President Obama's affection for the New York Times op-ed section is pretty well-documented at this point. David Brooks and Tom Friedman are regulars at Obama's occasional off-the-record conversations with columnists, and attended one right before the start of airstrikes against ISIS, along with fellow columnist Frank Bruni; Brooks in particular has been a longtime White House favorite.
But according to David Axelrod's new memoir, Obama reserves an intense loathing for their colleague Maureen Dowd. Here's how Axelrod remembers an encounter during Obama's campaign trip to Europe in the summer of 2008:
Maureen Dowd, the talented but tart columnist for the Times, was traveling with us and was granted a brief interview with Obama. When we brought her to the front of the plane for the interview, however, Obama proceeded to blister her for a previous column she had written. No one got under Barack's skin more than Maureen, whose penchant for delving into the psyches of her subjects was particularly irritating to the self-possessed Obama. Normally polite under any circumstances, he was patronizing and disrespectful to Maureen in a way that I had rarely seen. This was not well received by Dowd who, like most journalists, was accustomed to firing off salvos, yet decidedly uncomfortable when fired upon herself. After that awkward encounter, she seemed to take particular delight in psychoanalyzing Barack and belittling him in print, which only deepened his contempt. Maureen, who is as gracious and loyal to her friends as she is rough on the high and mighty, would become a friend of mine in Washington, which became a minor source of tension with Obama. "Why are you friends with her?" he would demand after Maureen sent one of her acid darts his way.
In an email to the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, Dowd denied that her writing was motivated by a desire to avenge Obama's slight, writing "The idea that I punished him for giving me his opinion is not true and plays into an unfortunate stereotype of women, the Furies swooping down."
In any case, Obama's certainly not the first person to lodge this particular complaint against Dowd, that she is excessively interested in psychoanalyzing political figures while neglecting what it is they're actually advocating, that, in her own words, she "focuses too much on the person but not enough on policy." In a 2005 profile by Ariel Levy in New York Magazine, Dowd dismissed this criticism as sexist: "All the great traumatizing events of American history— Watergate, Vietnam, the Iran/contra stuff — have always been about the president’s personal demons and gremlins. So I always thought that criticism was just silly … as if it was a girlish thing to be focused on the person."
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