told the press. “Forget about this Russia thing with Trump,’’ Trump advised Comey.
Even at the pinnacle of success, both men stewed in resentment of the elites they felt looked down on them. As Trump whined recently: “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.’’
As Gail Collins pointed out: “Abraham Lincoln was accused of everything from drunkenness to treason to being a “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” before being assassinated.” So maybe his surety shouldn’t be quite so great.
Recently, when Trump was home alone and his advisers had put out a conciliatory statement in the president’s name about the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel on the Russian investigation, Trump once more caused whiplash, letting his Id fly in a tweet tantrum: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.’’
The congressman from Salem, Massachusettes, Seth Moulton, tweeted that he can confirm that this is fake news.
Also, wasn’t there that little birther witch hunt against President Obama that Trump led?
In other ways, however, the two self-wounding Republican presidents are very different. Nixon at least tried to cover up his crimes. Trump has his poor aides go out and lie for him or spew out his phony stories about why he fired Comey and how he never told the Russians anything inappropriate and then Trump goes on twitter and blurts out the truth, making his inner circle look like dupes and fools.
First Trump organizes the cover up and then he spills the self-incriminating truth. Trump is his own Deep Throat.
Just as when he played his own press secretary with People Magazine and the New York tabloids and the wire services back in the 80s and 90s to brag on himself, calling himself John Barron or John Miller, now he’s also playing all the roles: The president who flouts the rules, directs his staff to lie, then confesses – ironically enough, like the tortured hero of a Russian novel. He likes Russian dressing on his salads, too, by the way.
After the White House claimed Comey was fired because he messed up on Hillary’s email investigation, Trump confessed to Lester Holt that Comey’s Russia investigation was on his mind when he decided to fire him.
As someone tweeted, “What makes this all so crazy – how the hell did Trump botch firing someone when his entire TV career was based on firing people?”
Trump tried to blame Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein for Comey’s firing and Rosenstein took his revenge by appointing Mueller – who is as straight (hand motion) as Trump is serpentine (hand motion) — as a special counsel. Mueller is known in Washington as Bobby Three Sticks, because he’s Robert Mueller III, Roman numerals.
After Trump’s National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, reluctantly went out to the microphones outside the Oval Office to tell the press that Trump had not shared anything classified while yucking it up with the Russians, Trump tweeted that he had shared stuff and that he had a perfect right to do so.
This week, as his high-priced lawyers and long-suffering aides tried to make the case to reinstitute Trump’s executive order limiting travel from six predominantly Muslim countries by pretending it was only a pause rather than a ban, Trump went on a wild tweetstorm contradicting his own aides and lawyers and attacking the Justice Department and the federal courts:
Trump tweeted that he preferred “the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version.”
“What we need and want it is a TRAVEL BAN! On certain DANGEROUS countries,’’ he tweeted, using capital letters to make his point.
The biggest difference between Trump and Nixon is this: Tricky Dick was for the most part coloring inside the lines. At least he knew what obstruction of justice was. He knew what a conflict of interest was. The Donald is like Presidents Without Borders. He only thinks in terms of renegotiation of justice and confluence of interest.
At 70, Trump is running the most important government on earth and yet he doesn’t have the slightest idea how government works or even how to protect himself. As he wrote in his book “Trump: Think Like a Billionaire,” “The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience.”
Trump doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee. Attention is Trump’s stimulant and now he’s in a position to get all the attention of the world focused on him. He is like a heroin junkie with a needle sticking out of his arm, well on his way to an overdose.
And the press is right in the opium den with him. We are addicted to Trump. He’s the Selfie President and we’re the selfie stick. It’s a sick symbiosis. We are all so busy bragging on ourselves with ads about truth and mottos about “Democracy Dies in Darkness” and tee-shirts that read “We Won’t Shut Up,’’ it’s amazing we even find the time to cover him. CNN has been on a breathless continuing Breaking News loop for months. Rachel Maddow wails about the danger of Trump even as she brags about the bump in her ratings.
