Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

17 February 2000

Our current howler (part IV): Kids down the hall

Synopsis: When the Standard says that Gore has vile ways, we always think, "Hey! Look who’s talking!"

Ask Not...
Noemie Emery, The Weekly Standard, 2/21/00

Internet Al, Down on the Farm
Scrapbook, The Weekly Standard, 3/29/99

Gore's Dilemma
Peter Boyer, The New Yorker, 11/28/94

Spinning in the campaign saddle
Arianna Huffington, The Washington Times, 2/6/00

The analysts love their Weekly Standard—they think it's the most interesting of all the journals—until the name "Clinton" or "Gore" comes up, and then things can get slightly crazy. Here, for example, is Noemie Emery, writing strangely in this week's edition:

EMERY: [I]n Bill Clinton, we have one of the least decent men in American history, and possibly one of the least patriotic people in the whole country. On every character test of the patriot, he is its antithesis. He has put his own interests above those of his country, over and over. He has a pattern of picking on powerless women, and then trying to slander or threaten them. He dodged the draft, consciously, because he feared danger. He made more of a fuss over a minor knee injury than FDR ever did about polio...

You think we made that last part up, but there it is, right in the Standard. Bill Clinton is one of our least patriotic people in the country today because he whined when he banged up his knee!

Go ahead—you try to explain it. We've long since given up trying. With certain apparently competent people, something just snaps when they hear that vile name and they're soon writing strange things like that. Just look at Emery's last three quoted sentences. First she alleges conduct—threatening powerless women—that anyone would surely abhor. Then she alleges conduct—dodging the draft—that an entire generation engaged in. By her closer, she's worked herself up to the point where she banishes Clinton over minor knee damage. So some lapse into banshee wailing when the very name "Clinton" is heard.

And over the course of the past several years, some also have managed, through various means, to work themselves up over Gore. The current succession of fevered columns, like the one we saw yesterday from the Standard's Matt Rees, are the fruit of a year's solid effort. In his article, Rees assures us that dishonest Gore only "occasionally mentions" something which Gore brings up every time that he speaks. Our standards have fallen when bright scribes like Rees can be writing such absolute twaddle (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/16/00).

But the truth is, folks, we have a prejudice here. When we hear the Standard call Gore a liar, we have an instant thought: "Hey! Look who's talking!" Our thoughts drift back to March of last year, when the propaganda campaign against Vile Gore had just lately swung into action. (When did this spin campaign begin? Ten seconds after the impeachment trial ended.) In Iowa, David Yepsen asked Candidate Gore to describe his life experiences outside Washington. Gore mentioned Vietnam service and his career as a journalist. And then he mentioned the fact that he'd spent every summer, as a youth, working hard on the Gores' Tennessee farm.

Thus began one of the most disgraceful episodes in the press corps' recent strange history. The story being faxed from the RNC said Gore had actually lived in a fancy hotel! It was right in the good part of Washington! Reliable spinners jumped into line, eager to push the exciting new story. "Deeply dishonest," Donald Lambro called Gore, in the Times. Michael Medved, in USA Today, said "delusional."

Right in the middle of all that turmoil was the Standard's editorial page, "Scrapbook." In a lead editorial—"Internet Al, Down on the Farm"—Rees' companions did their part to help the important new effort:

SCRAPBOOK (paragraph 1): You probably thought you knew Al Gore's life story by now. As told in the New Yorker a few years back, the outlines are these: "Gore was a son of politics, a child of Washington, where his father served for thirty-two years as a congressman and a senator. The family residence was an apartment in the elegant Fairfax Hotel, which was owned by a Gore cousin; young Al walked across the street every morning at the Cosmos Club, where a bus picked him up for the ride to Washington's most elite prep school, St. Albans, on the grounds of the Washington Cathedral."

Scrapbook went on to say that Gore's account of his farm chores was "preposterous," with one part especially nuts. Gore had told Yepsen that his father had made him "plow a steep hillside with a team of mules." The Weekly Standard's team of urban aggies knew that was some kind of tale:

SCRAPBOOK (3): How preposterous. Even when he tries to slum, Gore betrays his blue-blood upbringing. Real farmers, even poor ones, have been hiring bulldozers to clear land since before Al Gore was born, or at least using chainsaws. Only a hobbyist would use an ax. Not to mention, no responsible farmer since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s has plowed a steep hillside; you don't want your topsoil to get washed away.

