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2 April 1999

Our current howler (part IV): A classic revived

Synopsis: The Love Story hoo-hah was back in the news. Great stories just always seem current.

Commentary by Bruce Morton
Inside Politics, CNN, 3/19/99

Author of ‘Love Story’ Disputes Gore Story (Hint: Tipper Wasn’t Jenny)
Melinda Henneberger, The New York Times, 12/14/97

Gore Internet gaffe gives critics club for campaign
Rowan Scarborough, The Washington Times, 3/16/99

Commentary by Sean Hannity
Hannity & Colmes, Fox News Channel, 3/22/99

Commentary by Chris Matthews
Hardball, CNBC, 3/16/99

Gore Exhorts Core Democrats to ‘Stand With Me’
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 3/21/99

Why should the press get these inane stories right? Because once these stories get into the lore, the stories pretty much never die. Case in point: there was Bruce Morton, on Inside Politics, reviving the Love Story hoo-hah:
MORTON: Then there was Love Story. Gore once claimed the two characters in the movie Love Story were based on his wife Tipper and himself. The author said, “News to me,” and Gore backed off.
Yep. This was Morton just two weeks ago, and it’s amazing a broadcaster can get so much wrong in the space of a 34-word report. “News to me,” the author said? Here’s how Henneberger had quoted the author:
HENNEBERGER: Those reports [about Love Story] were half-true, Mr. Segal said. The character of the preppy Harvard hockey player Oliver Barrett 4th was modeled on both Mr. Gore and his college roommate, the actor Tommy Lee Jones.
It’s sad enough that major journalists waste their time on nonsense like this. But Morton not only had wasted his time; he had broadcast a report that was plainly wrong.

But Morton had merely repeated the spin that filled the press in the past several weeks. The exciting version of the Love Story tale was being pushed by Republican spinners. Republican spinners were deeply alarmed at Vice President Gore’s stunning character flaws; and willing scribes got busy typing, passing on ginned-up reports. We’ve told you before--they just love getting spun. Here was the Times’ Rowan Scarborough:

SCARBOROUGH: [Gore] once told reporters he and wife Tipper were the models for the best-selling novel “Love Story” assertion author Erich Segal said was untrue.
Both parts of Scarborough’s spin were inaccurate. But Sean Hannity had heard the same story:
HANNITY: Then he said, for example, that he and Tipper were the model for Love Story. The author said that that’s not true.
And then, of course, inevitably--Chris. Nobody does it better:
MATTHEWS: Why does he do this stuff? Bob Wexler, a co-Democrat with this guy, why does Al Gore keep making, a bright guy who makes preposterous claims like he invented the Internet and he starred in Love Story. I’m just asking.
Matthews may have been kidding; it wasn’t quite clear. With Chris, one is never quite sure.

But it wasn’t just the reliable shills who were out there reciting the spin. More credible journalists also found ways to pass on the current hoo-hah:

CONNOLLY: But critics say the latest Gore gaffe fit a pattern of personal puffery. Remember, they noted, in 1997 when Gore suggested he and wife Tipper were the models for Erich Segal’s teary “Love Story”?
Connolly didn’t say it; “critics” did. Without any comment, she passed the mess on. The invented tale was back in the news, displaying Gore’s character flaws.

Before we leave this much-beloved story, let’s recall how the whole thing began. It began on a plane, with a late-night remark; neither journalist present on the plane seemed to think the remark was important. Then, miles away, a columnist believed she had somehow discerned Gore’s dark motive. It turned out that Time had misquoted the veep; as it turned out, author Segal agreed with Gore’s statement. But admitting that fact would have ruined the story, so the better version of the tale was bruited on.

Does it matter if the press corps gets stuff like this right? Only if our discourse matters. There are serious issues in the world to discuss; there are serious questions about the Clinton years Candidate Gore will surely have to answer. Forgive us if we are less than sanguine about that discussion if it will be packaged with groaners like this.

Meanwhile, our internationally-acclaimed Task Force on Classical Allusions was watching the debate from their sumptuous quarters. The graybeards finally presented their view. We unsheathe that report for you next.

Tomorrow! Smile-a-while: Our internationally-acclaimed Task Force on Classical Allusions recalled a story even older than Love.

Visit our incomparable archives: With Morton, when it rains it pours. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/99, for an earlier report on his howling broadcast.