Katie Roiphe asks the journalistic question, “Is Maureen Dowd Necessary” in Slate. Forget the politics of it — the journalism observations in Roiphe’s article deserve special attention:
In [her new book] Are Men Necessary? [Dowd] gravitates toward quotes like this: “Deep down all men want the same thing: a virgin in a gingham dress,” or “if there’s one thing men fear it’s a woman who uses her critical faculties.” To support these generalizations, Dowd relies on the faux journalism of women’s magazines. She cobbles together anecdotal evidence from people she encounters. The formula is basically this: “Carrie, a 29-year-old publicist, says … ” And from Carrie’s experience she extrapolates to the universal. The problem with this approach is that one could go out and find a 29-year-old publicist who would say the opposite. It would be one thing if Dowd were writing pure, straightforward polemic, ranting against the people she feels the need to rant against. But Dowd is pretending to cover cultural trends with journalistic accuracy, and it is this pretense that gives her arguments a shoddy feel.
Making up quotes in journalism pieces is a Class A felony — not so much because it’s dishonest, but because it’s so stupid. If you can’t find a quote to back up your thesis (which is the very nature of the enterprise — let’s not kid ourselves) it’s because you haven’t tried, and that’s the real crime. It’s like paying retail.
But Roiphe’s point is better: Bona fide quotes from the “little people” are indeed fine for “lifestyle journalism,” but not for opinion columns by a self-styled speaker-of-truth-to-power. Worse, they give opinion the false patina of fact.