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30 April 1999

Smile-a-while: Fairly typical

Synopsis: Tucker Carlson couldn’t find a quote that was silly enough. So he made one a little bit better.

The Real Al Gore
Tucker Carlson, The Weekly Standard, 5/19/97

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

You’re going to say we’re overdoing a bit with today’s critique of Tucker Carlson, but his short treatment of Earth has stuck in our mind since he penned it some two years ago. By the way, we think Carlson is one of Washington’s best political writers--clever and witty, and extremely prolific. But Carlson runs with a tough, rude crowd, and occasionally wants to be one of the boys. Indeed, it’s an impulse we constantly warn our own analysts to go to great lengths to avoid.

Anyway, in an article marbled with spin and error, Carlson touched on Earth in the Balance. And Carlson signaled, right away, this would be no normal critique:

CARLSON: Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit came out just in time to be used against [Gore] in the presidential campaign, and the Clinton communications staff spent a good part of the race trying to respond to charges that Gore had gone off the deep end--that he had become, as Admiral James Stockdale put it in one of the vice presidential debates, one of those “fanatics who want to overdo this thing.”

Never had critics gone after Gore by citing Jim Stockdale from the VP debates! But Carlson soon was listing the problems he himself found in Earth in the Balance:

CARLSON: On page 304, Gore lets it drop that his “Global Marshall Plan” to save the environment will cost the United States “almost $100 billion a year.” Twenty pages later, he calls for the elimination of the internal combustion engine.

Did you think the Standard would publish on Earth without playing the internal combustion canard? See yesterday’s DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/99, to see how silly this comment really was. But Carlson’s remark on the Global Marshall Plan wasn’t exactly up to snuff either. Bob Zelnick, no fan of Earth in the Balance, discussed this very same critique, made by Dan Quayle at those VP debates:

ZELNICK: Quayle, in a passing attempt to tap Gore’s environmental vulnerability, accused him of endorsing a $100 billion transfer of resources to the Third World, where in fact Gore, in endorsing an environmental “Marshall Plan,” had simply mentioned that the original plan cost $100 billion in 1990 dollars.

And wouldn’t you know it? Gore also said this, in the part of Earth to which Carlson referred:

GORE: Today, of course, the United States cannot conceivably be the principal financier for a global recovery program...The financial resources must now come from Japan and Europe and from wealthy, oil-producing states. (page 303)

The truth is, Gore had said nothing like what Carlson described for his readers.

Oh well. As we’ve seen, all of this is par for the course, in the silly gong show that has swirled around Earth. But for our analysts, the life-long learning began when Carlson gave a “quote” from Gore’s book. It was long-established conservative practice to produce a silly quote from Earth--a quote designed to show the reader just how weird and extreme Gore was. And, after quoting Stockdale saying Gore was a “fanatic,” Carlson offered this:

CARLSON: In fact, Gore had become just that. “We now face the prospect of a global civil war between those who refuse to consider the consequences of civilization’s ruthless advance and those who refuse to be silent partners in the destruction,” Gore writes in a typical passage from page 294.

Ah, memories! Back when Carlson wrote his piece, construction was just under way here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, our sprawling campus in the gently rolling foothills of Baltimore County’s very tony horse country. The remarkable facility in which we’re now housed--total state-of-the-art for world press-critique web sites--was still just a dream in the analysts’ eyes when they first read “The Real Al Gore.”

But the savvy analysts took a break to double-check what Gore had said. And here is what they actually saw when they looked at the page Carlson cited:

GORE: We now face the prospect of a kind of global civil war between those who refuse to consider the consequences of civilization’s relentless advance... Yep. It wasn’t a global civil war at all--just a “kind of” war that Gore was foreseeing. Carlson had dropped the qualifying phrase that made Gore’s forecast metaphorical. (And the “ruthless” advance that Carlson mentioned? In fact, it had just been “relentless.”) Given all the mischaracterizations of the past two years, Carlson’s slip of the pen now seems almost wholesome. It surprises us now that we even noticed the minor way Carlson spun the quote up.

But the “typical” quote was in fact so “typical” that it hadn’t appeared in Gore’s book at all! The analysts, farm-bred naifs at the time, were very much struck by their finding. They had successfully copied from books since they had written their first eighth grade science reports. They went back to work then, hammering hard, on the wing of our complex that now proudly houses our International Institute for Looking Up Suspect Sayings. (Much of the work in this week’s report has come from this part of our complex.)

The $100 billion? That was false. The internal combustion? Typically silly. We’re surprised we even noticed the quote, with all that we’ve seen in the meantime. But if the press is going to conduct a critique that will help us evaluate Earth’s actual science, it will frequently (untypically) have to get off its duff and tell us when we’re all getting played.

Visit our incomparable archives: Enjoy every episode in our Earth week spectacular:

THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/27/99: Ben Wattenberg didn’t want to be bothered with Earth. So he just read a different book altogether!

THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/28/99: Bob Zelnick offers critiques of Earth that fly in the face of the text.

THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/99: At the very least, the press corps could learn the real state of internal combustion.