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Daily Howler: The press waged war against Gore for two years. Largely, our journals slept
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PAST AS PROLOGUE! The press waged war against Gore for two years. Largely, our journals slept: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 1, 2007

GENE DON'T TELL: Many liberals will be inclined to salute Gene Robinson for this column in today’s Post. In our view, those generous impulses will be vastly misguided.

Liberals will tend to think well of Robinson because he almost dares to speak up for Al Gore. Here is his opening paragraph:
ROBINSON (6/1/07): Al Gore has been in town launching his new book, "The Assault on Reason," and you could have predicted the buzz: Is he about to jump into the race? What you probably wouldn't have predicted is the counter-buzz that Gore, poor fellow, is just too ostentatiously smart to be elected president.
By paragraph 3, Robinson “leaves aside the question” of Gore and begins to state a general preference; he wants the next president to be very smart. After listing the things he wants the next prexy to know, he closes with these stirring sentiments:
ROBINSON: I don't want the candidates to pretend to be average people, because why would we choose an ordinary person for such an extraordinary job? I want to see what they've got—how much they know, how readily they absorb new information, how effectively they analyze problems and evaluate solutions. If the next president is almost always the smartest person in the room, I won't mind a bit. After all, we're not in high school anymore.
We’re not in high school anymore, Robby says—after pretty much proving we are.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’d prefer a smart president too. So what is wrong with Robinson’s column? Start with his opening paragraph, where he makes this ridiculous statement: “What you probably wouldn't have predicted is the counter-buzz that Gore, poor fellow, is just too ostentatiously smart to be elected president.” In fact, that has been “the buzz” about Gore for the past dozen years, relentlessly driven from Robinson’s newspaper. You “wouldn’t have predicted” this week’s reaction to Gore if: 1) You’ve been stationed on Mars since 1995, or 2) You’re simply refusing to tell the truth about the past decade of American politics.

With Robinson, we’ll assume the second answer. Just note how hard the pundit works to keep readers basically clueless. In that first paragraph, he says that a “buzz” has followed Gore this week, but he doesn’t say where this buzz has come from. In particular, he doesn’t say that the buzz has largely come from his own hopeless newspaper—from Dana Milbank’s ludicrous “Washington Sketch” and from Alan Ehrenhalt’s childish review of Gore’s book. (In the Times, David Brooks made it three.) When Robinson closes with that “smartest person in the room” reference, he seems to be referring to Milbank—but he’s careful not to say so. As such, this is classic Soviet-style punditry, in which the reader has to struggle and strain to understand what is being said. Robinson refuses to speak directly—because he’s discussing the press corps.

You wouldn't have predicted the counter-buzz that Gore is just too smart to be president? In fact, this buzz has driven our politics for years; it was part of the press corps’ larger War Against Gore, which derived from their war against Clinton. Sadly, most American voters still don’t know that—in part, because people like Robinson won’t tell them. Robinson worked at the Post all during the years when Gore was savaged, mocked and scorned. Sorry, but unless the Post had him stationed on Mars, he couldn’t have been surprised by the buzz surrounding Gore’s appearance this week.

But we’ve long told you, it’s their number one law: The press corps refuses to tell you the truth about its own conduct and values. Robinson plays the fool today, in service to his High Pundit Class. But then, for the past fifteen years, our “liberal columnists” have refused to discuss the shape of the wars against Clinton, then against Gore. Have you ever seen E. J. Dionne discuss this? That is why George Bush is now president. But even after that world-class disaster, Robinson still won’t tell.

One final note: Notre Robinson’s odd refusal to speak specifically in Gore’s defense. Yesterday, six letters in the New York Times spoke back brilliantly to Brooks’ insults. These writers quickly made the obvious points: Gore has been proven right about the nation’s greatest issues. His last book changed the world’s debate about global warming, one writer pithily said. Another writer pointed out that Gore was right on Iraq. These are fairly obvious points when we see Gore’s mental style being mocked. But not for Robinson! As noted, he quickly abandons the question of Gore—without daring to say that Gore has been right about everything. Letter-writers made this obvious point to the Times. With far more words, Robby deferred.