The truth is, Donald Trump is the best thing that ever happened to our flagging profession. In the last quarter The Times added over 300,000 digital subscribers. The Washington Post booked an astonishing $100 million in digital ad revenues. In Hollywood, movies about the First Amendment are suddenly all the rage, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks signed up to play Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee breaking the Pentagon Papers story.
And, parenthetically, that is not going down well at the Times, believe me.
Trump has given journalism new zest and purpose, just as he has revived many other things: liberalism, feminism, the A.C.L.U., student protests, bars, shrinks, Botox shots in the jaw, Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, Sinclair Lewis.
As someone tweeted, “You have to admit, baby boomers setting fire to the country was an interesting way to get millennials interested in civic engagement.’’
We now know what the Logan Act and the Emoluments Clause are.
Even more than the musical “Hamilton,” Trump has taught us how precious our democracy is, why it’s important who’s in the room.
I watched Dick Cheney spend years after 9/11 trying to dismantle checks and balances and warp the Constitution. But because he had the deep, reassuring voice of the headmaster of a New England boys’ school and because he had been an insider, with a great resume, and because he had been good source over the years for many D.C. journalists, it took the press a long time to catch on to how truly demented and dangerous he was.
I much prefer my crazy straight-up.
With Donald Trump, everyone has been at Defcon One starting at the Inaugural, our pink pussy-hat ears perked up, our righteous juices flowing. The whole country is on the alert, so when our President does something crazy, we get to beat him back in real time.
When Trump’s lawyer sent a letter threatening to sue the Times in the wake of the Billy Bush tape, after we printed the accusations of women who said Trump grabbed them by the you-know-what, our terrific Times lawyer, David McCraw, wrote back explaining that Trump could not sue us because he had pre-confessed. He had already admitted in the tape that he tried to grab women. So there could be no suit.
When McCraw walked through the newsroom that day, he got a standing ovation.
Trump is Narcissus, always looking for his own reflection, and the press is the mirror. Hillary Clinton probably would not have had her first press conference by now. But this president would shrivel up and perish without the press.
His office in Trump Tower is decorated with hundreds of framed magazine covers of himself, with hundreds more stacked up on desks. When I interviewed him standing amid all these endlessly replicating images of himself – from Playboy to The New York Times Magazine – I felt like I was looking at an infinity mirror.
And that is the image I have of his White House.
Despite all his cracks about the “failing New York Times” and “Deface the Nation” and the press as “the enemy of the people,” Trump may well be the most accessible, media-friendly president in history. He’s constantly calling reporters and having reporters over to 1600 Pennsylvania, as is everyone else in his leaky White House, providing a cascade of stories so zany that we can’t even refresh our browsers in time to keep track of all the scoops.
He has never read a biography of a president and he didn’t read his own health care bill or executive orders. “Too many words,’’ he complained once. But he has his press secretary print out the top 30 stories about him and then he reads them and tweets and makes the stories bigger. Incestuous amplification.
In fact, he got so bummed out by all the negative coverage that his staff began soliciting nice stories from friendly news outlets that they could slip into the press clips, so his mood wouldn’t be so grouchy every morning. Talk about fake news.
As the Times reported yesterday, when Trump wouldn’t read his briefing books for his first foreign trip, his aides tried to capture his interest by threading Trump’s own name through the paragraphs of the two-page memos they wrote for him. It’s like waving a laser light to get the attention of a cat.
His aides loaded up his schedule on Thursday with a speech on faith and a meeting with governors and mayors on infrastructure, hoping they could distract him so he wouldn’t live-tweet the Comey hearing.
Which just shows, they don’t know him. SAD!!!
The White House strategy to undermine Comey was to portray him as a showboat who meddled in politics. Of course, his political meddling is what helped the showboat in the White House get elected.
When I asked the creators of “Game of Thrones” which character reminded them of Trump, Dan Weiss replied “Hodor,’’ the dim-witted, hulking man who can not speak except to endlessly repeat his own name.
Trump’s favorite thing to do is to invite reporters over and press his button to have the White House butler bring him a diet Coke and have a waiter bring the reporters one scoop of ice cream while he gets two – because he’s the president.
