12 April 1999
A Daily Howler rumination: Parsing a scrappy retort
Synopsis: That Scrapbook gang had its feelings hurt when we sent off a recent letter. (Also: Dowd on Bush.)
Internet Al, Down on the Farm
Scrapbook, The Weekly Standard, 3/29/99
President Frat Boy?
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 4/7/99
Weve received a letter from that Scrapbook gang over at the Weekly Standard. It turns out the gang had its feelings hurt by a letter we recently sent. We had written the Standards letters editor about Internet Al, Down on the Farm. We said, Scrapbook clearly implied that Gore was lying in describing his upbringing on the family farm.
Wrong, said the gang at Scrapbook. In saying that Gores account was preposterous, they had meant only that it was laughable, absurd, and ridiculous, because only rich people who play at farming do the things [Gore] described (ax swinging, plowing with a mule, etc.). Their real complaint about the vice president? Gore was a hobbyist down on the farm!
Their explanation parses (in very minor part) but then again, so did President Clintons. And we dont recall the Scrapbook gang supporting such close parsing then. We believe that most readers will leave Internet Al... with the reading weve offered--because Scrapbook labors, from paragraph one, to get its readers to think what we said.
Heres how Internet Al... starts out:
SCRAPBOOK: You probably thought you knew Al Gores life story by now. As told in the New Yorker a few years back, the outlines are these...
And Scrapbook then quotes a paragraph from Peter Boyers 1994 profile, describing the Gores apartment in Washington in the 1960s.
But Scrapbook was not giving the outlines (plural) of Gores life story; it was giving a selective sample. In the Boyer profile, the paragraph immediately preceding the one Scrapbook quoted described the part of Gores life story that took place on the Tennessee farm. Forgive us for thinking that the Scrapbook gang didnt want readers thinking about that.
Scrapbook readers were told two basic things. Gores life story took place in a D.C. hotel, and that his account of doing farm chores was preposterous. Yes--we do think most readers will take this to mean that the farm chores didnt really occur. On what farm could Gore have done the chores? His life story took place in D.C.
At any rate, Scrapbook has won the war on this one--and the book has won it big. Given the weak-willed Washington press corps, the image of Gores somehow suspect farm chores has passed into conventional wisdom. Twelve years worth of profiles describe these chores. But to the CW, they have ceased to exist.
Heres what we think: we think our public discourse shouldnt be trivial, and it shouldnt be misleading or false. Internet Al... is as trivial as it gets. And well bet you a series of demanding farm chores that Scrapbook readers were misled by this hoo-hah.
Defining deviancy Dowd: Maureen Dowd has now set her sights on Texas Governor George W. Bush. Her President Frat Boy involves Governor Bush in the trivialization that has long been her trademark. Dowd apparently conducted a search of 60s newspapers, looking for references to good old George Dub; and she found him quoted in the New York Times, involved in a pointless frat matter. Its the kind of inanity Dowd simply loves. She quickly began typing it up.
It was partly through abject nonsense like this that Dowd conjured up the dim Love Story flap. She scoured her way through old newspaper articles...OK, please, dont make us relate it. We make the key point here again: our public discourse should not be trivial. Weve long heard it said that God is not mocked. We know better. Twice a week, we read Dowd.
Starting tomorrow--neutron bombs away: The analysts howled when they carefully read the latest from that slippery Jeff Gerth.