Why did Robinson skip a specific defense of Gore? We don’t have the slightest idea. But in paragraph 3, he just couldn’t help it. The pains of addiction were closing in. He just had to type up the scripts:
ROBINSON: Leave aside the question of whether Gore is even thinking about another presidential run, or how he would stack up against the other candidates. I'm making a more general point: One thing that should be clear to anyone who's been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.
As we’ve noted before, these childish people live on script. They drank script at their mother’s breast. Their lungs draw script from the air.

Defenders will say that Robinson is being witty—ironic—in the sentence we have highlighted. But just for the record: In order to get an intelligent president, we don’t have to “elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.” That childish conflation has driven mainstream punditry on Gore right up to, and right into, this week; we have no idea what could be gained by promoting such foolishness further. No, that sentence isn’t a direct reference to Gore, whose question has quickly been “left aside.” But that is exactly what Robinson’s tribe has recited about Gore for the past decade—and quite literally, Robinson couldn’t write three paragraphs on this subject without once again typing it up.

Here at THE HOWLER, we didn’t know Gore in high school, although we have a good friend who did. We did know Gore for four years in college—and as a matter of fact, he wasn’t “the kid you hated in high school [or college], the teacher's pet with perfect grades.” In fact, Gore was “the kid who was widely liked,” and—as has been widely reported—his grades were mediocre to poor during much of his college career. (His high school grades were also imperfect.) That’s because, for large parts of that time, he was the kid who got up late, listened to the Beatles all day, then capped his evening with an hour of Star Trek and some extensive Rock-Makers. (The name of a futuristic pinball machine during those dim, distant years. The imagery took us to a planet where everyone spent their time making rocks.)

But so what? For the past dozen years, the fools at the Post—the ones around Robinson—have recited this dimwit tale about Gore. In 1999 and 2000, they recited it as part of a package of lies which sent George Bush to the White House. And incredibly enough, these people are so incurably dumb that they were still reciting it this week, even after Gore had turned out to be right on all issues, even after Bush had destroyed the known world. But Robinson still can’t bring himself to tell you how your politics works. He won’t say where “the buzz” came from this week—and he even pretends that he found it surprising. As such, Robinson is primal Soviet Man, devoted to serving the block-like people who currently serve as your rulers.

Someone’s been talkin’ trash about Gore, Who it is, Robby won’t tell.

A VILE TALKER’S VILE DEMON TALES: He has mastered the evil of banality. Indeed, there is clearly no depth to which this sick man won’t drag your drowning discourse. Here’s Chris Matthews, on Wednesday’s Hardball, after playing tape of Gore from this week:
MATTHEWS (5/30/07): Do you think—do you think, Jill [Zucker], he’s had cosmetic surgery around the eyes, below the eyes? What do you think?

ZUCKER: I’m sorry, I’m not an expert. I can not touch that.

MATTHEWS: Everybody’s so afraid of that one, but I think there’s some work been done. It looks pretty good, actually.
Brave man! Everyone else is “afraid” to strangle our dying discourse by taking the Gore-trashing nonsense this far. Zucker, one of this fellow’s more dignified guests, had the good judgment to pass on his question. So Matthews answered his question himself, once again proving that he the pundit corps’ sick ruler, mighty King Nut-job.

