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Daily Howler: The clowns spilled out of the Volkswagen bus--but they're missing from Gore's newest book
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AL GORE HAS BEEN SCARING THE CHILDREN! The clowns spilled out of the Volkswagen bus—but they’re missing from Gore’s newest book: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 25, 2007

WHAT RICHARD COHEN DIDN’T KNOW...: Richard Cohen’s June 19 column was full of misleading or inaccurate statements, as a good many people noted (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/20/07). But Cohen saved his most peculiar statement for his subsequent, Post on-line chat. We refer to the following Q-and-A, which we’ve reproduced in full. In his answer, Cohen flatly says that Valerie Plame wasn’t covert under terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), the legal statute called into play by her outing:
QUESTION (6/19/07): The spin seems to be that because Armitage may have been the initial leaker and he didn't violate the IIPA, no one who subsequently disclosed Plame's name or status could have committed a crime. I don't think that is a correct interpretation of the statute. Is it?

COHEN: My understanding of it is that a covert agent—in order for you to commit a crime by exposing a CIA agent, they had to be stationed overseas in a covert position, and then there is a time limit on it. My understanding further is that this law only has been invoked once, when a secretary at an African embassy told her boyfriend there was a CIA agent there. I really don't think that anybody thought Valerie Plame fit that, because she wasn't overseas—no one thought they were risking her life, she was working in McLean, Va.

You have to ask yourself, what was Joe Wilson thinking? Did he really think he could write a column in the New York Times without risking blowing the cover of his wife? I find that hard to believe.

The important thing here is that, just to give you an example of this being routine Washington stuff, is that Woodward was told this by Armitage and did nothing with it. He didn't see it as news. Novak used it in a column but it was a while before anyone viewed this as being important. Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, Walter Pincus, a lot of people had this information, and it wasn't a page one story. No one thought it was the outing of a covert CIA agent—and in fact she wasn't covert—it was just a leak.
“I really don't think that anybody thought Valerie Plame fit” the legal definition of “covert agent,” Cohen said. Later on, he flatly said this: “In fact she wasn’t covert.”

These statements were striking because they were made on June 19 of this year. For several years, there had been a rolling debate about whether Plame was really “covert” under terms of the relevant statute (the IIPA) when her identity was revealed. But on May 25 of this year, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald authored an official court filing (click here). In it, he made an extremely significant statement; he told the court that he believes Plame was “covert” under terms of the statute. In fact, he said this “was clear” from the start:
FITZGERALD (5/25/07): [I]t was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.
Fitzgerald’s reading of the statute and evidence doesn’t necessarily have to be right. But Fitzgerald also filed an “Unclassified summary of Valerie Wilson’s CIA employment and cover history” which seems to support and amplify his judgment (click here). One key part of this document is, unfortunately, a bit murky. But in this document, Fitzgerald asserts that Plame was “a covert CIA employee for whom the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States” at the time that her identity was revealed.

Again, these filings were made on May 25. The filings became public a few days later. But so what? On June 19, Cohen was still saying, “I really don't think that anybody thought Valerie Plame fit” the legal definition of “covert agent.” Four weeks earlier, the prosecutor said he thought that—but Cohen didn’t seem to have heard. “In fact she wasn’t covert,” Cohen said—a full month after Patrick Fitzgerald said it “was clear” that she was.

Question: Is it possible that Cohen didn’t know what Fitzgerald had told the court? We became curious, and decided to check. Our answer appears here tomorrow.

TOMORROW: ..and why didn’t he know it.

TURNING US RUBES AGAINST EDWARDS: Does mainstream press coverage change peoples’ votes? On Friday, the New York Times offered a slippery, front-page report suggesting (for the three millionth time) that there has to be something wrong with a rich man (John Edwards) who would campaign against poverty. Matt Yglesias offered a post about the piece, and a reader named Jennifer offered three comments, saying how angry she was about Edwards’ misconduct. Here are her first two posts:
JENNIFER, FIRST COMMENT: The misuse of a supposedly charitable foundation is a terrible thing, and the misuse of a charity by a presidential candidate means I can no longer support the candidate.

Here is a person who supposedly cares for others, showing no care at all other than to be president. This is a problem that cannot be "addressed." The possibility of John Edwards being president or vice president has sadly ended.

