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24 May 1999

Our current howler (episode I): Building a world-class muffler

Synopsis: Our favorite, Bill Press, sat mutely by while Bob Novak engaged in some car talk.

Commentary by Robert Novak, Bill Press
Crossfire, CNN, 5/19/99

In the Loop
Al Kamen, The Washington Post, 4/30/99

Phew! Even Chris Matthews doesn’t say things like this! Robert Novak was overheating badly in a discussion of Earth in the Balance:
NOVAK: [Gore] says we ought to be able, quote, to establish a coordinated global program to achieve the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustible [sic] engine--“internal” is a car--over say a twenty-five year period, unquote. That’s crazy, isn’t it?
By the way, we’d love to own stock in Novak’s mechanic if Novak says things like this at the shop. When they hear you say things like “internal combustible,” they know they’ve got a rube on their hands. As we’ll see, Novak’s malaprop--like his whole groaning spiel--came straight from a month-old RNC fax. But these days, you don’t even have to know how to talk cars to win the debate on a program like this.

Novak went on to say “he’s a wacko” in referring to Gore’s “crazy statements” on internal combustion. He asked if Gore “was in a delusionary state” when he wrote Earth in the Balance. At the end of the show, he asked Bill Press, “Do you want to eliminate cars, too?” With his idle now at a dangerous high, Novak concluded with this:

NOVAK: The point of the matter is that sooner or later you and the vice president’s friends are going to have to explain these wacko statements he’s made on the environment, or repudiate them.
For the record, the only statement from Earth that Novak cited was the remark about internal combustion.

But, as we showed you a few weeks ago, Novak’s spin was howlingly wrong (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/99). It is abundantly clear in Earth in the Balance that Gore doesn’t want to get rid of the car; he clearly wants to replace current engines with newer, cleaner technology. And was Gore being “wacko” in saying that--in believing that internal combustion could be replaced? Only if you think that the head of GM is “wacko” about the car business also. On January 5, 1998, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal published page-one lead stories from the Detroit auto show, in which CEO John F. Smith predicted “a slow phase-off” of internal combustion in twenty to thirty years (again, see our 4/29 HOWLER). “No car company will be able to thrive in the 21st century if it relies solely on internal combustion engines,” Smith said. Here’s Rebecca Blumenstein, leading her page one Journal story: “Time is starting to run out for the internal combustion engine.”

So Gore was right in 1992 when he said we could dump IC engines. And he hadn’t suggested getting rid of cars--he’d suggested improving their tech. But the RNC has a better story in mind, in which the vice president is making those wacko remarks. And obedient spinners, on major TV shows, compliantly distort the debate.

The real news here is that the RNC’s Nicholson keeps on sending out false information. When a party chairman misleads the public, in our view, that ought to be news. It’s also news that Gore was right--but don’t expect the gloomy Goth press corps to say it. It’s too much to ask the press to report that a public figure could ever be that.

At any rate, it’s nothing new when conservative scribes read Nicholson’s scripts (right down to the gaffes). The real news last Wednesday was the show’s silent partner--the voice “from the left,” Bill Press. Press said nothing, throughout the show, about the howling misstatements by Novak. Bob Novak’s engine was backfiring wildly. But Bill Press may as well have been flacking for Meineke, based on his muffled response.

Finding a match: Car engines don’t feature an open flame. But don’t tell it to the RNC’s Nicholson. On April 30, Al Kamen reported a Nicholson letter expressing concern about Gore’s troubling views:

KAMEN: Nicholson said that “unlike Clinton (who is liberal but pragmatic), Gore is an ideologue who believes the combustible engine (i.e., the automobile) is the earth’s greatest enemy.”
Kamen didn’t mention the errors in substance. But he did pick up on the language problem. “Maybe he meant combustion engine,” Kamen said, after making a few jokes about Nicholson’s gaffe.

Great minds spin alike: We spotted the Nicholson malaprop one other place--in an Augusta Chronicle review of Bob Zelnick’s book, Gore. Like Novak, the reviewer laments how little Gore knows about the internal combustible.

“[Gore’s] notorious tree-hugging book, Earth in the Balance, came out in 1992 replete with some of the craziest quotes of the century,” the review laments. Without hint of irony, it then relates how Gore proposed “eliminating the internal combustible.”

The review is now being circulated by Regnery, in support of Zelnick’s book.

Tomorrow: Ceci Connolly just won’t give up on the fun of the Gore farm chores blather.