No, there was nothing under Gore’s eyes that suggested surgery; this utterly banal man now plays the Dowd role as well as his own. But then, he’d warmed to his task with a weekend of truly ugly work, engaging in the kind of behavior that gets people in other professions fired, then sued—sometimes jailed. Starting on Friday evening’s Hardball, he had aimed his ugly mind at Hillary Clinton, working off Peter Baker’s oddly murky “news report” in Friday’s Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07). By way of review, here’s the passage in Baker’s report which had the blood rushing through his body. Remember—this is Baker’s account of the Bernstein book. There are no quotes from Bernstein:
BAKER (5/25/07): In Bernstein's account, both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on [Bill Clinton’s] infidelities. At the behest of Wright and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm, Webster L. Hubbell and Vincent W. Foster Jr., were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.
We haven’t seen the Bernstein book (neither had Matthews), and Baker’s account is rather murky. But presumably, he refers here to a famous lawsuit—the 1990 nuisance suit by famous Little Rock crackpot Larry Nichols, who had been fired from his Arkansas state job in 1988 for making phone calls to the contras. And yes, you read that last sentence right: “Nichols had placed 642 long-distance telephone calls, at state expense, to contra leaders and politicians who supported them,” Lyons and Conason wrote in The Hunting of the President, citing the AP as their source. For this lavish act of lunacy, Nichols was fired by Governor Clinton—and then he filed his famous suit as an act of retribution. Eventually, Nichols would apologize, admitting he knew not whereof he spoke. But in his suit, he claimed that five different women were Clinton’s mistresses; this included Susie Whitacre, the governor’s press secretary. There was never any sign that this claim was true, and all the women hotly denied the charges; Debra Mathis just laughed and laughed at what the famous crackpot had said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07). So why did Hillary Clinton meet with some of these women? Why were several repped by Rose? “I met with two of them to reassure them,” she volunteered on that famous 60 Minutes, all the way back in 1992. “They were friends of ours. I felt terrible about what was happening to them.” We’re assuming that this is the lawsuit to which Baker referred in that murky passage. If it is, you can probably see why he chose to keep things murky as he discussed a famous nuisance suit filed by a famous nut.

This weekend, Matthews never showed any sign that he knew what lawsuit Baker had discussed; but then, he rarely knows the factual background of the matters he rants about. But again, review the passage we’ve presented from Baker. That was all Matthews seemed to have as he played Hardball Friday night. And yet, just like that, he put an ugly interpretation on what Baker had written. After quoting the passage we’ve cited—pretending he was quoting Bernstein, not Baker—Matthews offered this ugly idea of what Carl Bernstein had said:
MATTHEWS: Now, that is strong stuff. It does get to their marriage, but it also gets to their political partnership, the fact that she would be participating in what is portrayed by Carl Bernstein as an effort to shut up witnesses against the president.
If you can read English, you can quickly see this: Not a word in the passage by Baker asserts that Clinton was “participating in what is portrayed by Carl Bernstein as an effort to shut up witnesses against the president.” There just isn’t anything like that in Friday’s Post report. But so what? All through Friday evening’s show, and then again on his Sunday program, Matthews kept asserting that Clinton had engaged in this sort of conduct—and he kept ratcheting up his language, until he was essentially accusing Clinton of serious crimes.

“They were friends of ours,” Clinton had said. “I felt terrible about what was happening to them.” But Matthews was more than happy to let his imagination turn Clinton’s conduct into a crime. Speaking to Baker and Solomon on Friday’s Hardball, he soon said that “the way it’s portrayed and the way you guys reported it,” Clinton had “participate[d] in an effort to silence...possible witnesses against her husband.” Matthews, of course, was very puzzled as to why the women “named” in the suit would have done something like that:
MATTHEWS: Now, that’s an odd scene, Hillary Clinton, the wife, sitting with some lawyers as they interrogate women who were accused of having relations with her husband. It’s strange that they—first of all, why these women would agree to have those people as their lawyers. But they got affidavits out of them.
Showing no sign of understanding the case, Matthews asserted that Clinton and the lawyers from Rose had “interrogated women” and “got affadavits out of them.” (The Baker article says that Clinton was “present for the questioning” on one occasion. Excited a bit, Matthews pluralized.) And as he continued, his excitement grew. “It suggests that she will do what it takes to get there, that she will be ruthless,” he said. Soon, the Post’s compliant Gene Robinson engaged in this repulsive exchange with the man who lets him go on TV:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask, Eugene Robinson. Let me ask you—it’s your paper that ran this. I think it is relevant, whether we are seeing strong-arm tactics used to try to get people to sign affidavits. We’re now looking at one from Monica Lewinsky. They’re obviously not worth the paper they’re written on, these affidavits.

