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25 May 1999

Our current howler (episode II): Keep on churnin’

Synopsis: Ceci Connolly keeps milking those Gore farm chores--for quite a bit more than they’re worth.

For Gore, a More Polished Stump Speech Begins to Bear Fruit
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 5/18/99

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

Ceci Connolly keeps milking those Gore farm chores--for quite a bit more than they’re worth. She keeps insisting there’s somethin’ bad wrong with what the VP done in March. In a dispatch from Iowa, where the whole mess began, she gave the latest spin on the chores:

CONNOLLY: The stump speech debuted in March, but Gore has been unable to find a groove. Gore’s early attempts were either clumsy (I created the Internet, he said in one interview) or partial truths (I grew up slopping hogs on the farm, claimed this prep school alum.).

So we see the new take on the farm chore statement. Gore’s statement was only a “partial truth,” omitting his prep school background.

We refer to this as a “new take” because the original criticism was substantially different. The original criticism plainly suggested that Gore had just made up the chores. But Bob Zelnick’s book, Gore, went into detail about the very chores which Gore had described. And a debate in Hotline in which we took part made the issue even clearer than that.

We had published a letter in the Washington Post pointing out that an extensive body of published Gore profiles all describe the vice president’s farm history. Indeed, one of the pundits implying Gore lied had described the chores, in detail, in a 1987 profile! Given the way the Hotline is read by the Washington press, and given the prominence of Zelnick’s book, it’s become pretty hard to maintain the spin that Gore simply made up the chores.

But you know how it is with that gloomy Goth press corps. Once they’ve decided that something is wrong, it has to be wrong for all time! It would never do to drop a subject--to stop referring to this silly pseudo-scandal. And one would never consider just stating the truth--that a bit of vacuous spin was faxed out, and was obediently typed by the press corps.

But what about Connolly’s new explanation? Sadly, it doesn’t work either. As we have written before, Gore’s statement on the chores was part of an interview with the Des Moines Register’s Roger Yepsen (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/99). At one point, Yepsen asked Gore about Bill Bradley’s statement that he had “broader life experiences” than Gore. It was in that context that Gore made his statement. Readers, let us refresh you:

YEPSEN (paragraphs 10-11): Bradley, who played in the National Basketball Association before serving in the Senate, has also said that he has broader life experiences than Gore.

Gore replied; “I was not a professional basketball player, that’s true. My work experiences were a little less glamorous. I was a small-business person, a home-builder. I lived on a farm. I was a journalist for seven years. After I got out of college, I volunteered for the Army and went to Vietnam.”

In short, Gore was responding to the common complaint that he had lived his whole life inside government. Gore went on to comment on something he thought Bradley may have implied:

YEPSEN (paragraphs 12-13): Gore said Bradley may also refer to the fact that Gore’s father was a U.S. senator. He said his father “taught me the importance of courage” in standing up for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

“I’ll tell you something else he taught me. He taught me how to clean out hog waste with a shovel and a hose. He taught me...”

There followed the paragraph in which Gore detailed the chores--chores which the press corps had frequently described in the past.

Back to Connolly’s current criticism: Gore’s comment answered the specific claim that he lacked life experience outside Washington. He was speaking to Yepsen, a veteran reporter, who was well aware of Gore’s prep school/D.C. background. Indeed, Gore himself had raised the point that he had grown up as a senator’s son. The notion that he was trying to fool Yepsen with a “partial answer” is so silly that it doesn’t deserve comment.

In sum, Gore had been asked about his life outside Washington; his answer replied to that question. And why does Connolly say he gave a “partial answer?” Because he didn’t mention growing up in D.C.! Only in this gloomy Goth press corps could a construction like that seem to make sense. You have to be bound and determined to find something wrong to be satisfied with a story like that.

But once the corps says you’ve done something wrong, you’ve done something wrong, and that’s final! If one bad explanation is taken away, by gorry, they’ll think up another. Remember--these are the people who said one misspelled word meant Dan Quayle was a dunce who should drop from the scene. They typed up numerous stories on that--all checked out by their newspapers’ proof-readers.

Hey--when the press corps says you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Sic semper the Washington press.

Thursday--Jill’s notes: Jill Abramson’s piece on Gore fund-raising tracked Connolly’s earlier story.