JENNIFER, SECOND COMMENT: How can misuse of funds raised for an anti-poverty foundation ever be addressed by a candidate who is forever telling us of concern for poverty? I was heartsick at this story, but am simply mad now.
Of course, some readers can see right through these posts; they know that “Jennifer” is really the Clinton campaign, engaging in typical mobster behavior. (More on that impulse below.) For ourselves, we’ll take Jennifer’s posts at face value. Many people might have had this reaction to the slippery news report which appeared on the Times’ front page. Why “slippery?” Two subsequent posters replied to Jennifer, and each made valuable points. First, this comment by jpe:
COMMENTER JPE: Please, do tell how funds were misused. I'm dying to know. Please take into consideration that, contra the Times article, the purpose of the charity wasn't to fight poverty, but to come up with solutions to America's problems here and abroad. That's straight off their federal filing.

I'm sure you'll have a well-thought out answer that doesn't rely solely on the Times piece.
In fact, jpe himself had erred by describing the Edwards org as a “charity.” Commenter BruceMcF explained:
COMMENTER BRUCEMCF: Either the reporter is confused, or is trying to confuse you, Jennifer. The story does not focus on the charity CPO Foundation, which raised the money to run College for Everyone in a county in North Carolina, and to bring college student volunteers for spring break working in New Orleans.

It focuses on the Center for Progress and Opportunity itself, and contributions to the CPO were not tax exempt because it was not a charity. The CPO is a "social welfare" organization, which is free to engage in lobbying and public education, but can only promote a political candidate to its members. Many organizations are set up like that—AARP is an example...

The article stressed the tax-exempt status of a not-for-profit corporation—if it had stressed [the fact that] contributions were taxable, that would make it clearer that it was not talking about the charity.
We agree; the article played it fast and slick with the notion that the CPO was a “charity.” Reporter Leslie Wayne did mention, in passing, that contributions to the CPO were not tax-exempt. But this basic point was glossed in every other part of the report. And oh yes: We weren’t told that Edwards has done nothing wrong until the next-to-last paragraph! By that time, many readers—many readers like Jennifer—may have stopped reading, filled with disgust.

As BruceMcF says, it’s possible that the Times reporter was simply confused or sloppy. Over the years, though, we have become less charitable ourselves when it comes to matters like this; we have come to see that this kind of “confusion” is part of the slick and slippery culture at our biggest newspapers. People like Wayne tend to play fast and slick with our most important political figures. Well-intentioned people like Jennifer come along and get taken—get played for rubes.

We’ll take a guess: In those comments by Jennifer, you see a decent, well-intentioned person being turned away from a major candidate because of a slippery piece of “reporting.” But then, this “confused” treatment of Big Dem hopefuls started with Jeff Gerth’s front-page reporting about Whitewater, way back in 1992. It has been going on for the past fifteen years—and yes, it has transformed our politics. In 1999, we learned on the front page of the Times that Al Gore’s brilliant Earth in the Balance was “filled with loony asides...that may help explain his curious affinity with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf.” But who knows? Maybe Michiko Kakutani was just “confused” when she wrote that, too.

Meanwhile, it’s sad to see how many commenters, here and elsewhere, immediately said that some Dem campaign must have slipped this story to Wayne. Alas! The Times has been trashing Big Dems for the past fifteen years—and we libs still can’t make out the pattern! What will it takes before we rubes start to see the real shape of our lives?

Special report: The assault on...Al Gore!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: The Post has been playing the fool about Gore. Reach each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Deborah Howell has her hands full with the Post’s childish conduct. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/19/07.

PART 2: Gore is right, the Post review said. But so what? He’s just so annoying! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/20/07.

PART 3: Today, the Post plays the fool about Gore., Long ago, they were bent on destruction. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/22/07.
In Part 4, we turn to the book itself—and answer its central question.

PART 4—AL GORE HAS BEEN SCARING THE CHILDREN: You have to hand it to Alan Ehrenhalt; he may have written the silliest opening paragraph in the history of American book reviewin’. Asked to limn Al Gore’s new book, he offered a comical framework:
EHRENHALT (5/26/07): Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match—or would want to. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments—often important ones—in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people.
So true! What pol would want to be like Gore? In the past year, he has authored two best-selling books; he has starred in a heralded documentary (the third-biggest grossing such film of all time); and he has even seen this film win the Oscar. He has transformed the world’s debate on warming and—just to top his miseries off—he has even found himself nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize! But uh-oh! When Ehrenhalt sat and pondered Gore, he somehow managed to see a man who “annoys the maximum possible number of people”—a man no pol would want to resemble! Just ahead—enjoy a good laugh! And as you do so, ask yourself this: Could anyone give fuller expression to the goony outlook of the powdered elite we still describe as our “press corps?”

