25 March 1999
Our current howler (part II): Whos shoveling now?
Synopsis: Gores life on the farm didnt fit the corps story. So they pretended it just never happened.
The Chosen One
Marjorie Williams, Vanity Fair, 2/98
Gore: A Political Life
Bob Zelnick, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999
Commentary by Bruce Morton
Inside Politics, CNN, 3/19/99
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 3/24/99
Marjorie Williams, in a Vanity Fair profile, discussing Al Gores family background:
WILLIAMS: While Gore has been lampooned as Prince Albert, product of a silver-spoon childhood, the reality was more complicated...[Gores father] would become rich after he left the Senate, in the employ of industrialist Armand Hammer. But the senior Gores correspondence is full of suggestions that, when Al was young, the familys upper-middle-class existence was a bit of a stretch.
She went on to discuss that fancy hotel we hear discussed so often:
WILLIAMS: Although the Fairfax Hotel [where the Gores lived in Wasahington] later became the Ritz-Carlton, it was not a posh place at the time Gore was growing up; in any case, the apartment was in their reach only because the hotel was owned by a cousin.
Bob Zelnick, in his new biography of Gore, spells it out even more clearly, and goes on to discuss that life on the farm weve heard derided of late:
ZELNICK: The Gores soon moved into a six-room, eighth-floor apartment of the Fairfax Hotel on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. There they lived rent-free, compliments of cousin Grady Gore, who owned the establishment. To make certain his son would be more than a product of Embassy Row, Al, Sr., insisted the boy spend a fair chunk of his childhood on the familys 250-acre farm...Young Al would spend long weekends, summers, holidays, and his entire seventh year on the Carthage property. The senior Gore said it would build his character to live with the plain people who raised crops and livestock.
Zelnick describes the work regimen Gore Sr. provided for his son; he writes, The young Gore never arrived on the farm without a long list of chores assigned by Senator Gore. Detailed descriptions are found in the book; Williams put it like this:
WILLIAMS: Home was two places--the farm in Middle Tennessee where the Gores raised cattle and tobacco, and Apartment 809 in the Fairfax Hotel, on Embassy Row. On the farm, where he spent his summers and school breaks, his father insisted that he work as hard as the hired laborers to earn his pocket money.
We present these quotes because they may surprise readers, given the dung recently moved by our hard-working press corps, tireless in its back-breaking effort to shovel up scandal and hoo-hah. Gore recently told the Des Moines Register about his work experiences on his familys farm; and the nabobs in the national press set out to prove he was fibbing. Except they only proved the case by their own sad-sack standards; listen, for example, to Mara Liasson, at the presidents recent (3/19) press conference:
LIASSON: Your vice president has recently been ridiculed for claiming that he invented the Internet and spent his boyhood plowing the steep hillsides in Tennessee. I wonder what you think of these claims and what advice youd give him about how to brag on himself without getting in so much hot water.
We hope the readers will remember this question the next time they hear the press corps moan about the slippery, devious, well-crafted language they must parse from that ol debbil Clinton. Liasson implies Gores claims are false without ever actually saying they are; her question is a textbook example of insinuative language, from a reporter who wont say what she plainly implies. But Liasson wasnt alone this past week, in constructing suggestions that Gore had lied. Parse Bruce Morton, on Inside Politics, for slippery insinuation:
MORTON: Then there were Gores comments to the Des Moines Register. My father taught me how to clear out hog waste with a shovel and a hoe. He taught me how to clear land with a double-headed axe. How to plow a steep hillside with a team of mules. Well, Gore was a city kid, father a senator. He grew up in Washington, a well-known private school here, and then to Harvard. Summers at the family farm yes; but mules and double-blade axes? What he meant, a spokesman said, was the fact that the spent his summers working on the family farm. [Our emphasis]
This is broadcasting as bad as it gets. Morton implies throughout that Gore is lying: Gore didnt clear out waste on a farm, hes a city kid who went to Harvard. But how does Morton contradict Gore? He restates Gores words in the form of a question! Like on Jeopardy! Morton never states that Gores claims are false; he merely implies it, throughout his piece, in a tone of voice that was quite plain to viewers.
In the aftermath of the Gore remarks, GOP chairman Jim Nicholson jumped into action, sending out the silly, dim-witted spin were so used to from both of the parties. Mr. Vice President, with all due respect, he intoned, youre shoveling a lot more of it right now than you ever did back then. It was the kind of brainless, fact-averse pleading we endure from those who hate Clintons lying. And I believe we mentioned that this sort of thing is routine from the Democrats too.
In theory, of course, a competent press corps exists to analyze hoo-hah like that. But lets go back and stress the word theory, because the reality today is quite different. Todays reality? Its scandal-inventers like Morton and Liasson, giving us slippery, exciting, false journalism--giving us scandalous tales that they like, and taking care not to mention the facts.
There he goes again: We always turn to Michael Kelly for the least temperate reaction to any situation, and he comes through again with his angry piece in the Wednesday Post. (Kelly is perpetually furious.) Read it, friends, for a textbook example of insinuation without actual statement. Kelly nowhere says that Gores claims are false; but he ridicules the claims throughout his piece. Does Kelly know if Gores statement was false? If he does, why doesnt he say so?
Those stubborn facts: Liasson ridicules Gores steep hillside claim. But here is Zelnick (for Regnery Press!), speaking in his own voice:
ZELNICK: On another occasion, the senior Gore ordered his son take a plow to a particularly steep slope. [Mrs. Gore] argued it was too dangerous but the Senator insisted.
Maybe Zelnick is lying here also.
Visit our incomparable archives: Liassons having a careless year. Last month, she helped to slander Sidney Blumenthal. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/99.