30 August 1999
Our current howler (part I): Now he tells us
Synopsis: Kenneth Walsh knew the farm chores flap was a hoax. In best press corps style, he didnt say so.
Fathers and Sons,
Kenneth Walsh, U.S. News & World Report, 8/9/99
The analysts were steaming at the start of the month, when
they'd finished their U.S. News & World Reportbitter
over a bit of reporting by the journal's respected Kenneth Walsh.
In it, Walsh examined the "Daddy Factor" in the White
House campaigns of hopefuls Al Gore and George Bush. Midway through,
Walsh indulged in some psychiatrizing about Albert Jr.:
WALSH: Some associates say Gore's unblinking loyalty toward
his dad was replicated in his vehement defense of President Clinton,
another patron and mentor, during last year's Monica Lewinsky
Yep. By now it's been proven that unnamed Gore associates will
say just about anything you like about Gore. In fact, here at
DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, we have a little rule about that.
If you don't like what unnamed Gore associates are saying, just
turn to a different newspaper.
But it was Walsh's next passage that brought our analysts right
out on their spartan study carrels' wooden chairs. On the subject
of young Gore's loyalty to his father, Walsh quoted the Gores'
WALSH: "Anything his daddy told him to do, he did,"
recalls [Mattie Lucy] Payne. "He was a child who always listened
to his parents, never talked back to them. He was a sweet boy."
Even as an adolescent, when his father would make him do tough
chores on the 250-acre family farm in Carthage during the summer,
young Al rarely complained. His father insisted that he work alongside
the hands, baling hay, herding some of the family's 600 head of
Black Angus cattle, mucking out hog bins, harvesting tobacco.
Once his father ordered him to clear a wooded field with a small
hand ax, a job that took all summer.
Say what? Walsh was reciting the part of Gore's life story
that disappeared down the memory hole this spring, when demonic
RNC chairman Jim Nicholson began his campaign of mad farm chores
faxing (links below to previous reports). In March, Nicholson
decided Gore's story was more appealing if Gore were portrayed
as a creature of Washington; he began faxing out misleading and
false reports disputing Gore's accounts of his youth. And for
three solid months, the obedient press corps ran from their fax
machines straight to their desks, and filled the press with exciting
reports of how Gore had misstated his past.
At the time, we pointed out the groaning problem with this
remarkable conduct. For the previous twelve years, a succession
of political writers had published Gore profiles in major newspapers
and magazines. And in almost every one of these major profiles,
the writers had detailed the very same chores that Nicholson's
faxes disputed. And, just as the farm chores flap was being ginned
up, Bob Zelnick had published his Regnery bio of Gore. Zelnick
gave detailed descriptions of this part of Gore's lifeand, in
his book's closing paragraph, ended up making the hillside plowing
the central metaphor of Gore's entire life.
Now it turns out that U.S. News' Walsh apparently knew
all along that the attacks on Gore's account were bogushad been
familiar all along with this long-established part of Gore's life.
In "Fathers and Sons," he described this era exactly
as it had been described many times before in the press. But,
for three solid months while Gore was being savaged, Walsh sat
by and said not a word. The analystsfine and idealistic young
scholarswere troubled by Walsh's puzzling silence.
But welcome to the celebrity press corps, where the Code of
Silence runs deep and runs strong. It should hardly come as any
surprise that Walsh kept his counsel this year. To speak up at
the time would have flown in the face of the principle this press
corps holds most dear. Journalists simply don't correct other
journalistsno matter how wrong their reporting.
We saw "the vice president's dark side," Donald Lambro
wrote, when Gore "told farmers how he had...plowed steep hillsides
with a team of mules" (Washington Times, 3/25/99). Michael
Medved said that Gore's "fanciful recollections of a rustic
boyhood" showed us Gore's "delusional view of himself"
(USA Today, 4/15/99). Surely, Walsh wasn't the only scribe who
knew these abject slanders were false. But no one said a word
about it. No one dared stand up to colleagues and tell readers
the reports were sheer nonsense.
This week, we'll take a look at this timorous press corps'
abiding faith in the Code of Silence. Journalists simply don't
criticize journalists, not in this self-dealing crew. Meanwhile,
we've tried to explain to our upset analysts why the scribes behave
as they do. Maybe their dads didn't raise them up
right was pretty much the best excuse we could conjure.
Tomorrow: A piece in the Standard had spelled
it outjournalists don't rat on other journalists.
Visit our incomparable archives: The March-to-June Gore farm
chores flap has been the press debacle of the year. For our original
reporting on this mess, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/99 and 3/25/99
In April, we reported on Michael Kelly's changing views of
the chores. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/3/99. We also explored the
Weekly Standard's remarkably selective reporting. See THE
DAILY HOWLER, 4/5/99 (with a companion piece on the Washington
Post; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/5/99).
In May, Ceci Connolly tried to keep the story alive. See THE
DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/99. Finally, Diane Sawyer's embarrassing
20/20 "pop quiz" was the silliest performance of
the year. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/99. Be prepared to rethink
One final question before we quit. Where in Sam Hill was Kenneth
Walsh during all this nonsense? And where were all the other scribes
who must have known that these slanders were false?