In closing, Scrapbook linked the story to other (highly spun) cases where Gore had allegedly been making things up. Outraged by the veep's vile ways, Scrapbook indulged in a bit of mild fantasy:

SCRAPBOOK (continuing directly): Not to mention, no responsible farmer since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s has plowed a steep hillside; you don't want your topsoil washed away. As for the mules, it occurs to THE SCRAPBOOK that maybe one of them kicked young Al in the head.

Revealing more of their character than we needed to know, SCRAPBOOK entertained itself with the image of a child being kicked very hard in the head.

But you know us—even then, we knew you have to look these things up. We took out a musty New Yorker volume, and looked up Peter Boyer's 1994 profile. And as you recall, when we looked through the piece, we found what we had halfway expected. Right in the profile—in the paragraph immediately preceding the one Scrapbook quoted—right there for all the world to see, Boyer had written this:

BOYER: That sense is embedded in family lore, such as the story about the time when Al's father, believing that a boy needed to know the rigors of hard work, asked his son, then a teen-ager, to plow a field with a particularly treacherous slope. Pauline Gore worried that the task, requiring the use of an unwieldy hillside plow, was too much to ask of the boy, and she and her husband argued about it. Finally, she yielded, with the sarcastic note, "Yes, a boy could never be President if he couldn't plow with that damned hillside plow."

Right there in the piece the Standard had cited, Boyer explained all about the hillside plowing. Boyer explained all about the plowing the Standard had said was "preposterous."

Immediately preceding! In an excess of fairness, we do want to say that the Standard has a very good explanation. When we first raised these points last year, they sent us an unsigned reply. They never called Gore a liar, they explained, and they never said the hillside plowing didn't occur. And it's true—if you parse their editorial within an inch of its life, you'll see that Gore was slammed for "affectations" and for "slumming." They had actually scored Gore for being a "hobbyist"—they'd never said that his account wasn't true. They had said he wasn't a "responsible farmer," not that he hadn't been a farmer at all. It's amazing how people who just hate slippery language can suddenly turn so, well, so "Clintonesque."

Dear readers, very few people who read that piece would fail to take an implication woven through it—that, as Lambro and others were saying directly, Gore had made up those "preposterous" chores. And there we see, right in the New Yorker, that Scrapbook knew the facts all along. But it wasn't just the Standard playing it cute; Michael Kelly's "Farmer Al" was quite crafty too. Kelly, who had written all about the chores in a detailed 1987 profile, penned an influential column in the Post. Once again being careful not to make false assertions, Kelly clearly implied it was crazy to think that Gore's account of the chores had been true.

Our analysts like Rees' work—he's a very good writer—but we think he can redirect his fury. For our money, if Rees wants to straighten dissemblers out, he can work his way right down the hall! And spare us, O press corps, your deep-dish concern about—Shudder! Swoon! Sigh!—"negativity" from hopefuls. The press corps is crawling with people who knew that the farm chores debacle was a hoax all along. Margaret Carlson is still worried about Love Story "stretches?" Margaret—where were you on the farm chores dissembling?

We'll tell you exactly what Carlson said: Zilch. So it goes with our truth-loving press corps.


Tomorrow: Valentine's Week is over at last. So is one scribe's love for Bush.

Visit our incomparable archives: The farm chores debacle was the press event of the year—a three-month long, outright press hoax. Many writers knew the truth on the long-described chores—but they also knew enough to keep silent (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/99). Adding texture to the press corps' weird conduct, Bob Zelnick's bio of Gore came out last March, right at the time that this story was starting. In his book, Zelnick described the "preposterous" chores in detail. What did the press do? They ignored it!

This story went on for three solid months, endlessly used to define Gore as a liar. So spare us when the press corps says they love accuracy, and just hate all the negative stuff.

Al Hunt, where were you during this?

For a full set of links on our past reporting, see "The 21-year-old intern (and other urban legends)" with full links at the end of the text. Prepare to be thoroughly puzzled.

Meanwhile, do these invented stories ever go away? We love you, Arianna, and we've been showing off the autographed book you kindly gave us in Manchester. ("Keep howling," you penned inside. So we will.) It's in friendship we quote from your current column describing Gore's "chronic deception:"

HUFFINGTON: He invented the Internet, discovered Love Canal, and was the inspiration for "Love Story." He lives on a farm, and was always "pro-choice"...

And so on, and so forth. So it now goes when the press corps decides to buy made-up stories.