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3 September 1999

Smile-a-while: Creative writing

Synopsis: The tomfoolery simply never stops with the Washington Post’s puzzling Ceci Connolly.

Gore Is Double-Teamed in N.Y.
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 8/21/99

The tomfoolery simply never stops with the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly. Two weeks ago, we were lounging in the sumptuous editor's wing at THE DAILY HOWLER's much-admired World Headquarters, enjoying the amenities that make our compound state-of-the-art among press-critique web-site campuses. Saturday mornings are quiet time, with the analysts instructed to read from their classics. But there came a timorous knock on our doors, as we read aloud from Professor Fagles' Homer, and Connolly's latest puzzling article was soon placed on our giant oak desk.

Remind us to tell you another time about the tree the desk was carved from. The analysts pointed to Connolly's lead, in which things were looking bleak for Al Gore:

CONNOLLY (paragraph 2): Faced with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's headline-grabbing Senate bid, the near-native son status of Democratic rival Bill Bradley, and the ghost of Gore's abysmal 1988 primary finish in the state, the vice president finds himself battling unusually long odds in the March 7 primary.

Apparently it isn't just in Faulkner's world that the past isn't even the past. Imagine! Gore's third-place finish in 1988 had him in big trouble against Bradley! And that first lady! "Hillary is larger than life," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf in paragraph three. And then it was Bradley again in Gore's face, just one paragraph later:

CONNOLLY (4): Bradley's advisers and several neutral analysts say Gore is playing catch-up in a state he grossly misread the last time he ran for president.

Paragraph five? More bad news for Gore. "There were a number of missteps early in the Gore campaign that they're trying to overcome," one unnamed "Democratic leader" said.

Wow! Gore was really struggling against Bradley, at least in the Empire State! But then we realized the analysts must have another point to make. They would never have suspended their quiet time, unless a giant error had happened. And, suspecting Connolly was up to old tricks, our eye began scanning down her page, and sure enough, a few paragraphs later, we endured our first taste of hard data:

CONNOLLY (8): In a Quinnipiac College poll earlier this month, Bradley closed the primary gap to 9 percentage points. Perhaps more significant, he led Republican George W. Bush by 7 percentage points, whereas Gore led the Texas governor by just 2 points.

Take as long as you need to deconstruct that first sentence; we presume it was penned to mislead. Because yes, what that sentence says when it's translated to English is this: Gore is currently ahead of Bradley by nine points in the latest New York polls. Those are the "unusually long odds" the vice president is "battling" as he "plays catch-up" in the state, "trying to overcome" his mistakes. You know—in the state he so grossly misread the last time he war-lorded through it?

We're not even going to waste our time wondering how this nonsense got written. We aren't going to ask how an editor could have allowed this to go into print. A reader is clearly given the impression that Gore is trailing Bradley in New York—and he has to fight through a jumbled construction to learn that Gore leads by nine points.

The question we will ask is simple: why does the Post keep permitting this mess? Connolly's repeated spinning on the Gore campaign has been the most puzzling work of the year. In April, her Post magazine piece on Gore fund-raising was the single worst example of election writing this year. (See links below.) Later, her bogus presentation on Gore's lavish spending set new standards for withholding key data. Nothing much will turn on this new piece, in which she creates an impression she plainly knows to be false. But why in the world does the Washington Post keep putting work like this in print?

We consoled the analysts as they left our chambers and returned to their spartan study carrels. We knew this kind of disappointing experience can kill the faith in a young person's heart. The analysts often thumb their Thoreau in the fall; we hoped they just might turn there a bit early. In Walden's third chapter, "Reading," our countryman said: "I aspired to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord soil has produced." It's an aspiration one sometimes is forced to recall when thumbing strange work in the Post.


Visit our incomparable archives: In April, Connolly produced a Post magazine piece on Gore fund-raising that we think is the worst election piece written this year. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/20/99, 4/21/99, 4/22/99, and 4/23/99.

In May, Connolly tried to keep the pathetic farm chores nonsense alive. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/99.

In July, Connolly and Susan Glasser wrote two misleading articles on Gore's alleged lavish spending. The articles set a new standard for withholding key data. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/99 and 7/19/99.

Again, we ask our basic question. Why in the world does the Washington Post keep putting this nonsense in print?