Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

19 July 2000

Our current howler (part II): More of the same

Synopsis: When Jacoby wrote about Big Liar Gore, it was more of the same "same-old-same-old."

Ask Ann Landers
The Boston Globe, 7/4/00

The Goldberg File
Jonah Goldberg, National Review on line, 7/3/99

56 great risk-takers
Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, 7/3/00

Al Gore's lies—about me
Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, 5/11/00

Just how easy is life for Ann Landers? When you're Ann Landers, life is a breeze. Here's how the queen of American letters opened her 7/4 column:

Dear Ann Landers: I received this from a friend. I don't know who wrote it, but it might be appropriate for the Fourth of July—Independence Day.
Ellen in New Jersey

Ann agreed with "Ellen" completely:

LANDERS: Dear Ellen: Thank you for a perfect July 4th column. Here it is:

And Ann typed in the column.

It doesn't get much simpler than that. The column Ellen sent—about the Declaration's signers—was just "perfect" for the Fourth of July. But the year before, on National Review's site, Jonah Goldberg thought the piece was pretty great too. Here's the way he introduced part of his 7/3/99 column:

This bit of e-patriotism is moving around the web. If it turns out to be false, please don't hold it against me. But if it's true, please congratulate me on my resourcefulness:

Yep. Being a columnist is pretty easy if you get to write your columns like that—by saying it's from "Ellen from Jersey," or by saying "if it's false, please don't get mad." And Goldberg and Landers typed the very same column; their twin columns matched word for word. Jacoby's column did not match like that. But it wasn't quite "original," either:

ANN LANDERS: Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons who served in the Revolutionary Army. Another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

That's pretty much how Jacoby had heard it:

JEFF JACOBY: Nine of the 56 died during the Revolution, and never tasted American independence.

Five were captured by the British. Eighteen had their homes—great estates, some of them—looted or burnt by the enemy. Some lost everything they owned. Two were wounded in battle. Two others were the fathers of sons killed or captured during the war.

Though Jacoby's version was distinct from Landers', other sections also echoed. Here's the dope on Carter Braxton:

ANN LANDERS: Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

JEFF JACOBY: Carter Braxton of Virginia, an aristocratic planter who had invested heavily in shipping, saw most of his vessels captured by the British navy. His estates were largely ruined, and by the end of his life he was a pauper.

To Landers, Braxton was a "wealthy" planter; Jacoby made him "aristocratic." And, according to Landers, Thomas Nelson Jr. "quietly urged" General Washington to burn down the Nelson homestead. Jacoby had it the very same way. In his column the day before, Nelson had "quietly urged" Washington too.

Obviously, this isn't how political comment should work. On successive days, the Boston Globe unwittingly published what is at heart pretty much the same column. And some readers knew the underlying piece had been lazily floating around on the web. When newspapers hire political writers, surely they're looking for more than this. It's remarkable that our pundits seemed so hard pressed to say what was wrong with Jacoby's column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/18/00).

Should Jacoby's column have led to suspension? On that, we hold no view. Here at THE HOWLER, we were much more struck by a column he wrote two months earlier. This wasn't a lazy holiday piece; this was a piece that could turn an election. It was an aggressive assault on a major public figure—and his paper should never have run it.

Talk about the "same old same old!" It was another "Al-Gore-is-a-great-big-liar" piece, the kind conservative pundits have churned since Tucker Carlson wrote "The Real Al Gore" (May 1997). Get ready to read what you've read a thousand times before. Jacoby even tossed in an old joke:

JACOBY (5/11) (paragraph 1): As you have no doubt heard, Al Gore lies like a rug. The old punch line about how you know when a politician is lying is no joke when it comes to the vice president. If his lips are moving, you know.

Phew! That was a good one! Jacoby followed with the same old list of the same old alleged offenses by Gore. And in the process of writing the same old column, Jacoby committed the same old spins and distortions:

JACOBY (paragraph 2): His lies are effortless and imaginative. He created the Internet. He and Tipper were the inspiration for "Love Story." He had no idea the Buddhist Temple was even a fund-raiser...He "found" Love Canal...

Snore! All the greatest hits were scattered through, as they've been scattered through a thousand other pieces. And none of the paraphrases were quite on track—Gore had not said that he "inspired" Love Story, for example, although his critics have enjoyed the spun tale. It should hardly be surprising, after reading this drek, that Jacoby might type up other treasured texts. Again: The press corps' willingness to keep on saying the same old things is one of its most striking failings.

On July 3, Jacoby wrote a familiar tale that had a few mistakes scattered through. But he dealt with a harmless theme from the past—nothing much turned on his column. But on May 11, his subject did matter—and, as we'll see in more detail tomorrow, he made the kind of groaning "mistakes" that do in fact harm our democracy.

Tomorrow: Jacoby has been saying how careful he is. It was hard to tell on May 11.


The Daily update (7/19/00)

Sunday, muddy Sunday: In yesterday's "update," we looked at a part of This Week's interview with Governor Bush. Bush might have had a very good answer for the question Cokie Roberts tried to ask. But thanks to the pundit's ill-fated approach, we never got a chance to find out (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/18/00).

Earlier on, Sam tried to ask something too. He mentioned something Al Gore had said:

DONALDSON: Governor, Vice President Gore has opened up a new area of attack on you that many of his advisers believe may be the winning line, and that is to paint you as a very bad governor of Texas, someone who has not done a good job. Here's one of the things he said about you yesterday:

GORE (video clip): This week, as Governor Bush was traveling from photo-op to photo-op, trying to put the compassion into his conservatism, we learned that he failed to use tens of millions of dollars budgeted to feed poor and hungry children during the summer months.

"True?" Donaldson asked. "You failed to use $33 million in federal aid to feed over 1 million Texas school children?"

Sam's question was about as clear as mud. Here was the governor's answer:

BUSH: You know, if you look at the July numbers as opposed to the June numbers, the July record, you'll find that we're higher than the national average when it comes to signing up poor children for the summer food program. Now, the vice president likes to spend a lot of time attacking me and my record. He talks about me; he talks about what I want to do. And I'm talking about what I want to do and my agenda. And that's the way I like it.

DONALDSON: So you're saying it's a one-month disparity in the numbers, that's the only thing?

BUSH: I'm saying if that's not the issue, he'll try to tear down my record in Texas. But the amazing thing is, is that if it were so bad, why have the people of Texas re-elected me to become the governor? I'm the first governor to ever be elected to back-to-back four-year terms.

That was the end of the topic.

No one made Sam ask the question. But what was the point of asking the question if that discussion was going to suffice? No one watching had the slightest idea what Sam had really been asking about. No one watching could possibly know whether Bush had given a good answer. Donaldson jumped ahead to other questions, about budget shortfalls and indigent programs. Nothing he asked about them came clear, either. But it certainly wasn't the governor's fault. As we've often noted before, it's often like that on this program.

Commentary by Sam Donaldson, George W. Bush
This Week, ABC, 7/16/00