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SPINNING WOLF (PART 2)! Weeks before the Wolf flap began, boots-and-suits made a strange earth tones prequel:


A WEEK OF HOWLER HISTORY: Enjoy each episode in our week-long report:

SPINNING WOLF (PART 1): The press discovered Wolf in plain sight—then conducted a smut-laden trashing. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03.

Howler history: Spinning Wolf

EARTH TONES—THE PREQUEL: Michael Duffy’s report in Time didn’t say a word about “earth tones.” According to Duffy, Naomi Wolf was helping Gore target female voters, as she’d done for the Clinton campaign four years before (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03). Later reports fleshed out this point; they noted that Wolf was helping Gore’s daughter on a project called GoreNet—a project aimed at younger voters, especially young female voters. But although Duffy didn’t cite the soon-to-be-famous tones, he did make a fleeting reference to wardrobe. According to Duffy, “since [the Gore campaign] set up shop in January, Wolf has been paid a salary of $15,000 a month…in exchange for advice on everything from how to win the women’s vote to shirt-and-tie combinations.” This fleeting comment seemed to be sourced to an unnamed Gore “adviser.”

Had Wolf been advising Gore on wardrobe? It’s hard to know why that would have mattered; we hate to be the ones to tell you, but politicians (and TV journalists) do take advice about wardrobe. But for the record, Wolf flatly denied advising Gore about clothes, and no one seems to have contradicted her. As the press began to rant and rave about the “mad genius” who was Gore’s “secret guru,” Melinda Henneberger interviewed Wolf. The report appeared in the New York Times on November 5, 1999:

HENNEBERGER: Contradicting reports from within the Gore camp, [Wolf] also said she had not been telling [Gore] how to dress, either: not a single fashion tip, or even so much as a “Nice tie, Mr. Vice President.”
Wolf said the same thing on This Week. But guess what? In point of fact, no Gore staffer had ever “reported” that Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones. In fact, this tale was based on a single “speculation,” a “speculation” which no one seems to have confirmed (details tomorrow). Did Naomi Wolf tell Gore to wear earth tones? Incredibly, this pointless claim became one of Campaign 2000’s most widely-flogged and damaging spin-points. But the claim was based on the flimsiest “evidence.” You heard it flogged for an obvious reason: It was a story your pundit corps liked.

In fact, the brainless flogging of Al Gore’s clothes hardly began with those earth tones. By the time the flap about Wolf began, the press had been flogging Gore’s wardrobe for months. As early as 9/24/99, E. J. Dionne tweaked the corps for its odd behavior. “The Gore camp has reason to complain that national political commentary treats the vice president with about as much respect as the Russian economy,” Dionne wrote. “If he wears a suit, he’s a stiff guy in a suit. If he wears an open shirt, he’s a stiff guy in a suit faking it.” Ten days later, MSNBC’s Brian Williams began an astonishing period in which he bitterly complained about Gore’s polo shirts five separate times in an eight-day run (links below). Long before Duffy reported on Wolf, that booing, jeering, laughing press corps was trashing Gore for his troubling wardrobe. The “earth tones” flap was just the latest chapter in the press corps’ strange trashing of Gore.

It’s hard to understand the “earth tones” flap without taking a look at this run-up. In particular, an October frenzy about Gore’s boots-and-suits proved to be a revealing prequel. In this frenzy, the press corps invented bogus “facts” about Gore’s clothes—then used those “facts” to trash Gore’s character. This bizarre behavior led the way for the “earth tones” flap yet to come.

That’s right, kids. Long before they flogged “earth tones” and “alphas,” the corps was all over Gore’s boots-and-suits. It’s hard to believe that the Washington press corps covered this race in the way that it did. But the corps’ bizarre conduct is a matter of record, and American citizens need to understand it. By October 1999, that booing, jeering, laughing press corps was trying to knock Al Gore from the race—and the boots-and-suits scam was a grinding example. We apologize for the total trivia in this report. But your press corps’ coverage of Campaign 2000 was built on trivia from start to finish. Your “press corps” feeds off such thin gruel. Boots-and-suits were just their style.

