NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Reading Maureen Dowd's recent columns in the New York Times, I almost felt a little sorry for Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank. Almost.
Like a lot of people, I was irked that Wolfowitz, who had previously advised the White House on Iraq, allegedly pulled strings to assist his girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza.
Once Dowd set her sights on Wolfowitz, he looked like a Dead Bureaucrat Walking.
I could envision Dowd grinning devilishly as she wrote in "Cupid and Cupidity" on April 18: "Who could focus on a weak yen when you had a weak Wolfie with a strong yen for Shaha?"
In the April 14 piece, "More Con Than Neo," Dowd wrote more pointedly: "You will not be surprised to learn, gentle readers, that Wolfie in love is no less deceptive and bumbling than Wolfie at war. Proving he is more con than neo, he confessed that he had not been candid with his staff at the World Bank. While he was acting holier than thou, demanding incorruptibility from poor countries desperate for loans, he was enriching his girlfriend with tax-free ducats."
Columnists have an obligation to shine light on injustice and ineptitude. No, Dowd isn't a prosecutor. Also, other journalists can claim larger audiences -- especially on television -- than this twice-a-week columnist.
But I'll contend that nobody presents wittier commentaries about Washington's hypocritical, pompous, ineffective and self-important louts. Even if Wolfowitz managed to keep his job, his reputation would be in tatters, with an assist from Dowd.
Her writing can make waves, too. In her Feb. 21 piece on Democratic Party kingpin David Geffen, Dowd accomplished something most columnists only dream of doing: breaking big news while stirring up trouble. Dowd had quoted Geffen strongly criticizing Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The column sent tremors through Clinton's campaign and further legitimized Sen. Barack Obama's chances of gaining the nomination: "Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O'Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue," according to Dowd.
She reserves her best barbs for the bumblers who act with the bluster of the generals in "Catch-22." I suspect that Dowd takes special delight in catching her subjects when they're crouching in some sort of moral discomfort. In fact, the more indignant she feels, the better her writing.
Dowd doesn't discriminate between Republicans and Democrats in her commentaries. Consider that in the past few months alone, she has carved up President Bush (of course), George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, John Edwards, Obama, Hillary Clinton (a longtime favorite), Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Biden. The Times columnist makes politics fun and interesting -- thank God.
I have only met Dowd once, in September 2004 after her best-seller "Bushworld" was published.
I got invited to a party in her honor on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (I even blew off my weekly poker game because this was a special opportunity.) Dowd apparently had liked a column I wrote about her.
Naturally, the guests crowded around Dowd all night long. I finally saw an opening and I approached her to introduce myself. I asked what it was like to be a best-selling author. She said she appreciated the reviews, the attention and the money. She also wished she could do better in her TV appearances.
Then Dowd smiled and said: "But Jon, really, all I want to do is party."
That comment was everything I had hoped for.
Dowd is so talented and popular by now that she can write her own ticket. Time magazine, for example, made noises about wanting to hire her a few months ago.
I hope Dowd will continue trying to get the last laugh on Washington and the rst of us.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you like or dislike about Dowd's columns in the New York Times?
FRIDAY STORY OF THE WEEK: "PC World Brings Editor Back, Removes CEO" posted by Dylan Tweney (Wired Blog Network, May 9). There is some justice in this world, after all.
THE READERS RESPOND to my column about News Corp.'s unsolicited bid to acquire Dow Jones (owner of MarketWatch, the publisher of this report): "I was ... surprised to read about Rupert Murdoch 's attempt to take over Dow Jones & Co. You described Murdoch as 'a marketing genius,' even though he is just a ruthless media tycoon. You should be proud for the liberty and the democratic freedom you and your comrade journalists enjoy at MarketWatch, thanks to the passive investment of the Bancroft family in Dow Jones. Now, if [Murdoch] finally [succeeds in] buying out Dow Jones and takes control of MarketWatch, when he fires you, you will have plenty of time to apply for a job at Fox business news or CNBC." Ladislas Tausik
My reply: Thank you for your note. I wrote that Murdoch was a marketing genius based on his decision to try to acquire Dow Jones, owing to the Wall Street Journal's success and prestige in print and online. Whether you love or loathe Murdoch -- and whether the proposal ultimately succeeds -- the idea was conceptually a master stroke. Murdoch wanted to obtain the best business journalism around to fortify his new Fox business channel.
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By Jon Friedman