“The Face of a Dog!” No, not really.

Alberto A. Martinez

Portrait of a Labrador. Photo Credit: Chiemsee.

MEDIA MEME:

When he was once mildly criticized by journalist Gail Collins, Donald Trump angrily circled her photo and wrote “The Face of a Dog!” on it, and mailed it to her.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:

Hundreds of thousands of webpages echoed Gail Collins’s mistaken story that Trump wrote “The Face of a Dog!” on her photo. But he didn’t write that. Collins had ridiculed, criticized, and insulted Trump for years in dozens of newspapers. So finally, he once and privately called her a liar and a dog. It’s an insult that he more frequently used for men. Ironically, Gail Collins herself did what Trump did not really do to her: she mocked individuals’ faces by comparing them to dogs. And worse, she did it publicly in newspapers.


 

When Megyn Kelly blamed Trump for calling some women “dogs,” she based it on two incidents: when Trump insulted news commentators Arianna Huffington and Gail Collins.

I discuss the former incident here. But the latter incident was more striking, offensive, egregious.

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins had written that after she belittled Trump in print as a “financially embattled thousandaire,” instead of billionaire, “he sent me a copy of the column with my picture circled and ‘The Face of a Dog!’ written over it.”

She first wrote this on April 2, 2011. She mentioned it again on December 24, 2015. Then she echoed it five more times in 2016: on April 19, May 14, September 24, November 9, and on November 24.

“The Face of a Dog!” — on her photo.

I’ve tried to find whether Trump ever used this insult for a man, and I found not a single example.

Needless to say, this insult is offensive and hurtful. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of webpages quoted it to condemn Donald Trump, to shame him for being a sexist pig. As of January 2017, more than 340,000 webpages echo the story.

That insult, “The Face of a Dog!” was featured on many lists online that gave examples of Trump’s misogyny. Some of these compilations of sexist insults were published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today, CNN, The Mirror, Daily Record, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, and of course, The Huffington Post.

But there was a problem. Gail Collins did not publish an image of whatever Trump actually mailed to her back in 1991. So was it true? Did he really write that on her photo?

No, he didn’t.

But this was not revealed until after the 2016 elections had ended.

On November 24, 2016, Gail Collins published a Thanksgiving op-ed in the New York Times, titled “Carving Donald Trump.” She admitted: “Over the past couple of years I have noted on several occasions that Donald Trump once sent me a letter saying I had the face of a dog.”

But suddenly, finally, she decided to actually dig up and look at the actual note that Trump had sent her in 1991.

Since Trump would really be President, the document became more valuable. As she had written on April 19, 2016: “Well, I do have that angry letter from him saying I look like a dog, which would probably be worth some money if he became president.”

On Thanksgiving 2016, Gail Collins now wrote:

“In the name of accuracy, however, I have to correct the record. I dug out Trump’s missive the other day and discovered he did not actually say I looked like a dog. He said I was ‘a dog and a liar’ with the face of a pig. Hard to believe I got that wrong. The moral is that you should always consult the primary source.”

A striking thing about Collins’s admission is its ambiguity. The phrase “face of a pig” is just as offensive as “face of a dog.” Maybe more. But notice that she did not write it in quotation marks. So apparently Trump did not actually write that either?

Is it that he wrote “a dog and a liar” and drew a pig on a printout of her article? Or did he send her a picture of a pig? Or a cartoon of a pig?

We just don’t know. But to be sure, most people won’t care. Regardless of whatever words Trump used to insult Collins, people concluded that Trump is a misogynist. After all, he had insulted several women on various occasions, especially the tough comedian Rosie O’Donnell (after she ridiculed him at length).

There’s another significant issue. Did Collins do anything to earn a private insult from Donald Trump? Why did he insult her?

According to Gail Collins the cause was merely that she once described Trump in print as an “embattled thousandaire.” That’s a minor poke, a teasing play on words. Clearly, if that’s all she did, then Trump was grossly overreacting.

Any reader of articles online, could then get the impression that Trump was an impulsively aggressive billionaire who abruptly and viciously attacked— “The Face of a Dog!”— a female journalist who had just voiced a minor verbal jab.

But that’s not what happened.

Anyone who had not read Collins’s articles for decades would not know that she mocked, insulted, and belittled Trump many times before he mailed her that one missive calling her “a dog and a liar” in mid 1991.

