On August 2, The New York Times printed an op-ed by Maureen Dowd that started a Biden boomlet, in large part because of a touching anecdote about Beau Biden’s dying wish:
Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.
I will concede that the Beau story did pull on my heartstrings, in part because I lost my teenage sister to cystic fibrosis a few years ago and so I sympathize with any parent who loses a child. Nevertheless, one probably should have asked, “OK, Ms. Dowd, how do you know what Joe Biden was thinking in a conversation where there was nobody else but him and his now-dead son”?
To be sure, Maureen Dowd has a tendency towards fabulism; if some day in the future we are so blessed as to be treated to a dramatization of the 2000 election directed, written and starring Tommy Wiseau, I have no doubt that we will remember Wiseau (as Al Gore, no doubt) telling MoDo: “haha Maureen, you always play psychologist!”
So it seemed plausible at the time that she was just making sh*t up (that’s the technical term).
Politico today prints this shocking scoop — Joe Biden himself was in fact Maureen Dowd’s source:
According to multiple sources, it was Biden himself who talked to her, painting a tragic portrait of a dying son, Beau’s face partially paralyzed, sitting his father down and trying to make him promise to run for president because “the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”
It was no coincidence that the preliminary pieces around a prospective campaign started moving right after that column. People read Dowd and started reaching out, those around the vice president would say by way of defensive explanation. He was just answering the phone and listening.
But in truth, Biden had effectively placed an ad in The New York Times, asking them to call.
Before that moment and since, Biden has told the Beau story to others. Sometimes details change — the setting, the exact words. The version he gave Dowd delivered the strongest punch to the gut, making the clearest swipe at Clinton by enshrining the idea of a campaign against her in the words of a son so beloved nationally that his advice is now beyond politics. This campaign wouldn’t be about her or her email controversy, the story suggests, but connected to righteousness on some higher plane.
To be sure, I think that Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere may be overly critical of Joe Biden’s motives. Josh Voorhees of Slate also:
Still, given what we do know about Biden, this wouldn’t exactly be an M. Night Shyamalan–style surprise. Let me remind you of three irrefutable things: Joe Biden is an active politician who has been running for one office or another for the past five decades; Joe Biden is a successful politician who has climbed from county council to the second-highest office in the land; and Joe Biden is an ambitious politician who has long dreamed of being—and twice actively campaigned to become—president of the United States of America.
While relaying the story of your son’s dying wish to a New York Times columnist in a bid to get people talking about your 2016 plans may seem, at best, uncouth or, at worst, crassly calculated, it’s also a brilliant political move for someone in Joe Biden’s position. And you know who is in Joe Biden’s position? Joe Biden.
It’s entirely possible that Biden was calculating when he shared this story with the New York Times. It’s also entire possible that Joe Biden – a professional politician but one who is also known for making gaffes and deviating from scripts – simply started recounting the story stream-of-consciousness style.
Did he tell her directly? Did she overhear it? Was it a secret phone call? Drunken rambling?Ultimately, we don’t know what Joe Biden’s motives were in telling this story to the press. And a big reason for that is because Maureen Dowd didn’t think to tell us who her source was, or how she came to know this information.
Clearly, the Biden family has suffered a tragedy, and even if the Vice President has ruthlessly decided to turn such lemons into political lemonade, he still has my respect. But as a journalist, Maureen Dowd has one job – ostensibly, to report the goddamn news fairly and accurately – and she continues to do it poorly.