In truth, your “press corps” has become a gang of daft Antoinettes—and Ehrenhalt was expressing their world view quite perfectly. He agreed with what Gore said in his book, which he called “essentially truthful.” But so what? He built his review around a different theme: But Al Gore is just so annoying! Never mind that Gore’s right, he seemed to say. Being right doesn’t count any more.

For the record, we would have welcomed a review which challenged the contents of Gore’s new book; on balance, we think the book fails to come to terms with the problem it brilliantly states. And yes, Gore defines our current problem quite briskly. Why, you might say he’s right from the start:
GORE (page 3): It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong.
Indeed, this site has written about that problem over the course of the past nine years. Gore is right: Our discourse has become impossibly strange. And no, he’s clearly not alone in the sinking feeling this gives him.

For the record, Gore first spoke these important words in a major speech in October 2005. As he continues in his book, he ties the strangeness of our discourse to a series of disastrously bollixed decisions—decisions which have badly damaged our national interests and changed the history of the world. Here is the fuller passage in which Gore defines the problem:
GORE (page 3): It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess—an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time: the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy, Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole.

While American television watchers were collectively devoting 100 million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness. For example, hardly anyone now disagrees that the choice to invade Iraq was a grievous mistake. Yet, incredibly, all of the evidence and arguments necessary to have made the right decision were available at the time and in hindsight are glaringly obvious.
Our discourse has become deeply—and destructively—strange. Already, Gore’s book has produced some superlative public discussions because it articulates that problem. But to our mind, the book doesn’t really come to terms with the most obvious source of this broken debate. The book discusses the technologies of our public discussion—but avoids discussing the sorts of people who are leading our public debates. It discusses the technology of TV—but spends little time discussing the people who speak to us using that medium.

There may be merit to Gore’s views about the technologies of our discussion—about the merits of print vs . TV vs. the Internet. But what has made our modern discourse so strange? Surely, it’s the people leading it! Indeed, we got a perfect illustration of that problem after Gore’s new book was released. We got it via the Washington Post, which presented a string of clownish reactions to the new book and its author.

Forget about the TV business (it’s TV technology which Gore finds most troubling). What happened in print, at the Washington Post, as Gore’s important new book was published? The clowning at the paper was stunning—and it provided a perfect illustration of the broken discourse Gore’s book derides. Gore is too fat! No, Gore is annoying! No, he uses big words! And he doesn’t have footnotes! The clowns all spilled from the Volkswagen bus, as they have done for the past many years. But Gore’s new book doesn’t mention these people. He gives this broken cohort a pass.

For the record, it isn’t hard to understand why a major public figure like Gore might not want to lead this debate. Gore is a major, important world figure—and yes, he needs the work of the mainstream press to further the global warming discussion. We don’t have the slightest idea how Gore built the framework of his new book—how he decided what went in and stayed out. But as a general matter, it isn’t hard to understand why politicians or other public figures don’t want to challenge the press corps directly. In our view, it wouldn’t be wise—or good for the world—for Gore to be leading this fight.

But that does leave a hole in Gore’s book; it does leave a large part of the story untold. As we’ve noted, the response to Gore’s book at the Post has been clownish; Ehrenhalt’s review was less absurd than several other offerings. But this broken newspaper has been clowning this way for at least the past ten years; today, its reaction to Gore presents as farce, but once the paper was far more destructive. In 1999 and 2000, for example, the paper staged an outright War Against Gore—a war which sent George Bush to the White House. This war goes unmentioned Gore’s new book—but it had nothing to do with TV technology. It had to do with the empty heads—and the broken souls—of the powdered elite which now serves at the Post. It had to do with the people of our mainstream “press corps,” not with their technology.

What is missing from Gore’s new book? Ceci Connolly is missing—and Chris Matthews, and Maureen Dowd! And one other person is away without leave. That person is, alas, Emily Yoffe.

This morning, Yoffe offers the latest column about overwrought Gore, this time on the Post’s op-ed pages. Granted, it’s not as inane as other recent entries, in which, for example, Dana Milbank devoted a “sketch” to the claim that Gore uses many big words. But Yoffe’s column is still quite daft—and for some reason, our most important political newspaper decided to run it this morning. Why did they do that? We have no idea. But here again, you see the strangeness of our discourse. It doesn’t stem from the effect TV might have on our brains; it stems from the fact that a vapid elite is now in charge of our major news organs. They seem to think that columns like this one make sense. Or they simply enjoy trashing Gore.

