The influence of Maureen Dowd, formerly important New York Times opinion columnist, is dead, at the age of 13. The Pulitzer-winning columnist is still blamed, in some circles, for killing Al Gore's shot at the presidency with her relentless, belittling, emasculating, and most importantly media consensus-shaping columns. She used to be inescapable—on the Times home page, on Sunday morning politics shows, in every political blog on Earth—but now it's hard to gin up outrage about her scrubbing negative quotes from columns or mistaking black women for other black women. In 2004, those stories would've been all Atrios talked about for days. (Maybe they still are, does anyone read Atrios anymore either?) In 2000, they wouldn't have been outrages at all, because everything she said was immediate conventional wisdom. So what happened?
Dowd's style—sarcasm, cutsey nicknames, and, most importantly, countless gag-worthy pop cultural references—was, we are expected to believe, revolutionary back when she made the jump from "serious journalist" (whose legendarily/allegedly unorthodox style of story-getting was chronicled in Chris Buckley's book Thank You For Smoking and the film of the same name as the star reporter character who fucks sources) to influential columnist, back in 1995. She won the Pulitzer in 1999, and is as responsible as anyone else at a major newspaper for framing the old narrative of the 2000: unlikable wonky smug technocrat fabulist Al Gore vs. genial idiot George W. Bush.
By 2004, she'd become one of the rising liberal blogosphere's prime targets for mockery. And her style was easy to parody. (Have you ever noticed how Sex & the City might conceivably relate to politics? It writes itself!)
By the time of the inescapable publicity circus for her book Are Men Necessary in 2005 (the Observer called it "a very odd, occasionally entertaining mish-mash of politics and sex, biology and Cosmopolitan-ology, gravity and wit, insight and carelessness" which seems pretty accurate), well, we all just got sick of her. But it wasn't just the book. There were other problems!
First: "hip" writing about politics? Making pop culture funnies about candidates? Maybe revolutionary in the satire-deprived mid-90s, but then came blogs! (And also The Onion, The Daily Show, and The 9/11 Commission Report, obv.) Blogs did it funnier, faster, wittier, and hipper than Maureen could. (Seriously, her pop culture references sound strained to everyone but 80-year-old shut-ins who secretly titter while dropping their monocles at Don Imus wisecracks—which is to say, the media population of Washington DC) There was this lady named Ana Marie Cox whom this guy named Nick Denton hired to run his brand-new politics blog—she turned out to be the funny Maureen Dowd! Plus Cox wrote about assfucking.
But maybe more importantly, Dowd was fucked by her bosses. Timesselect put her column behind a paywall. Bloggers stopped linking, reading, explicating, and damning it. Dowd recognized the effect this could have on her waning influence: by some accounts she "boycotted" the extra features promised subscribers. But as the great experiment dragged on, she faded into internet obscurity, more or less. The paywall went up in 2005, after the heady Dowd-hating days of the '04 elections had ended. By the time they lifted it, two years later, no one quite remembered why they got so upset when the crazy red-haired lady called their candidate a pussy.