Proving that the only thing worse than a New York Times columnist not on drugs is a New York Times columnist on drugs, Maureen Dowd decided to tackle that most pernicious of illicit substances: marijuana. Yes, everyone’s favorite chardonnay-swilling, green corduroy jean-wearing Op-Ed columnist flew out to Colorado, where marijuana has now been legal for several months, and decided to drink the Kool-Aid, or, you know, eat the pot candy bar, as it were.
In a column with a headline that may or may not have been lifted from 1969—”Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude“—Dowd inadvertently unleashes one of the greatest anti-drug campaigns ever because she proves—once and for all—that getting high leads to many unforeseeable, terrifying consequences, namely, writing really poorly about what it’s like to get high. Oh, it all started innocently enough. After wondering, “What could go wrong with a bite or two?” Dowd chowed down on a pot-infused chocolate bar, failing to consider the potential potency in her edible marijuana treat. And, reader, what happened next
will not surprise you at all if you ever ate one too many pot brownies will shock you. Dowd found herself “curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours.” She was “thirsty but couldn’t move to get water” and she was ” panting and paranoid.” It was so dire a situation that Dowd “became convinced that [she] had died and no one was telling [her].”
All of this is terrible, of course. If you’ve ever experienced a really bad drug trip (and I’m not saying that I ever have after taking acid for too many days in a row culminating in a three-hour-stretch where I sat naked in front of a mirror listening to “Immigrant Song” on repeat, but I’m also not saying I haven’t), you know that it’s no joke, and that Dowd shouldn’t be made fun of for being unable to handle her edibles—especially when her self-professed “drugs of choice” are “chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.” But Dowd does deserve to be made fun of for taking a serious issue (the inadequate labeling of ingestible marijuana in the state of Colorado, resulting in at least two deaths) and burying it in the type of hyperbolic prose more suited for dialogue in an 80s anti-drug movie-of-the-week than an editorial for the paper of record.
Perhaps worst of all is the fact that, as writer Elon Green pointed out last night on Twitter, Maureen Dowd has—or had—solid reportorial chops. Green linked to a more than 30-year-old piece of Dowd’s, “For Victims of AIDS, Support In a Lonely Siege,” which, besides being an excellent example of a Times headline, is a heartbreaking look at the toll that the AIDS epidemic in its earliest stages. The article is well worth a read now—far more so than anything Dowd has written recently—not only because of the importance of its tragic subject matter, but also because of the clarity and strength of Dowd’s writing as she conveys not only the terror and confusion, but also the compassion and tenacity with which New York’s gay community confronted the fact that they were facing a deadly plague and that they had no one to rely on but themselves.
It’s hard to say exactly what happened to Dowd in the intervening years between “For Victims of AIDS” and “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude,” but it probably had something to do with the acclaim Dowd met with her supposed-to-be humorous take on everything from the Monica Lewinsky scandal to the early blunders of George W. Bush. In other words, it probably had something to do with the rise of the Internet and the desire of almost every writer on it (and their bosses!) to create viral content. Well, Dowd’s certainly done that with this edible pot piece, but she’s done it at the cost of having a serious, thought provoking conversation about an issue that is worth discussing. And she’s done it at the expense of the respect of many others in her field. And for what? Extra page views? Dowd is, or at least once was, better than that. And the Times should be too.
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