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29 March 1999

The Howler review (part II): Even worse Standard practice

Synopsis: We looked up the Standard’s “New Yorker” cite. It turned that out the Standard was fibbing.

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

Gore’s Dilemma
Peter J. Boyer, The New Yorker, 11/28/94

Gore: A Political Life
Bob Zelnick, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999

Maybe now you’ll believe what we’ve tried to tell you about the habits of this sorry press corps. And maybe now you’ll begin to see why we always look up those old cites. As you’ll recall, them Scrapbook fellers at The Weekly Standard were all in a snit over Gore last week. They couldn’t believe what the VP had said about his past life down on the farm (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/99).

Here was Scrapbook’s opening paragraph, in which they explained Gore’s past:

SCRAPBOOK: 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...”

And the New Yorker excerpt went on a bit more, about the life of privilege that “young Al” had had.

Well, it was precisely because of that New Yorker piece that Scrapbook wasn’t buying Gore’s tale, the recent one about how his pappy had taught him to do chores on the farm. We discussed this on 3/25 (linked above); here’s how Scrapbook put it:

SCRAPBOOK: “I’ll tell you something else [my father] taught me,” said Gore. “He taught me how to clean out hog waste with a shovel and a hose. He taught me how to clear land with a double-bladed ax. He taught me how to plow a steep hillside with a team of mules. He taught me how to take up hay all day long in the hot sun.” How preposterous. Even when he tries to slum, Gore betrays his blue-blood upbringing...

Scrapbook said it’s crazy to think that anyone ever plowed a steep hillside. It just isn’t done, the Standard sniffed, and then it went on to say this:

SCRAPBOOK: As for the mules, it occurs to The Scrapbook that maybe one of them kicked young Al in the head.

And how we roared, when Scrapbook said that! It really made for a comical image!

But we showed you, back on 3/25, how Bob Zelnick, in his new Regnery book, describes this very same incident. According to Zelnick, Gore’s father routinely gave Gore taxing chores, to teach him the value of work. In fact, we even got to funnin’ a little, as you may recall from reading the piece. We said that maybe if Scrapbook had home training like Gore’s, it would do some research before it called people liars.

But as it turns out, the Scrapbook folk knew just what they were talking about. The New Yorker piece to which Scrapbook refers is a 1994 Peter Boyer profile, and on Saturday we visited our world-famous archives to reread Boyer’s work. We hungrily fell on Boyer’s piece, and we found the passage the Standard cited. And the preceding paragraph--right before Scrapbook’s cite? It claimed that Gore’s political prospects, since his birth, have been seen as a matter of fate:

BOYER: That sense is embedded in the 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.”

The paragraph describes and explains the very incident which Scrapbook said couldn’t have happened.

“Preposterous”--that’s a big word on the farm. So we looked it up, just to know what it means. It means that the Standard said the VP was lying. Sounds to us like they might mean themselves.

Standard maneuvers: Them Standard boys are city slickers, so they’ll try to wriggle out of this thing. But Boyer describes the incident in his own voice, as, of course, does Zelnick. In fact, Zelnick found, in the plowing incident, the central metaphor of Gore’s entire life! Here’s how Zelnick’s bio ends; this is his closing paragraph:

ZELNICK: And [Gore] knows where he must do that work to meet the expectations set for him, just as he had to fulfill the educational aspirations of his father, or plow the dangerous hillside on the Carthage farm.

Zelnick describes, in great detail, the incidents Scrapbook dismisses as “preposterous.” Now we see that the Standard was well aware of at least one of the incidents. They dismissed what Gore said as being preposterous, because no one ever farms that way. But Boyer made clear that this wasn’t normal farming--this was a dad teaching his son about work.

We think the Standard’s engaged in serious business, calling Gore names on a basis like this. Our question: Will the press corps make the Weekly Standard explain such remarkable conduct?