Al Gore had always worn cowboy boots—and the press corps had always reported it. On the national level, the sightings go back to 1988, when Gore first ran for the White House. “He is almost as at home wearing pointy cowboy boots as clunky wing tips,” Time reported that year. And Gore was often described in boots during his time as vice president. In 1993, for example, Marla Harper of the Washington Post profiled the Gores’ Halloween party, given for “hundreds of area kids.” No doubt hoping to impress future voters, Gore had worn boots to the ball:

HARPER: Opting for plain clothes, Tipper Gore looked svelte in a black wool pantsuit, and her husband looked nice in his suit and tie—and black cowboy boots.

Cowboy boots?

“I’m from Tennessee!” he explained.

This explanation was permitted to stand throughout Gore’s first six years as vice president—years in which he was often described wearing those black cowboy boots. When he injured his leg in 1994, for example, he was described on crutches several times, wearing a sock on his injured foot and one cowboy boot, on the other. On another occasion that year, comedian Paula Poundstone went on a riff during a Fords Theatre concert, surprised to see Gore in the very first row, wearing those black cowboy boots. And was it odd for Gore to wear boots on the stump? At CNN, Jonathan Karl didn’t think so. On June 29, 1997, CNN broadcast a segment entitled, “Al Gore’s Visit To Iowa Looks Like Campaign Stop.” Karl knew a White House campaign when he saw one. “Gore shed his suit and tie, put on the cowboy boots, and by noon was hitting the cornfields of Pioneer High-Bred International,” he reported. As early as June 1997, Karl described Gore on the stump in casual dress—and wearing those telltale boots.

And Gore kept wearing his cowboy boots as Campaign 2000 got started. When he began to stump in March 1999, he was often described in the boots—at a Silicon Valley fund-raiser in April; at the Kentucky Derby on May 1; at various other campaign events in New Hampshire, Iowa, Texas, Washington, and other states around the nation. In fact, on the June 18 Good Morning, America, Don Dahler profiled Candidates Bush and Gore. Dahler limned various Bush-and-Gore traits. Eventually, he got to their boots:
DAHLER: Shoes? Gore wears cowboy boots sometimes and loafers sometimes. Bush wears cowboy boots sometimes and loafers sometimes.
The next day, the Seattle Times placed Gore at a local event, in “taupe suit and cowboy boots.” In the first six months of his White House campaign, major papers described Gore-in-boots on at least twenty separate occasions.

In short, Gore had always worn cowboy boots. And he routinely wore boots when he started campaigning. But on September 29, 1999, Gore announced he would move his campaign headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Nashville. The press corps saw this as—what else?—a sure sign that Gore was a phony. Looking for ways to persuade the public that Gore should never be allowed near the White House, scribes began describing his latest “makeover” (reinvention/retooling/recasting/changeover)—a makeover said to include those boots! For example, here was relentless spinner Ceci Connolly, describing Gore as he opened his new Nashville quarters:

CONNOLLY (10/7/99): Sporting a knit shirt, cowboy boots and a Palm Pilot clipped on his khakis, Vice President Gore cut the ribbon on a campaign headquarters based not on K Street, but in the state he calls home. It was the new Al Gore. He ditched the note cards, blue suit and even the title in front of his name.
According to Connolly, “the new Al Gore” had “ditched the blue suit.” He was “sporting a knit shirt”—and those boots. Meanwhile, two other major papers stressed Gore’s boots and casual clothing this day. Here’s how the New York Post’s Marilyn Rauber presented the Nashville outing:
RAUBER (10/7/99): A down-home Al Gore, declaring it “a new day,” yesterday pulled on his cowboy boots and briefly returned to his Tennessee roots in a desperate bid to kick-start his sputtering presidential campaign.
Rauber said that Gore’s cowboy boots were part of a larger act. The move to Nashville “seemed largely song-and-dance,” she wrote; it was “a part of his makeover.” Rauber stressed “the revved-up Gore’s…open-neck knit shirt, khakis and black boots.” In the Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, Monica Davey also stressed the way that “the khakis and cowboy boots he wore” were all part of Gore’s “carefully staged” attempt to present a “new theme” for his campaign. Indeed, Davey went to heroic lengths to voice suspicions about Gore’s outfit; at one point, she quoted former Tennessee governor Ned McWherter, “who, like nearly every dignitary in the crowd aside from Gore, wore a suit and tie.” In short, three major papers all stressed the idea that Gore’s boots and casual duds were part of a “new Al Gore” this day—a part of Gore’s latest makeover. This theme would quickly spread through the press. As we’ll see, Gore’s “new costume” was routinely presented as the latest sign of his troubling inauthenticity. The pleasing theme was widely expressed. Gore had reinvented himself once again.

