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

23 March 2000

Our current howler (part II): Credibility problems

Synopsis: Excited scribes questioned Gore’s credibility. But they had a few problems themselves.

Campaign reform hypocrisy
Joseph Perkins, The Washington Times, 3/13/00

Testimony by David Strauss
Hearings Before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate, 9/5/97

Campaign reform hypocrisy
Joseph Perkins, The Washington Times, 3/13/00

Between the crossfire and the backfire
Donald Lambro, The Washington Times, 3/20/00

Temple Troubles
Robert Novak, The Washington Post, 3/13/00

Commentary by Sam Donaldson
Washington Journal, C-SPAN, 3/6/00

Gore's Grades Belie Image of Studiousness
David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, 3/19/00

Bad news travels fast in the press corps, which is odd, considering how the group simply hates negativity. On March 13, Joseph Perkins' syndicated column was describing the Chris Mondics piece:

PERKINS: The San Jose Mercury News obtained a batch of previously undisclosed documents which, it reported, "indicate that [Gore] would have had reason to believe" the luncheon he attended at the tax-exempt Buddhist Temple "was for the purpose of raising political money, despite his claims to the contrary." It cites an e-mail message written by the vice president several weeks before the event proving that he knew he would be attending a fund-raiser in Southern California on April 29, 1996.

Yep. There's that March 15 e-mail that Mondics spun, now being hyped by a Mondics reader. (The Mondics article appeared in both the Philly Inquirer and the Mercury News.) Perkins may not have known what Mondics didn't mention—the point we discussed in Tuesday's DAILY HOWLER. According to sworn testimony from DNC finance chief Richard Sullivan, three weeks after the March 15 e-mail, the Hsi Lai temple was picked as the site of the April 29 luncheon—and at that time, Sullivan said, plans for the event were amended. The event would not be a formal fund-raiser, due to the nature of the site. Gore was later briefed on this new plan, according to deputy chief of staff David Strauss.

Do you see how spin get passed along, one helpful scribe to another? Perkins' readers, like Mondics' before them, were now being told about Gore's 3/15 e-mail—and weren't being told about Sullivan's statement that the event's profile changed three weeks after that. Perkins even added a point that Mondics hadn't made. If Gore couldn't tell that this was a fund-raiser, Perkins said, David Strauss could have told him:

PERKINS: And if the veep couldn't figure it out on his own, then someone or other on his staff must have clued him in. For practically everyone on the Gore team—from his deputy chief of staff, David Strauss, to his scheduler, Kimberley Tilley, to his Secret Service detachment, to the Gore family dogs, Shiloh and Daisy—knew the boss was attending a fund-raiser at the tax-exempt Buddhist Temple.

Except that's precisely the opposite of what Strauss had said. Here was Strauss, under oath, testifying about the luncheon:

ALAN BARON (minority counsel): Based on your experience and all the years that you have been doing this sort of thing and attending hundreds of fund-raisers, did this appear to you to have the indicia of a fund-raiser, this event?

STRAUSS: I believe that I know what a fund-raiser is, and this was not a fund-raiser.

This was explained by Strauss a hundred different ways, but you get the gist of his testimony. And no, there is no internal communication where Strauss ever calls the Hsi Lai event a "fund-raiser."

Perkins was improving the story a bit, to entertain his excited readers. It's the same thing Donald Lambro would do, when he sounded off a week later:

LAMBRO: After denying any wrongdoing for over three years, Mr. Gore now admits he "made a mistake" when he attended a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple.

After three years, Gore now admits a mistake—Lambro presents the Republican picture of Gore as a hopeless story-changer. Except here's what Gore said on Today—on January 24, 1997, more than three years back:

GORE: Well, it was a mistake. I did not know that it was a fundraiser. But I knew it was a political event, and I knew that there were finance people who were going to be present. And so that alone should have told me this is inappropriate, and this is a mistake, don't do it. And I take responsibility for that. It was a mistake. But I was not told it was a fund-raiser and that's a fact.

