Hmm… An incisive column by Gail Collins got me thinking about scoldism, so I blogged about it earlier today. Now, less than a half-day later, I encounter this piece from NPR calling Ms. Collins for excessive zeal in scolding Mitt Romney for something he did 28 years ago. That’s eight years above the statute of limitations that Ms. Collins herself suggested for tut-tutting a public figure about an embarrassing romantic partner.
I do not share Brendan Nyhan’s opinion that strapping a dog to the roof of a car for a long trip is “inconsequential.” And there’s an apples-and-oranges things going on here: Holding one accountable for his own decades-old actions is not equivalent to holding one accountable for the actions of a decades-old romantic partner.
Nevertheless, this blog is about information responsibility, and I am duty-bound to mention that the very columnist who got me thinking about scoldism can appear to others to be something of a scold herself. Here is an excerpt from the NPR website:
Plenty of folks have their unshakable obsessions. Indiana Jones sought the Holy Grail. Captain Ahab pursued the Great White Whale. For New York Times columnist Gail Collins, it's her fixation on the voyages of an Irish Setter named Seamus.
"For some reason, the idea that you've got this guy who would drive all the way to Canada with an Irish setter sitting on the top of the car — it absolutely fascinated me," Collins said.
By "this guy," Collins means Mitt Romney — as in the Republican presidential candidate — and the trip is a family vacation back in 1983 when Romney put the dog in a crate tied to the top of the family station wagon and drove off.
Collins mentioned the dog so often that Dartmouth political science professor Brendan Nyhan started keeping a running tally. "She's trying to be funny — I get that. I appreciate a good campaign story as much as the next person," Nyhan said. "But I do think it's representative of the way that the media focuses on trivia, things that are so inconsequential. Mitt Romney is not running for dogcatcher — he's running for president of the United States."
Nyhan is a Democrat and blogger for the Columbia Journalism Review — and he says he's not a Romney supporter.
"The deeper problem here is the way that pundits want to put candidates on the couch and psychoanalyze them, so this is being used to illustrate some sort of deeper underlying flaw in Mitt Romney's personality," Nyhan said. "But Gail Collins is not a psychologist and I'm not sure how much this really tells us about whether he'd be a good president."