These women were asked to sign affidavits....Clearly there were efforts made to cover up an unpleasant story about Bill Clinton’s behavior. Is that a news story today?

ROBINSON: Sure it’s a news story. Why do you run the story at the top of the front page? If you have both these books before other people have them, that’s a get.
“That’s a get”—and so is Robinson. To all appearances, Matthews had no earthly idea what he was talking about—but he accused Clinton of “strong-arm tactics” designed “to cover up an unpleasant story.” Robinson could have challenged these utterly irresponsible comments. Instead, he rolled over and died.

Good boy! Robinson will live to appear on Hardball another evening.

But in this way, these sick, weak men have made a joke of your public discourse—of your most vital interests—for the past fifteen years. In 1990, a crackpot filed a nuisance suit. Seventeen years later, these ugly men are still holding these excited—and disgraceful—conversations.

By Sunday, the language was stronger. Matthews assembled three Grade A hacks to go along with his thigh-rubbing tales—and he included poor Josephine Hearn, a young Politico scribe. An astounding number of stupid things were said in this program’s first ten minutes. But eventually, the chatter returned to Friday’s topic, and this inexcusable conversation occurred:
FINEMAN (5/27/07): To me, the biggest problem, from what I've seen of the coverage so far, is that it shows Hillary, to a greater degree than we even realized, controlling the process of shutting down stories about infidelities by her husband, about her looking the other way personally and skirting the edge, I think, in terms of legal ethics, in terms of clamping down on people back in Arkansas who

MATTHEWS: Right. Getting women who were ready to speak against Clinton—in terms of relationships with him in the past—getting them lawyers who were her friends to get them to sign affidavits that these affairs didn't occur.

HEARN: Yeah!

FINEMAN: Perhaps emotionally understandable, but not legally cool.

BORGER: But it turns her into the Godfather, essentially.

MATTHEWS: It's Luca Brasi behavior.


MATTHEWS: To try to use people, through intimidation, to get people to sign affidavits to deny what they believe.
That is simply astounding. But then, this is how this gang sent Bush to the White House. They ran these scams against Candidate Gore for the better part of two years.

Throughout this discussion, there was never the slightest sign that these people knew what they were talking about. Which women were repped by Rose? In response to what sort of “lawsuit?” Was there ever the slightest sign that these women were “clamped down on” after being “ready to speak against Clinton?” That they were forced to sign affadavits “through intimidation?”They they were induced “to deny what they believe?” There was never the slightest sign that Matthews, or anyone else, knew what they were talking about. But so what? The loathsome Borger—she’s one of the worst—piped up that this made Hillary Clinton “the Godfather.” And that rang a bell with her highly excited host. “It's Luca Brasi behavior,” the small, loathsome man replied.

Luca Brasi was a hit man in the famous mob film, The Godfather.

Let’s note the following once again: We have no idea if Baker refers to the Nichols lawsuit in that murky paragraph. It seems likely that he was, but there was no earthly way to tell from the Post’s “news reporting.” But note this too—on Friday evening, then on Sunday, there was never the slightest indication that Matthews, or any of his guests, had any idea about this either. And again, note one thing well: In Baker’s lone paragraph on this subject, there isn’t a single word to support the claim that women were being “strong-armed” or “intimidated” into signing false affadavits. That excitement was added by Matthews himself. It was accepted by the loathsome boys and girls he brings on the air as “reporters.”

Borger has long been one of the worst; in a word, she is shameless. Andrew Sullivan provided inane remarks throughout the Sunday program. Fineman showed absolutely no sign of knowing what lawsuit he was discussing. And then, there was the young scribe, Hearn, getting dragged deep into their world. Like another young person, Michael Corleone, she likely meant well when she said she’d appear. But will she ever get out of this world? Or will Matthews—and the promise of fame—just keep pulling her in?

Special report: Why the Prospect slept!

READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: The Post praised Gerth—and four journals slept. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Friday morning, the Post savaged Clinton—and four liberal journals slept. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/07.

