Ep. 87 - Maureen Dowd

Update: 2016-10-13
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Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, talks with David about growing up in Washington, D.C., how newsrooms have changed since she became a journalist in the 1970s, and how she views the presidents and would-be presidents she’s covered over her career.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

the board for the acts files comes from rockin' mortgage my Quicken loans lift the burden of getting a home loan with rockin' mortgage and get a secure transparent home loan approval in minutes skip the bank of the waiting then go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files This podcast is brought you by sixty DB listen to conversations that go beyond the headlines business sports politics today's news plus all of your favorite podcasts download the free sixty DB at Today the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod The The The nobody is rattled more cages in Washington Maureen Dowd the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New York Times her columns have vexed succeeding administrations and president some people work there I can attest to that as one of them which is also one of the great writers in American journalism and she's just published a book of her columns the year of voting dangerously about this year's election which is worthy of literature we sat down in Washington recently to talk about the campaign and her career in journals the Maureen Dowd good to be with you you hear so many people come to Washington like that people say well I came to Washington when a huge income to Washington you've always been to Washingtonians with some exception for you grew up here what was Washington like for you were growing up my day and I The first memory bank is actually the capital at night because my mom and I were going to pick up my dad from work he was D C police detective who was in charge of Senate security you know he was he was there for the Puerto Rican terrorists he chase when he ran over to the house and chase them to the ground and this was when the capital was invaded yes and here's there for the home Joe McCarthy hearings and that's when he made Mary McCoy's career by giving her a front row seat even though she was a Cub reporter and he said to my mom lets help that nice Irish girl out in the rest is history so would your dad had a lot of contact with these right people to the observations of them yes and in no way I think that's where I get my sensibility because sometimes Times readers Democrats are are disappointed that I'm not grading and ideological column they really don't understand because I know if anyone else does it that way and it's hard to do you know I'm pissed off some Republican yet you're not and that's when my family you know it doesn't speak to me for years when Republican President is then one time with w my older brother Michael was all huffy with me at a family dinner and he said you know if there was Hurricane you'd blame it on W and then no shoe you brother exactly so some of these players yes so he didn't I you know he would take it the human being how were they as the human being so all I mean he was a Democrat he stayed up all night tonight Truman but he thought Truman was a great human being you know he yes and Tom like him he just said he just radiated decency and you know some people were kind of snotty to the little people or whatever but he had a lot of hilarious la anecdotes like Lady Bird use to come over every Friday unload all the leftover meat from the cafeteria the Senate cafeteria under cars that they could have it for dinner parties you know it was a crazy time think about Lyndon Johnson Lyndon Johnson you know was not the nicest person my brothers were pages and you know he was great and awful in American history as the majority leader he was very tough n my brothers were pages and they in those days Capitol Police Were More Like law students and things and there was that young Capitol policeman was a student who went into check Lyndon Johnson's office one night and found him home in flagrant eight to lick toes so to speak and Johnson tried to get him fired you speak the but the remarkable thing was that this kid was under the patronage of Senator Bible who had more seniority than anyone else in the Senate so we didn't lose his job but in the state senators are getting drunk and they made they put their foot in the brass but to nine p clamping or hunt with one foot and spit tune and you know and the senator's my brothers would have to pick up the phone when Senators' wives would call and say I know he's there like in the lobbying they'd been listening to Ruby shaking his head going to tell you most of you said that he was there for the Army McCarthy hearings must have known Joe McCarthy yes well I think we might have been you know not me because I was too little but Mom and me only pro Jim McCarty family only because it was a tribal thing you know he was Irish and Joe McCarthy was Irish and that was the same problem that Jack Kennedy when he raps and to himself or because I think Irish from occurring dated J McCarthy am worried that it was in my house because I think JFK live I live in church tenant house where he lived when he was a young Senate bachelor with his sister and I am or hit the gym record the dates minted taken place there today did your dad have observations of McCarthy know again it was just tribal he arm Joe McCarthy I was it a drinking problem he was ya he was a mean spirited to write by trade in that case it was just just just an Irish thing what about Jack Kennedy mom yes I grew up with two pictures in the house one was a huge picture of Jack Kennedy a huge fake Mona Lisa oh yeah now we were Kennedy family I mean I think my dad I think went down one time to try and get some patronage jobs from Bobby Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy was likely into that inner so I think that was shocking to him think any kind of neutralize ya but I remember they got JFK once to come to one of their ancient order of height Bernie and dinners and you know my dad had a whole scrapbook on house Matthew was the French