Here are some of the jokes and outright insults that Collins had published about Trump from February 1989 to June 1991, a two year period:

  1. JOKE: Collins mockingly proposed a board game about Trump, with roughly “nine million photos of Donald Trump.”
  2. INSULTING JOKE: Collins wrote that one thing worse than a game that encourages 12-year-olds “to act like Donald Trump” would be a game about being a dealer of crack cocaine.
  3. JOKE: Collins wrote that Trump was “about two steps away from selling used magazines on the sidewalk.”
  4. INSULTING JOKE: In 1990, when Trump was having difficulties making payments on $2 billion in loans, Gail Collins wrote that “We are about to have one of those magic New York moments when people of all creeds, races and economic backgrounds join together in a single thought,” namely, to laugh at Donald Trump.
  5. STRONG INSULT: Collins wrote that Trump “has always seemed like the ultimate rich person with absolutely no social redeeming value.”
  6. INSULT: Collins wrote that Trump was “the perfect example” of an “egocentric person with a two second attention span.”
  7. INSULTING JOKE: Collins coined a new verb: “to donald,” meaning “To turn sexual indiscretion into a financial crisis.”
  8. JOKE: In 1991, Collins wrote that “Donald Trump is practically homeless.”
  9. JOKE: To pay for New York’s Metro Transit Authority for one year, $123 million, Collins suggested that the taxpayers could “divorce Donald Trump 12.3 times.”
  10. CRITIQUE: The Milton Bradley Company had issued a new board game, titled Trump: The Game, two years earlier. Now in 1991 Gail Collins described it as the “worst” and “most depressing game I have ever seen.”
  11. COMPLAINT: Collins suggested that it’s not fair that “Trump still gets an allowance of $450,000 a month.”
  12. INSULT: She highlighted critical allegations from an unauthorized biography, such as that Trump “Never tipped.”
  13. INSULT: Collins also echoed that Trump “Plastered his hair with a greasy gel he thought would ward off baldness?”
  14. INSULTING CLAIM: Collins also echoed the claim that Trump “Crippled his racehorse and then demanded that the former owner take the horse back.”
  15. INSULT: Collins wrote that “It is hard to feel bad about Donald Trump’s being humiliated.”
  16. JOKE: She wrote that Trump was a financially “embattled thousandaire,” instead of a millionaire or billionaire.
  17. CRITIQUE: Collins wrote that Trump deserved any or all criticisms because he introduced himself as “America’s most successful businessman.”

These jokes and insults were published, reprinted, and quoted in not just one but in many newspapers and magazines across the U.S., including: the Daily News (NY), Working Woman (NY), Newsday (NY), Post-Star (Glenn Falls, NY), The Record, (NJ), The Washington Post (DC), Cumberland Times News (MD), Burlington Times News (NC), New Philadelphia Times-Reporter (OH), Elyria Chronicle Telegram (OH), Traverse City Record Eagle (MI), Indiana Gazette (PA), Gettysburg Times (PA), Altoona Mirror (PA), Ottumwa Courier (IA), Clovis News Journal (NM), Anderson Herald Bulletin (IN), St. Petersburg Times (FL), and The Associated Press (USA).

Summing up, Collins ridiculed Trump as being vain, broke, poor, egocentric, divorced, humiliated, sexually unfaithful, undeserving of great income, balding, laughable, cheapskate, abusive to a horse, deserving of all criticisms, depressing, and having “absolutely no social redeeming value.”

Consequently, Trump sent her the words “a dog and a liar.” A few days later, Gail Collins wrote in Newsday:

  1. People are mutating all over the place. Look at Donald Trump. For years he was a businessman, and overnight he turns into one of those celebrities-without-function you see on ‘Hollywood Squares.’ By next week he may be a professional wrestler.”

Then her insults continued and worsened for twenty years. Now, think about it, what would you prefer? To one day receive a childish and lame personal insult in the mail: “dog and liar”? Or, to be publicly ridiculed, laughed at, belittled, and insulted in print for many years in dozens of newspapers and magazines read by millions of people across the United States?

Personally, I’d prefer the one letter in the mail.

Years later, Collins converted “a dog and a liar” into an emphatic insult about her physical appearance: “The Face of a Dog!”

Donald Trump recalled Collins’s early attacks:

“Even before Gail Collins was with the New York Times, she has written nasty and derogatory articles about me. Actually, I have great respect for Ms. Collins in that she has survived so long with so little talent.”

Trump and Collins are both tough New Yorkers. As such, they sometimes use sharp language, cutting words and barbs.

As a paid satirist, Collins was not quite innocent. Her condescending attacks on Trump were not the only ones she did.

In a bizarre twist, during the election season of 2015 and 2016, nobody reported that Collins herself had used the word dog to criticize people. No reporters pointed out that, for decades, Collins compared some individuals’ behaviors and physical appearance to that of dogs.