PART 2: At The Prospect, one person spoke—and readers howled in protest. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07.
Today, we return to the past:

PART 3—PAST AS PROLOGUE: What happened in the past is past; most experts agree that we simply can’t change what happened in 1999, for example. But, last week, The Prospect slept, as did three other leading liberal/progressive journals; the journals slumbered as the Washington Post began trashing Hillary Clinton again. Omigod! The Post even vouched for failed New York Timesman Jeff Gerth, whose career problems have been so extensive—and who has been a longtime Clinton-trasher. But even with that on the Post’s front page, the Prospect slept—along with the other three journals. Worried about Campaign 08, we thought back to Campaign 2000.

Then, as now, the Washington press corps was pimping demon tales about Dems. In fact, the corps was staging its two-year War Against Gore—the astonishing war which sent Bush to the White House. If these journals seem to be dozing now, how alert were they back then? Since we’ve focused on the Prospect this week, let’s start with the Prospect again.

At the time, the Prospect was a fairly new bimonthly, less significant than it is now. In its favor, it had a very sharp Washington editor, Josh Marshall. (He started in the fall of 1999.) When Marshall appeared on Countdown twelve weeks ago, the intellectual level of the program rose about a thousand percent. (Why on earth don’t they have this guy back? Must they give us Milbank?) Josh did some superlative work in these olden times too—but in truth, the Prospect largely slumbered through that two-year campaign against Gore.

We don’t know why, but like other liberal journals, the Prospect was largely oblivious to the ongoing war against Gore. (This was true before and after Marshall came on board.) Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? This claim was used to batter Gore, from mid-March 1999 on—but you’d hardly have known it from reading the Prospect. Yuck! As late as August 14, 2000, the journal published this, a glancing aside in a lengthy piece by Eamonn Fingelton:
FINGLETON (8/14/00): America is widely seen as the driving engine of the global Internet economy, and in some sense, it is. But few people are aware just how dependent the United States has become on higher-wage nations for the fundamental technologies that make the Internet possible. Americans laughed when Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet, but they are guilty of advancing a similarly self-serving myth when they claim that the rise of the Internet is an exclusively American achievement.
Eesh. But as of Labor Day 2000, the Prospect had challenged the “Al Gore said he invented the Internet” theme once—that as a brief part of a long book review by the late, and superlative, Lars-Erik Nelson. (Nelson reviewed Turque’s bio of Gore on June 5, 2000. A few other authors had alluded to the theme in ways that seemed to semi-mock Gore.) But then, “invented the Internet” wasn’t the only Gore-trashing theme the Prospect was failing to challenge. According to Nexis, “earth tones” was mentioned just once in the whole campaign, again in the review by Nelson. And not only that: As of Labor Day 2000, the notion that Al Gore said he inspired Love Story had been mentioned only once (by Nelson); the notion that Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal had been mentioned once (by Nelson). Starting in March 1999, these themes had been endlessly used to turned Gore into the world’s biggest liar (Love Canal started in November 1999). But, like our other leading liberal/progressive journals, the Prospect seemed largely unconcerned with this endless assault—the assault which plainly sent Bush to the White House. The Prospect largely slept.