like to run for president I think he was half Irish and half to tie and yes dumb and he was so proud of you know and so everybody held their breath when Kennedy might lose that because of his religion and you know that was a really scary thing because Al Smith you know it had such a hard time with religion to what it what it mean to you to your family and to the country from your perspective as a an Irish Catholic family when Jack Kennedy won that election oh well that was incredible my sister was there at the inaugural she writes about that in my book you know in her strange political trajectory but it started when she was eighteen freezing in the cold she couldn't even vote yet you know just looking up at her idol and minced strangely enough this is also in her essay she moved to California van and was at the Ambassador Hotel the night he was assassinated and she wanted to vote for him but then you know she's in California so then she really liked forgotten or I don't break and she became a Republican yet as to how or how a Democratic family becomes a Republican family which happen obviously to a lot of young my mom loved after my dad died you know my fell in love with Ronald Reagan as did my whole family and be my mom use to say you know when I look at what I see that faith that God would always come home and from where with a college junior before that and she would have like letters that she'd written to Reagan and she would always write these leaders letters and letters would come back and she would you know say if there was something he was being criticized for she would write a letter but she would do that to everyone I remember one time I came back and there was a letter from Al Gore thanking her because she had written him and said I know everyone thing you're not sexy like it for breath she goes Don't worry bout your sexy it's nice to have to take that affirmation I know well and who did you ever talk to him about the term pretend that was new I think it was when he was showing the Pope are out and for some reason people think it was a charismatic enough or something says she would always write them letters but most of her letters were two members of Congress who had the temerity to refer to Edmund Burke A S and British statesman and they would get very sharp letters explaining he was Irish you know I just went as an aside on Gore and we'll get back to it because you know you are there for the Clinton administration but on about it but it seems like Gore is a parable worth reviewing at this point yes because of what happened in two thousand five hundred and thirty seven votes in Florida you know whatever you have the whole Supreme Court debate and sawing and ninety thousand people voted for Ralph Nader and Gore clearly would not have gone to Iraqi I think that was highly unlikely Woodbine way down the road on climate change would not have spent the surplus on tax cuts whole history rested on that one vote my I think about that because people say well it really doesn't matter well you know we can review it from the point of view of mistakes he made one of which today for some reason someone was tweeting out the picture of him and Bill Clinton shining in short short Yes on one a stay at home I think that the mistake that politicians should learn from his mom don't know have you know how how green suit was a brilliant political question and your cheap for what used to say that you know the people who hired mercenaries as opposed to people like you with Obama where you would crawl through class for this person because you believe in them are excellent but believe Earth at about that so if you have people working for you who don't believe in you and I think this happened to Romney to mom it's hard because they told him not to talk about the environment and he took that advice and that was the only topic where he came alive and didn't seem robotic so if he could've just said no this is who I am going to talk about this this is what I'm passionate about you know I think you would have been right on that subject you're so right too about Romney who have gotten to know since the election you know the guy's incredible family my warm person and obviously takes great pride in his business career that I want to talk about that for obvious reasons though it was going to be talked about Tay din wan talk about his faith which is a huge part of his life because Mom St yeah if he could not talk about his faith he couldn't say who he was right and it was the exact same thing so Gore took the advice not to talk about the environment Romney took the advice not to talk about their faith rather than saying I can't explain without that and as he knows some of these political consultants and that was the fun of Trump in the beginning that he overturned this political apple cart because some of them just radiate not it is in contempt but they radiate sort of disdain disdain for their candidate you know if they're not believers and they're raking in and acting rolling at the candidates mistakes when they won the candidates are following the bad advice they've gotten from them you know and also last night's vice presidential debate you saw Tim Kaine make the same mistake that Gore made his switch was home you know when Gore Ross Perot cause it to relate to us throwing to relate the sold out or when to throw gorilla dust at Deb's so we walked up in kind of gotten his email UK this news was prepared for ages they be anticipated that having watched Gore's debate past of a tsunami was he knew at some moment especially per next I think a certain town hall meeting that that had town hall debate in this town hold of it you can wander the set which is what can be interesting as we speak Trump and Hillary Clinton are preparing for their town hall debate the blocking and the sea at Rick's of that are very complicated but we we digress because so I guess we will get back to contemporary times and I agree with you by the way and can I think Cain is a wonderfully decent guy who is sent out to play a role that he was really just when you try too hard to be macho and the situations that comes across is over compensate and as Carl Hall Sir chief political correspondent