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Caveat lector

19 April 1999

The Howler follow-up report: Spin blade

Synopsis: A movie man’s piece in USA Today showed THE HOWLER had it right on those chores.

White House doesn’t require an Ivy League education, but...
Michael Medved, USA Today, 4/15/99

Gore makes his candidacy official
David Yepsen, The Des Moines Register, 3/16/99

Recent public and private communications had suggested to us that we had it all wrong--that we had misread the intent of major scribes on the very crucial Gore farm chore hoo-hah (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/12/99). We had said that work by the Weekly Standard and Michael Kelly suggested the VP had fibbed on those chores. Kelly and the Standard’s Scrapbook editors wrote to insist we’d misread them.

Luckily, there’s always Michael Medved, hammering the spin straight on out. Here’s his opening, in USA Today, on that very same silly subject:

MEDVED: Al Gore’s fanciful recollections of a rustic boyhood, learning to “clear land with a double-bladed ax,” in a recent interview with The Des Moines Register only focused fresh attention on his actual background as a lifelong preppie who attended exclusive St. Albans School for Boys before going to Harvard University.

Gore’s delusional view of himself as an agro-American may make him unique among presidential candidates...

To Medved, Gore’s “fanciful” recollections stamp him as “delusional,” because his” actual background” is something quite different. In this presentation, Medved directly expresses the very spin that has grown around Gore’s extremely crucial statement--ever since Jim Nicholson blast-faxed to the world the message that Gore was “shoveling it.”

Based on their recent communications, it seems that Kelly and Scrapbook didn’t quite realize that Nicholson was trying to transmit this message--and they didn’t understand that this was the message their own presentations would surely convey. Though we would never assert that Kelly or Scrapbook were being less than candid in their protestations, we’re glad to be able to give them a look at the campaign into which they were drawn. Medved’s artless spin, lacking all guile, shows the plain meaning of the silly campaign.

We’re less impressed with USA Today for publishing this large pile of hype. If we are ever to enjoy a serious public discourse, papers like the gaily-hued rag must avoid giving voice to flagrant deception; yet Medved’s presentation flies in the face of twelve years worth of profiles on Gore. As we have pointed out before, Bob Zelnick’s new bio on the veep goes into great detail about those same crucial chores. Maybe Zelnick is “delusional” too--along with his Regnery editors.

Meanwhile, to put the public on notice about Medved, let’s examine his spin-driven closer. Medved has just said that several candidates have Ivy League degrees:

MEDVED: If Al Gore would keep that in mind, he could display more pride and less self-consciousness about his Harvard degree and feel less need to tell the public about plowing uphill with mules and shoveling out hog waste.

No spin is complete without gimmicked-up motive. Gore said what he did about the chores, Medved tells us, because he is embarrassed by his Harvard degree.

Sad. If Medved has read the DMR article to which he refers, he surely understands better. In his interview with the DMR’s David Yepsen, Gore was asked to respond to Senator Bradley’s statement that “he has had broader life experiences than Gore.” (Bradley had said, in an Iowa appearance, that Gore’s life had been principally lived in Washington.) It was to that question that Gore was responding when he described his farm experiences (after listing a variety of other experiences, including service in Vietnam). Yepsen’s article provides a plain context for Gore’s remarks. Spinner Medved simply makes up another.

We expect little more from Michael Medved. But if USA Today wishes to provide a great discourse, we wonder why they publish hoo-hah like this. At THE HOWLER, we ask two things of our public discourse--that it not be trivial, and that it not mislead. Medved, predictably, fails on both counts. But why can’t his paper do better?

Always read as much as you can: This might be the time to recall the quote from Gail Sheehy’s 3/88 Vanity Fair profile:

SHEEHY: The first hint of Republican nervousness over the young senator from Tennessee surfaced when G.O.P. strategist Kevin Phillips warned that his party had better begin to cut Gore down by “describing him as a spoiled rich kid from St. Albans.”

It is that spin which Medved now serves. He gets to say it if he wants. But in the process, his permissive editors shouldn’t allow him to just make things up.

Because we’re well known for our balance: We’ve polled THE HOWLER’s legion of experts. As a group, we think Medved’s wonderfully original book, Hollywood versus America, is one of the best books we’ve ever read, on any topic.