Diane Sawyer lobotomizes Dean.

Diane Sawyer lobotomizes Dean.

Diane Sawyer lobotomizes Dean.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Jan. 23 2004 1:00 AM

Dean, Lobotomized

He shouldn't take that abuse from Diane Sawyer.

You think Howard Dean is too angry? In his interview on Jan. 22 with Diane Sawyer of ABC News, he wasn't nearly angry enough. After the (unmarried) New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd sniffed that "the doctors Dean seem to be in need of some tips on togetherness and building a healthy political marriage," and the first female editor of TheNew Yorker compared Dean's missus to "the mad wife in Jane Eyre, screaming in the attic upstairs," the little woman relented and gave what Sawyer revealed with mild disgust was her very first TV interview. Dr. Judith Steinberg, M.D., explained that she stays at home because she has her own private practice

and my patients are my patients and they really depend on me and I really love it. It's not something I can say, "Oh, you can take over for a month." It just doesn't work like that.

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This cut absolutely no ice with Sawyer, just as similar previous statements cut no ice with Sawyer's fellow career gals Dowd and Brown. Sawyer, doing her best Stepford wife imitation, continued this line of questioning with the man of the house: "I have heard people say 'Where has she been?' And the answer to that would be ... ?" (Translation: "Who wears the scrubs in this family?") Of course, Sawyer also had to cuff Dean for abandoning his promise not to use his wife as a prop: "And, yet just before Iowa, we saw Mrs. Dean for the first time. And, she's sitting here for this interview." To which Chatterbox hoped Dean would answer, "Yes, I dragged her out here, away from her patients and away from our teenage son, because hypocrites like you pretended to be shocked that my wife has a career and life of her own. Don't expect us to do this again." Instead, Dean meekly answered, "She wasn't a prop here."

Dean also kept what Chatterbox considered an inappropriate calm as Sawyer played the now-famous Iowa Screaming Tape not once, not twice, but three times (there may have been a fourth; Chatterbox lost count). The outburst was the other great subject of the interview. At first, Dean defended himself, pointing out, "I was having a good time, look at me," and it's true; he's smiling on the tape. (Dean might also have pointed out, as Garance Franke-Ruta does on "Tapped," the American Prospect's Weblog, that the crowd was making an awful lot of noise, the acoustics were bad, and you had to shout very loudly to be heard.) But Sawyer was unappeasable: "[I]t is the sort of thing that can hurt ... really hurt you," she pressed. Eventually she had Dean almost apologizing: "I would not make the case for a moment that that was presidential." It was horrible to watch. (And it wasn't today's only grovel. Before the interview, during the candidate's debate on Fox News, Dean allowed that the mockery of his "hooting and hollering" had been justified. After the interview, in an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman  Dean pledged to "switch to decaf" and engage in "fewer crazy red-faced rants.")

Seeing Dean beg for mercy over what was merely an untelegenic display of enthusiasm called to mind the last scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, when Chief Bromden finds McMurphy, and he's been lobotomized, all rebellion and mischief sucked out of him, and you don't know whether to rage or weep. If only Dean had taken a swing at Nurse Ratched before they wheeled him into the operating room.