What is wrong with Yoffe’s column? Frankly, it’s a bit hard to tease out her argument; she seems to be saying that Al Gore has been scaring the children with all this talk about global warming. And she seems to say that Gore shouldn’t do this because the science isn’t really that clear. Unfortunately, Yoffe doesn’t show the slightest sign of knowing much about climate science. In this passage, we see the kind of half-baked work that is now good enough for the bright bulbs in charge of the Post:
YOFFE (6/25/07): It's also hard to believe assertions that the science on the future of our climate is settled when climate scientists can't agree about the present—or the past (there is contention about the dates, causes and even the existence of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age that followed). Now, Gore and others say that Katrina was a product of global warming and that we can expect more and bigger storms. But there is actually brisk scientific debate over the role global warming plays—if any—in the creation of hurricanes.
There are many problems with Yoffe’s claims and insinuations about climate science. To cite one, have Gore and others really said that Katrina was “a product of global warming?” More significantly, does Yoffe understand that it isn’t “the creation” of hurricanes that is theoretically affected by warming so much as their strength? Again, there’s little in Yoffe’s piece to suggest that she knows a lot about climate science. But so what? Darlings, she knows that Gore is annoying! This judgment is conveyed throughout—in this insipid (but familiar) early passage, for example:
YOFFE: Usually we want to protect our children from awful events, adjusting the message to suit their age. Certainly we tried to do that after Sept. 11. But an essential part of the global warming awareness movement is the belief that scaring us to death is the best way to spur massive change. Gore explicitly compares warming to the Nazis of the last century and terrorists of this one.
Al Gore has been scaring the children! But then, as weak as Yoffe seems on her climate science, she’s just that strong on the science of GoreSpin. Does Gore “explicitly compare warming to the Nazis of the last century?” Less childishly, Gore has long compared our avoidance of the warming debate to the denial which Europe showed as Hitler moved to consolidate power. But the childish boys and girls of the press corps have long delighted in silly variants of this utterly childish construction (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/2/99, for example). It got its start at the RNC—and ends up today in the Post.

In fairness, let’s say it again: Yoffe’s column is almost bright compared to the nonsense concerning Gore which has recently littered the Post. She doesn’t claim that Gore is too fat; she doesn’t charge that he uses big words. Nor does she play the cosmic magoo, yelping about missing footnotes. But Yoffe shows little sign of knowing what she’s talking about—and her piece is driven along by familiar images of that annoying (and overwrought) Gore. Today, dear readers, Gore isn’t too fat; today, Al Gore has been scaring the children! In this column, you see the shape of the broken discourse whose “strangeness” Gore says we can no longer duck. But his book does tend to avoid explaining where so much of the strangeness has come from.

Many, many people have seen it; the press corps’ clownish reaction to Gore’s book is exactly what Gore has been talking about. He said our discourse was broken—was “strange”—and the press corps seemed determined to prove it! They couldn’t wait to run through the streets, shouting out their daft reactions. Here’s part of the one letter the Post book section published about Ehrenhalt’s oddball review:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (6/3/07): Former Vice President Al Gore has written a book called The Assault on Reason. Alan Ehrenhalt's review helps to advance Gore's thesis that in the United States objective truth often ranks second to subjective caricatures of public figures, ad hominem attacks and massive floods of disinformation.

Ehrenhalt admits that "The Assault on Reason is, like much of what Gore has said over the years, essentially truthful." The reader finds this important assertion about two-thirds of the way through the review. It is almost an afterthought. Equally, if not more important, to Ehrenhalt, are subjective, personal (and shopworn) criticisms of Gore as "smug and self-centered," "desperate to display his erudition" and a pedant...

C— E—
Washington, D.C.
Gore said that our discourse has become deeply strange; the Post couldn’t wait to prove he was right. In our view, the weakness of Gore’s new book is its failure to discuss this basic part of our current deep problem. What has made our discourse so strange? Simple: The strange elite which controls it! No, they’re aren’t very smart, and they aren’t very serious—but they are in control of our public discussions. They don’t like big words—and they don’t like the Clintons or Gore. For that reason, you can count on one thing: When Gore steps forward and gets something right, they will instantly say he’s annoying.

These people have built a powerful strangeness into our broken public discourse. As a nation, we’ll continue to make catastrophic decisions as long as these overpaid, overpraised losers direct the shape of our discourse.