We say “as of Labor Day 2000” for a reason. In its September 25, 2000 issue, the Prospect published a lengthy piece by Princeton’s Sean Wilentz. It ran to some 5000 words—and it picked apart four or five of the major demon tales which had been used to batter Gore. Wilentz began with the Buddhist Temple, which Tim Russert had pimped as late as July 2000, when he staged a gruesome, hour-long, remarkably dishonest assault on Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/04). But Wilentz covered other key demon tales too. Here were the headlines atop his piece. That first line asked a good question:
Will Pseudo-Scandals Decide the Election?;
The headline seemed to misstate the article; Wilentz actually said that the Buddhist Temple was “the oldest” of the Gore pseudo-scandals. But, after a detailed debunking of the Buddhist Temple, Wilentz ran through the three building-blocks in the claim that Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton. (Invented the Internet, Love Story, Love Canal. Naomi Wolf and the earth tones weren’t addressed.) Eighteen months after the onslaught began, the Prospect awoke—and Wilentz addressed it. But even at 5000 words, a writer can’t fully address this many bad stories. For example, here’s part of what the superlative Wilentz wrote about the Love Story bull-roar:
WILENTZ (9/25/00): Journalists, prompted by the RNC, were also instrumental in publicizing other Gore pseudo-scandals. In one of these, Gore supposedly fabricated a personal connection to Erich Segal's weepy best-seller (and later hit movie) Love Story. At least as early as March 1999, the RNC faxes began reviving the story, first reported by Time in December 1997. And on January 28, 2000, a Boston Globe piece titled "Gore Record Scrutinized for Veracity" claimed that "[Gore] has also said that he and his wife, Tipper, were the models for the movie 'Love Story,' only to be contradicted by author Erich Segal." On February 17, The New York Times repeated the charge, in passing, in an article entitled "Questions Over Veracity Have Long Dogged Gore."

In fact, Gore never made the claim, and Segal never contradicted him...
From that, a reader might have thought that the press corps’ pimping of this tale was occasional and episodic. In fact, Gore was endlessly savaged on this inane basis, starting in March 1999. And liberal journals, including the Prospect, had endlessly failed to address it.

“Will Pseudo-Scandals Decide the Election?” That headline asked a very good question, and we soon got a bad answer: Yes! But the Prospect was hardly alone in its lazy attitude toward these punishing demon tales—tales which had been nailed into place all the way back in March 1999:

The New Republic almost completely ignored the corps’ demon tales, managing to post a few timid complaints as the campaign neared its end. At that point, they might as well have sent mail-grams to Martians. (As we’ve noted, we were asked, by owner Marty Peretz, to write an article for TNR about the press corps’ war against Gore. We submitted the article in May or June of 2000—but it never appeared, nor did anything like it.)

The Washington Monthly inverted the Prospect’s approach. It ran a cover story in April 2000 about the bogus attacks on Gore, then rarely mentioned the topic again. (Full disclosure: The article was largely plagiarized from THE DAILY HOWLER, through no fault of its superlative author, Bob Parry, whose attributions were deep-sixed.) But alas! After this one cover story—it appeared in March 2000—the Monthly largely acted as if the problem had been solved.

The Nation took the most novel approach. As late as October 16, 2000, it published a crackpot piece by Alexander Cockburn. (At present, Cockburn claims that global warming is a hoax and that Gore is a tool of the nuclear industry.) Weeks before the nation would vote, Cockburn recited endless claims about Big Liar Gore (He said that he invented the Internet! He lied about the union lullaby!), then ended with this stirring paragraph:
COCKBURN (10/16/00): Gore's a fibber through and through, just like Bill. A sad experience in the closing weeks of the campaign is to encounter liberals desperately trying delude themselves that there is some political decency or promise in the Democratic ticket. There isn't. Why talk about the lesser of two evils, when Gore is easily as bad as Bush and in many ways worse? The "lesser of two evils" is by definition a matter of restricted choice, like a man on a raft facing the decision of whether to drink seawater or his own urine. But in this election there are other choices, starting with Nader and the Greens. It isn't just a matter of facing seawater or piss.
So it went as The Nation enabled our future war with Iraq. Good job, you f*cking losers!

We began with the Prospect, so let’s end there. Marshall did some superlative work, occasionally showing an advanced understanding of Gore’s problem with the mainstream press. Josh was remarkably clear on these matters. On September 11, 2000, he discussed the role VP hopeful Joe Lieberman would play in the fall campaign. Starting in paragraph 2, he wrote this:
MARSHALL (9/11/00): Gore faces many challenges over the next two months. But his greatest obstacle may be the simple fact that most political reporters don't like him. I don't mean kinda—I mean, they really don't like him. For better or worse, most Beltway reporters view the vice president with a mix of bemusement and contempt. They may not think much of George W. Bush, and they may not vote for him. But the feelings the Texas governor generates just don't compare to those reserved for the vice president. Consider how Gore's media image has changed over recent years. A decade ago, Gore was viewed as an attractive, if rather precocious, rising star of his party. Today one often finds him portrayed as deceptive, ambitious, craven, opportunist, and unprincipled as well as inept—a caricaturist's catalogue of political ills. Familiarity may breed contempt, of course. But every nook and cranny of Gore's personality has been pulled and pried at until even positive attributes like curiosity and intellect sometimes get warped into bad qualities like haughtiness and condescension.