tweeted out you know pants and McCain are both kind of happy warriors and Pence wasn't acting like himself Cain was and I'm sorry I mean was sorry ten session yeah right so you know when to Catholic schools here right and you went to Catholic University and studied English and you obviously took it pretty seriously because your writing is littered with both words and literary references that I never understand but what what what did you get Tom to score a lan s No I I want some sort of a notation for the bill you know for the literary demos like me of for your column I think I use movie references more often but I I did major in Shakespeare so and that's how I see my job more how power war its people or how they rise to the occasion remarkably more and and you know it just to get back to court for a second you know lots of people I knew were upset when I wrote about his mistakes in the debate they're like Don't mention that just mention how Don W It's an eye W isn't dumb but beyond that you know everyone world song with chord yet so there's no point that I will get some criticism some time is of note in this pack is more of a commentary rule and it's like well don't say that I It's Not What You Say It's What People Do they can read it and take advice as well yeah right but do I'm just I'm I want to talk about all that but I want to talk about your your path to what led you from English literature to journalists that was a real I think I have the longest most Byzantine path in history because I after um after college I get it out but at the Washington Hilton swimming tennis club or a hired and fired lifeguards and its old Kate Brown tennis balls and I wore tennis dress to work everyday in my family was very upset and kind of staged an intervention you know we didn't a lot of them didn't have college degrees and you're a college degree in you can see where he attended St so my brother invited me down to this bar and introduced me to a friend of his who was the sports editor at The Washington Star and he said how fast D Ty and I sat sixty words a minute and he said OK you're hired and I said but I have to wait till after ten this season he said OK you're fired so it went on like that and then I ended up working all night at the wash and start just as the dictation a switch was in the old days before computers so that is the graveyard shift like yest midnight to ten s during the day I thought tennis balls during the day and also I think it was a substitute teacher thrown and at nine pm I would like you know all the old fashioned things which you have written about the beautifully in journalism where you can get the copy she know with carbon in your arm tight being so reporters would call an and then I would type their stories on a typewriter and if it was attractive reporter I would put on lipstick couldn't see me he just you know the girl and this was before so yeah exactly yeah well no I tell it talked about my early years in journalism and talk about the fact that you know you type on these carbon books and you know one cup one cup you keep a copy copy copy desk of the desk at toasters young people thinking that the carbon paper thing was really interesting that say what a typewriter I mean is a long long time ago but when was intuition of you know journalists sometimes with Tom interplay they say something that came in to be funny that was aimed at us and then we would think it was part of their dictation saw remember Jack chair mind you no comment rating Not rated politically or negatively on on some politicians quote he said he and my Aunt Katie had wheels she'd be a tea cart I ended up with story after the politicians quote because the dictation is didn't know was added to and did you take stuff I mean I work nights at the Chicago Tribune and I got a whole education in life that I write in C is yet to get them here and stuff the editors the copy clerk Scott I never escaped that but you know you know I do love listening to police radios and nine East and all that stuff and taking there was a great old police reporter at The Tribune named Henry Wood was the night police guy and he would say stuff you call him a story and say you know five people found you know hacked this that you are missing our erm shot burned and it was finished by saying foul play is suspected I have to write the stories we had we had an old guy who did it to him he had um would you call it like chip cards that you put in a new call every suburb in Washington for twenty years he called like Woodbridge Virginia and then he'd always say is anything going on and they'd always say no and then this one day he he called and he's like I know there's a tractor trailer crash out there is like or what do I know about the trip there was one number often in pink bling this widow for twenty effort same thing if anything happens she had nothing to do with the police department so that you of this was a job that you got them because you needed a job when did you realize this what I want to do I really backed into I was you know working the night shift and then they'd let us try and do stories once in awhile and so I was a clerk for two and half years and you know home my mother would constantly be calling on to talk to me cuz she went to say that streetlights were here my other complaints poems though sometimes they be answering the phone and she trying to get stuff fixed in the city that had to do with my safety but it went on for a long time and then finally I got a shot to cover the Marvin Mandel to trial the jury winter in governor the veneer yeah and so we eat so you you're the best that took you off the clerk's desk and they sent you to Marilyn right to be or to learn how to be a reporter yes and that Tori and I was coming back and so we and found she remembers and kind and never look back it's not mine not my personality isn't that well suited because I'm me and journalism is Yang but mom you know I guess there is room for some introverts and shy people and journalists and nobody would guess from your columns that you're a shy person what kind of like and how fiance has that of their stage persona Sasha fierce that she puts on to force herself to go out it's kind of like that