On Sept. 24, 2016 Collins noted that Trump “does seem to specialize in insult via canine analogy. I once got a letter from him suggesting I resembled a dog.” She did not mention (or realize) that she herself specialized in canine analogies and insults.

Here are some instances when Collins mocked persons in that way:

  1. Gail Collins: “If [Rudy] Giuliani cozies up to D’Amato after all that, he is political dog meat.” (Newsday, Sept. 1991)
  2. Gail Collins: “Until [Senator Bob] Kerrey comes up with an agenda, he had better be good company, or he is political dog meat.” (Newsday, Nov. 1991)
  3. Gail Collins: “You could do a great campaign around [Senator Paul] Tsongas. He looks like a balding basset hound, he talks funny. No more pretty faces here, America.” (Newsday, 18 February 1992)
  4. Gail Collins: [Lt. Governor Stan] “Lundine is a very nice person, but as an attack dog, he resembles a sedated pomeranian.” (Newsday, 16 June 1992)
  5. Gail Collins: on President George H.W. Bush’s chances in Florida, “lose here and you are dog meat, sucker.” (Newsday, 14 October 1992)
  6. Gail Collins: “[Mayor] David Dinkins is quickly turning into dog meat.” (Newsday, 23 October 1992)
  7. Gail Collins: “last week the Senator [Alfonse D’Amato] was reborn as a political puppy” (New York Times, 10 November 1996)
  8. Gail Collins: Rick Lazio “perhaps he feels he’s so puppy-like, no one will notice he’s been gnawing away on Mrs. Clinton’s ankle.” (New York Times, 15 September 2000)
  9. Gail Collins: “but compared to him, 71-year-old John McCain looks like a pup.” (New York Times, 13 September 2007)
  10. Gail Collins: “would pass up the exhaustingly virtuous family man for a longtime hound dog like Rudy [Giuliani].” (Pittsfield Berkshire Eagle, and New York Times, 8 Nov. 2007)
  11. Gail Collins: “you can see the candidate [John Edwards] sitting on his plane, grinning like a hound dog in heat…” (Pittsfield Berkshire Eagle, and New York Times, 9 Aug. 2008)
  12. Gail Collins: “[Senator Jim] Bunning, a man with all the natural charisma of an arthritic pit bull, has grown increasingly eccentric…” (New York Times, 7 March 2009).
  13. Gail Collins: “A politician with a compulsively wandering eye is not just a hound dog with a famous name.” (Pittsfield Berkshire Eagle, and New York Times, 10 December 2009)
  14. Gail Collins: on Newt Gingrich, “his hound dog persona is old news.” (New York Times, 21 January 2012)
  15. Gail Collins: Governor Chris Christie is “a man who follows Bruce Springsteen like a puppy.” (New York Times, 10 January 2015)
  16. Gail Collins: “[Governor Mike] Pence has also started twittering like a howling dog.” (New York Times, July 14, 2016)
  17. Gail Collins: “Now, looking like a superannuated bulldog with a toothache, [Rudy] Giuliani prowls from one cable TV show to another…” (New York Times, 22 October 2016)
  18. Gail Collins: “Rudy Giuliani, who had so come to resemble a bad-tempered Rottweiler that he did everything but howl at the moon.” (New York Times, December 15, 2016)

Would you prefer to be called these insults in print, in millions of copies of newspapers, or would you prefer one private letter with the words “dog and liar”?

If Donald Trump had used some of those insults on Gail Collins, there’d be hundreds of thousands of webpages condemning him for it. She enjoyed a license to ridicule and insult, but he was unforgivable.

Collins had little reason to be offended by the word ‘dog,’ since she used it regularly to mock and belittle people. She was not a victim here.

My point isn’t that Gail Collins shouldn’t have used such words on those men. She’s welcome to mock, ridicule and offend people. She’s good at it. It’s freedom of speech. She makes money from it. It made some readers laugh.

My point is that Trump likewise, privately, did the same thing to her, yet she then misrepresented and used his counter-punch for years, hypocritically. This then helped the media to portray Trump as a misogynist sexist pig.

Then millions of people felt sympathy for Gail Collins for having endured Trump’s apparently gratuitous, impulsive, vicious, and sexist attack: “The Face of a Dog!”

But Trump hadn’t really written that.

News pundits and fact-checkers never checked whether Collins used similar insults, or worse. But she did.

 

Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Next, Chapter 9:  “There was blood coming out of her eyes…”

 

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