Then the journalists watch him watch chattering heads on cable TV comment about him, while he makes cracks about his foes such as, “They’re choking like dogs.’’ He still marvels at the fact that if he tweets while watching himself, he can then watch cable news interrupt with a “Breaking News” sign flashing and dramatic music blaring to report on his latest tweet.
As our TV critic wrote, “To understand Mr. Trump is to realize that he is not just a TV celebrity; he is, in a strange, meta way, a spectator of his own performance. For the next four years at least, we are living in a TV show that Mr. Trump is simultaneously starring in, consuming and live-tweeting.’’
The Emperor of Chaos thrives in the tumultuous – Trumpultuous – atmosphere he has created as everyone around him gets motion sickness at the speed of the shifting stories. White Houses are ordinarily dark palaces of intrigue. But the Trump White House is a particularly nasty House of Cards. Presidential aides circle each other warily — leaking, backbiting, tattling, feuding, sucking up, with the president always stirring the Twitter pot. Or as one House GOP staffer told a reporter: “This is like Reservoir Dogs. Everyone ends up dead on the floor.”
Truth is whatever Trump says it is. Facts do not matter. As Tony Schwartz, Trump’s co-author on “The Art of the Deal,’’ put it: “His aim is never accuracy, it’s domination.’’
I have written about Trump since the 80s, when he was being portrayed as the short-fingered vulgarian, John Gotti with more bling, a Gotham playboy who liked skyscrapers and models with sky-high legs. He always seems the same to me, even now, like a guy who walked out of a steam room at the Sands in Las Vegas in 1959 with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, talking about “broads” and “skirts.’’
In one interview we did, he looked troubled.
“Heidi Klum,’’ he said ominously. “Sadly, she is no longer a 10.”
Another time he gave Gwyneth Paltrow a bad rating: “A good actress with average looks. She likes to ride the high English horse.”
I noticed immediately that he was fixated on what I dubbed his “ego arithmetic.” Size has a seismic influence on him. The elevator buttons in Trump Tower go up to 68 even though there are only 58 floors.
I went with him on an early trip to Miami back in 1999, with Melania and Roger Stone, as he dipped his toe in the presidential waters. I asked him why on earth anyone would vote for him to be president.
“Because I get the highest ratings on Larry King,’’ he explained. He also cited other numbers that he saw as sentinals of success: the number of times his name was plastered on the General Motors building; the number of magazine covers his then-girlfriend Melania had been on; the number of men who had hit on Melania.
Before he was tweeting about weightier matters, like health care and dictators he loves, Trump was sending out a tweet-storm about the breakup of the “Twilight” stars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
“Robert Pattinson should not take back Kristen Stewart,’’ Trump urgently tweeted. “She cheated on him like a dog & will do it again–just watch. He can do much better!”
And this one: “Robert, I’m getting a lot of heat for saying you should dump Kristen- but I’m right. If you saw the Miss Universe girls you would reconsider.”
In another interview last summer, I worked up my nerve to ask Trump about reports that he kept a book by Hitler on his bedside table. He denied it, which doesn’t mean anything. But I figured it didn’t really matter because even if he had a Hitler book by the bed, he hadn’t read it.
Last fall, he saw me on CNN and took offense to something I said about my campaign book and tweeted that I was a wacky, crazy, neurotic dope.
That did upset me.
I thought, given our long association, he could at least have taken a little time and given me a well-considered nickname, like Crooked Hillary or Elizabeth Warren’s Pocahontas. He just gave me the same old generic adjectives he uses for other women journalists. At least the nickname George W. Bush gave me, Cobra, had a certain reptilian glamour.
But I went to a journalists’ dinner the other night in Washington with Javanka — as Jared and Ivanka are now known — and Jared told me that the President might forgive me if I wrote a couple of nice columns and called and asked nicely.
We’ll see. But only if he shares his toys and gives me two scoops of ice cream.
I shouldn’t joke about that really because I met a great Texas state representative from Marfa on my book tour and he asked me a favor.
”Please don’t call the president a child any more,’’ he said. “Children are awesome.’’
—- Maureen Dowd, 6/10/2017