you have your being paid to do the job so even if it's hard to do and is I think our to do you you have to do that that's your responsibility and it's a huge honor in and that in your times would give me that responsibility we're going to take a quick break and we're back with more in town rocket mortgage by Quicken loans proudly supports the X Files when it comes to the big decision of choosing a mortgage lender is important to work with someone you can trust leisure best interests in mind with rockin' mortgage you'll get a transparent online process that gives you the confidence you need to make an informed decision skip the bank of the waiting and go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files equal Housing lender license in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty one ask about the Washington Star you know I watch and so was her legendary was Washington star like when you are a young reporter well I remember right you know IAS to bat with the you'd ever been sent out for beer because I was the night clerk I use to get some down on the time and one time Imus got fired because I brought back a light beer the editors were so crusty that was I think I'm shocked that they were sending of her peers because I had in a city working in the Cup include enter Billy goat Tavern and come back with martinis and in a crowd coffee cup did they have I brough Superior yep that's my grandfather ran a bar in DC and my mom it's always going to get growler is for the ladies of the ladies were not allowed into the bar yet so I saw was the star like working at the start and then it was soul much fun it was an afternoon newspaper hard as this is to believe that the deadlines went up to one in the afternoon but you know it was like everything that you've written about the experience that was journalism it was really fun to work and I don't know if I would be a journalist now because you know it has deadlines every second of the day all day on eight different platforms are expected to snap Shot and Instagram and I'm snap chatting so that's how ridiculous this situation and they threw me off of our snap chat site because they're with and doing it right you know there's so many different things are expected to do simultaneously and you know it's hard it's more like being a wire service are pretty you can use to sit there for eight hours and try and think of the rightly don't stop now this way I always enjoy I preferred actually calling in a story and having it dictated off the top of my head because then you didn't have time to second guess his brain was pure yet used to be mine to take that dictation yeah but yeah no I mean that was an era where there was just real passion for the store A and I and there was a sense of merriment about chasing stories and also you know third of all lovely people the audience Development people it just makes me a little depressed because they're always sending out bulletins Lake home if you mention fiance get a lot of clicks if you mention prance his dad to get a lot of clicks but how can that into a story about Iraq you know it's just the weird yet strangely and there were some great characters back then you mentioned your mind Ray who else was back there then I just remember one time when I was Jim Bellows was that yes they are dashing he told me I had a tennis legend as a very dashing I had ten of calm and he told me reading my column was like watching grass grow ten four to know and we had to mind too is this rotunda me think political reporter and went out to my first political rally so excited and I tap your mind on the shoulder and I said What is that banner over there say and he coasts it's just another exploit if delete it I know so you when did you saw you you start covering politics you moved over to the times when I moved over I was at Time magazine for a couple years after the star of old went to Time magazine in the nation section for years in New York and DC and then Anna Quinlan called me and she was the deputy metro editor and she found my clips and some dusty file cabinets she called me and she was wonderful to work for she has she had worked at the New York Post and she has a very sexy but times like sense of story and loves to drive the story and she sent me on a story right away about all the children living on the street and nom on forty second forty third Street Times Square and ended up as the movie I think but home you know and I really love doing that story because one time when I was four we were in a family trip to New York I almost got kidnapped on that story and my brother and sister ran out of the video arcade just in time to see this guy walking around the corner with me mom yes so it was heartbreaking to see all these homeless kids and just just going backwards for a second how much did your sort of study of love of literature feed into your work as a journalist and writing a story like that well that's what you know I always see it as the stories in fact when the time citing at the sky Seymour topping was climbing times and I was like Oh this is such an amazing city for human interest stories and there's a story on every corner and he paused and very posh voice and goes well that doesn't necessarily here but I love you know in the human element in the stories I am as far as you can get from Nate so for let's talk about the numbers big data you know I just love the effect that people can have when they throw their weight against history you know how they deal with crises and the White House is the ultimate pressure cooker so it's really what's amazing as in other jobs when you get to the top you should feel this amazing ratification and rush of confidence but instead oftentimes that's when your Gremlins come out and then you never know what historical event the president is going have to do was at the intersection of the historical event and the Gremlins you know creates a lot of chaos let me ask you one campaign you covered in nineteen eighty you are covering the presidential campaign and work and it was Joe Biden I know you're very close to now well not very far
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Ep. 87 - Maureen Dowd

The Axe Files with David Axelrod