Somehow, Lambro skimmed the statement without noticing that Gore had called the event a "mistake." Lambro and Perkins—challenging Gore's credibility—helpfully give us a chance to see what lack of credibility actually looks like.

Another pundit who's had some trouble with all this is Robert Novak. In a recent dispatch, he too was flogging that e-mail which Gore had sent:

NOVAK: The vice president's basic argument is that he did not know that a previously canceled ethnic fund-raiser had been folded into the temple luncheon. But the accumulation of documents undermines that thesis. A personal Gore e-mail six weeks before the event recommended declining a New York invitation because "we already booked the fund-raisers" in California. A compulsive micromanager, the vice president normally would have known about the change in venue for the money event.

No part of this paragraph is clear and accurate, but let's try to hit the main points. Again, the documentary record makes it plain: The Hsi Lai temple had not even been proposed as a site when Gore sent his e-mail, "six weeks before the event." The temple was selected roughly three weeks after that, according to documentary evidence and Sullivan's testimony. And Gore did know about the new venue, according to the testimony of David Strauss. According to Strauss, he also knew that the event would now not be a formal fund-raiser, because of the Hsi Lai site.

Readers don't get this basic info from reading these selective accounts. And once a basic story line emerges, soon it's recited by everyone. On Washington Journal, right after the Mondics piece, Sam Donaldson also mentioned that e-mail:

DONALDSON: I think the big problem at the moment for Al Gore is Maria Hsia's conviction. That was the Buddhist temple thing. You'll remember the vice president went out there and said he thought he was part of a community outreach program.There are now documents which come to light which show the vice president's Secret Service people thought they were going to a fund-raiser. The vice president himself wrote things which indicate he knew he was going to southern California about that time for a fund-raiser...

That final statement is clearly a reference to the March 15 e-mail. Sullivan testified that, three weeks after that, the plan for a formal fund-raiser changed. But no one heard about it here, or in Mondics, or in Perkins, or in Lambro, or in Novak. Sullivan's testimony had dropped from the tale, making the story much better.


Tomorrow: Donaldson referred to the Secret Service (see above). In recent weeks, so has everyone else.

Reality sucks: We couldn't help chuckling at last Sunday's Post article about Gore's slacker grades in college. David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima got ahold of Gore's transcripts, and it gave them a bit of a problem. In their earlier biographical profiles, they had presented the standard picture of Gore—Gore was the dutiful little robot from birth, with a "compulsion to adhere to the established order." This fit in with the standard, treasured portrait of Gore—Gore as the kid who everyone hates, the kid who infuriates the rest of the class by asking teacher to please give more homework.

But, wouldn't you know it, Gore's first two years at Harvard didn't match up with this picture at all. "His school transcripts are a lot like Bush's," the headline gasped. Here was the opening paragraph:

MARANISS AND NAKASHIMA: If Al Gore is commonly thought of as a grind, the sort of fellow who during his school days would take notes in precise Roman numeral outline, strive mightily to ingratiate himself with teachers, and bring sterling report cards home to his demanding parents, his academic transcripts go some way toward subverting that notion.

Indeed, in Gore's first two years at Harvard he got mostly C's, with one D to round out the grim picture. As usual, the scribes dragged out crotchety old John C. Davis, a retired teacher at St. Albans. Davis carped at Gore's achievement scores on the SATs.

Why were we chuckling? Maraniss and Nakashima marveled several times that Gore slacker performance hadn't matched his stereotypical image. But they themselves had pushed that image—against their own evidence—in their earlier Post profiles of Gore. (Remember? At age seven, he was even "prone to tattling!") As we pointed out at the time, Maraniss and Nakashima had described young Gore totaling his father's car through reckless driving; throwing cherry bombs onto cars from a rooftop; getting into fist fights in algebra class; and water-skiing on his head (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/20/99). Other biographers described other such incidents. Where had it come from, "Gore's reputation for being earnest and hardworking, if somewhat pedantic?" Gore's reputation as "compulsive" pleaser? Among other sources, it had come from Maraniss and Nakashima—from the unyielding devotion to standard accounts they displayed in their prior Post work.