Maureen Dowd, the most widely quoted newspaper columnist in America (or at least in Georgetown's cocktail-party circuit), works herself into a lather this morning, right on the pages of The New York Times. She just doesn't get Twitter. And because she doesn't get Twitter, apparently nobody else should either, and founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone deserve a spanking. But her interview with "EVAN" and "BIZ" reveals that Dowd has truly met her match. She doesn't like that. And who can blame her?

Dowd has never really been one for nuance. She's not a cold-eyed analyst but a smartypants wordsmith, given to inane, clever-clever phrasings and rhyming themes suitable for snappy ad copy. The words "cutesy" and "coquettish" come to mind, but those descriptions overlook her obvious intellect. Dowd is an excellent reporter by trade, yet her position on the Times Op-Ed page invites her to try her hand at writing late-night monologue wisecracks. She's the furthest thing from an airhead but she plays one in the Times today. And she gets schooled.

Dowd comes at Williams and Stone with guns blazing. "Did you know you were designing a toy for bored celebrities and high-school girls?" "Do you ever think 'I don't care that my friend is eating a hamburger?'" "Would Shakespeare have Tweeted?" Williams apparently gets bored with this line of questioning and excuses himself midway through, leaving Stone to fire back. (His cool response on Shakespeare: "Brevity's the soul of wit, right?") Dowd's parting shot buries her deepest in her own logic:

ME: I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?

BIZ: Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you're gonna want Twitter. You might want to type out the message "Help."

Why does Dowd get her fingers burnt with every jab? A couple reasons. One is that just because Twitter is young and lacks a fully realized mission doesn't make it pointless on its face. Dowd finds it annoying and unfocused, which is a perfectly valid position, but an easy one. Twitter was founded in 2006; it's three years old. It's pre-adolescent, an energetic but unfocused 12-year-old boy of an application. So of course Twitter's annoying and unfocused. A teacher would forgive any 12-year-old boy who doesn't know what he'll do in the future -- if he'll go into patent law, infectious disease, or newspaper punditry.


And that's another stumbling block for Dowd, who is a good way through a career in an industry on life support, working for an employer that is one of the most costly and troubled. Yesterday, the Times Co. posted a first-quarter loss of $74.5 million, compared with a $335,000 flesh wound in 2008. (Earlier this spring, the paper announced a 5% paycut for all staffers, including, presumably, its celebrity columnists.) When news like that shares space with worse news like Morgan Stanley's $177 million first-quarter loss, it doesn't look so bad. But you wouldn't call that an encouraging sign.

That's one good reason for Dowd to feel annoyed, if not threatened, by Twitter. Here's another: Twitter does exactly what she does. Dowd makes a very good living for her cutesy takes on real life, news, and serious topics. Twitter is basically Dowd 2.0. Why do you need a full column of Dowd twice a week when you can get tweets all day long?

You can't blame an aging superstar for feeling a little put out by the adulation showered on a rookie, particularly one whose ascendence is still far off on the horizon -- and who the public might ultimately decide is more deserving of its share of mind. Ask not for whom the twitterer tweets, La Dowd: It tweets for thee. You might want to type out the message "help."


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