Some of this is Gore's own fault. He lacks the common touch. He has changed positions on some issues. He chats up the traveling press far less often than his rival George W. Bush. And if you look at Gore on the hustings, when he's waiting to be introduced for a speech, you'll often see a man who looks distressingly ill at ease. One of Bill Clinton's great strengths has been his intuitive ability, in the face of withering attacks, to roll with the punches and dole out amiability and fury in more or less the proper amounts. Clinton sometimes thrived on those attacks; but not Al Gore. They've battered him into a self-protective shell that has only aggravated the press's and many people's sense of him as overcautious and calculating, scripted and thus inauthentic.

But none of these shortcomings fully accounts for the press's sour view of the vice president. At the heart of the edginess in the coverage of Gore is lingering bitterness and consternation over his boss. Gore has gotten himself trapped in the web of the press's vexed feelings about Bill Clinton. For years Beltway journalists watched Clinton slip the noose again and again in countless scandals, both real and imagined. For many, the more he cheated political death, the more frenzied they grew in their efforts to find some scandal or outrage that would finally sink him. The failure of impeachment and the president's still commanding levels of public support were just baffling to most political reporters. And the punditry has become wedded to the notion that somewhere, somehow there must be some reckoning for Clinton's sins. That's the genesis of that obsessive media talk about Bill Clinton's scandal-shattered legacy, and also the root of the deeply held belief that Gore logically must—and should—be paying the price for Clinton's transgressions.

Of course, this simplistic morality play has the added benefit of containing an element of truth: Though Clinton would be elected for a third term despite media misgivings, public opinion polls indeed show that discontentment with Gore is shared by a portion of the public as well as the press. But one needn't dismiss the notion of "Clinton fatigue" out of hand or blame the press for all Gore's troubles to realize that the vice president's relentlessly negative press has been a persistent, significant drag on his campaign. Getting out of Clinton's shadow would have been a key part of Al Gore's convention strategy even if Bill Clinton were a paragon of domestic virtue. The fact that Clinton isn't only makes the need all the more acute. But most journalists already look at Gore through such a critical lens that any such effort would almost certainly have become fodder for endless nit-picking and second-guessing.
Because Lieberman was “the darling of [the] press corps,” he might help with these matters, Josh wrote.

We agree with almost all of that. In our view, Josh understood the situation extremely well. (Not perfectly: Gore couldn’t “chat up the traveling press” in the way Bush was doing, because the traveling press was eager to turn any random comment into the next pseudo-scandal. Gore was still chatting up the traveling press in November 1997, as the press was beginning to turn against him. Result? An accurate and utterly pointless remark was turned into Al Gore said he inspired Love Story. Pols who are targets of press corps hatred simply can’t chat up the press.) But understanding doesn’t help unless it’s turned into determined, repetitious work. The War Against Gore began at full speed in March 99, and it ran for twenty straight months. With a few rare exceptions, the Prospect slept. So did the other three journals.

In fairness, none of us really understood how bad this press problem was back then. Surely, by today, the problem is clear to all comers. Or so one would think until the Post starts vouching for Gerth (and pimping murky, tired old tales)—and young writers at our liberal journals choose to stare off into air. Right now, the mainstream press is killing Clinton and Gore, and being extremely dismissive of Edwards. Given what we’ve seen in the past fifteen years, can anyone really doubt that Obama’s turn will come if he wins nomination?

MONDAY—PART 4: The refusal to serve.