January 21, 2009

Ah, Maureen! You're always just a little bit behind the parade, aren't you?

Maureen Dowd is thrilled DC is "finally integrated." To celebrate, the Times columnist made an A-list nightclub of her home then dined like French aristocracy.

Dowd bragged to MSNBC that Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen couldn't get into her big inauguration party last night. She's a celebrity! A crowd gathered behind her during the MSNBC interview, because, the cable network dubiously claimed, members recognized the columnist and were fans, apparently enamored of Dowd's pointless pop-culture references and tired arch emasculation of various male liberals.

Anyway, Dowd said she's very happy about racial discord ending forever — she grew up with black people, you know — so she drank champagne and ate croissants at the Lincoln Memorial, in celebration of DC being integrated. What? Why would Dowd tell this story? Is she trying to parody herself? On peyote? Off of Ritalin?

In another bizarre, self-undermining statement, Dowd said she would go easier on Obama than on Bush, but implied this was only because she was terrified the diverse crowd behind her would tear the columnist limb from limb.

Not only is she the new voice of race relations, she's also doing her part to bring the Times back to fiscal stability. But if the New York Times were my paper and I was trying to stay afloat, I think the last person I'd want to keep on is the person who spends my money on half-assed trend stories:

I didn't see this piece, but my friend Cos (who worked as a reporter with me) pointed it out the other day. "The New York Times is going out of business, but they send Maureen Dowd and her buddy to a spa?" she said, pointedly.

To be honest, I forgot about it (I tend to put anything having to do with Maureen Dowd out of my usable memory) until Dr. S. (another recovering reporter) just sent me this:

Carlos Slim or no Carlos Slim, these are lean times at The New York Times. On Friday, the paper handed down new, tighter guidelines for employee expenses. Among the new strictures: a $50-per-head limit on meals and an end to reimbursement for entertaining fellow Times colleagues.

So there was predictable outrage after op-ed star Maureen Dowd published a travel piece yesterday about her weekend spent scoping the scene at a new high-end spa in Miami. Dowd and another Times writer, TV critic Alessandra Stanley, spent a few day getting massages and detoxifying -- taking time out to have dinner with the city's chief of police at a swanky private club -- ostensibly in the name of researching whether the down economy is causing "spa guilt" among the well-to-do.

Did Dowd really manage to get the paper to pay for several thousand dollars worth of pampering just as her coworkers were being told to cut back? (Times ethics policies strictly prohibit employees from accepting comped meals or lodgings, or from letting their guests pick up the tab, especially if they're government officials.) Dowd's assistant said the columnist had "paid her own way, totally."* But a Times spokeswoman, asked about the story, framed it differently:

When our restaurant reviewer goes to a high-end restaurant, The Times pays and the limits on expenses are not applicable. The same is true with the expenses associated with Ms. Dowd's story. The visit and the payments were properly handled within our policies.

Update, 1.20.09: Dowd's assistant clarifies: Dowd paid her her own way out of pocket initially but will have her expenses reimbursed by the paper.

The media, they are so very different from you and me! (And if I were one of Maureen's co-workers, I'd respond with that traditional newsroom inquiry: "Who'd she do to get that?") More reactions here and here.

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