But alas! This October portrait of the “new Al Gore” was a trifle odd coming from Connolly. All the way back on March 27, Connolly had described the old Al Gore as he made an early trip to New Hampshire. And how had Gore been dressed that day? According to Connolly, Gore “rolled out many theatrical accoutrements” that day, including “wardrobe (tan slacks and V-neck sweater).” Earlier in her article, Connolly described the scene as “a casually dressed, off-the-cuff Gore field[ed] questions for half an hour.” In other words, even then, in an early outing, Candidate Gore had “ditched the blue suit”—with Connolly calling it part of an act, an interpretation she offered of everything Gore did in his twenty-month White House run. In fact, as Connolly wrote from Nashville in October, Gore had been stumping in casual dress for six months, frequently sporting the same troubling boots which she flagged in her opening sentence. Oddly, her “new Al Gore” sounded just like the old Al Gore—the one she’d described back in March.

For the record, Connolly wasn’t the only scribe who had noted Gore’s casual dress in the spring. All the way back in April and May, a string of scribes penned detailed reports stressing Gore’s casual wardrobe. For example, here was USA Today’s Susan Page, in a lengthy May 17 profile:

PAGE (5/17/99): [I]n a bid to shed his image as a stiff campaigner more comfortable in Harvard salons than Hawkeye living rooms, [Gore] donned a short-sleeve, blue knit shirt and cowboy boots as he hopscotched by bus across southeastern Iowa, stopping in small towns from Lamoni to Fort Madison…

Gore has taken other steps in recent days to reassure nervous Democrats that he and his campaign are ready. He has…lost the suit and tie to demonstrate that he can connect with voters…Gore has shed his blue suits and strangling white collars for khakis and cowboy boots on the stump.

Back in May, Page explained why Gore had “shed his blue suits” and exchanged them “for khakis and cowboy boots.” But then, many such profiles were being written. On April 4, Muriel Dobbin of the Sacramento Bee/Minneapolis Star-Tribune explained that Gore was campaigning in casual dress to make himself more approachable (quotes below). On April 18, Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times penned another such report, describing Gore as he stumped in Iowa. “[A] shirt-sleeved Gore mixed and mingled,” Chen wrote, “campaigning the old-fashioned way: one voter at a time.” Like Page, Chen explained why Gore had ditched the suits; according to Chen, it was partly because of Bill Clinton. “Clinton is among those who have encouraged Gore to embrace retail politicking in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he wrote. “More than once, he has urged Gore to ‘go up there, take your jacket off and just be yourself, Al.’” As the months went by, other scribes offered this explanation. In June, for example, Katharine Seelye of the New York Times described Gore at a New Hampshire event; she said that Gore had “shed his blue suit (as per President Clinton’s instructions) for a green polo shirt, khakis and cowboy boots.” In mid-July, the AP’s Sandra Sobieraj also penned a profile of Gore’s campaign style, noting that “the dress shirt and necktie are gone.” But in October, Ceci Connolly invented a Pleasing New Story, as she would do throughout the campaign—phony Gore has changed his costume, reinventing himself once again. At best, this story was blatantly false. From well-informed scribes, the report was a lie. No matter—reporters raced to type the new script, from early October right into December. No one voiced a word of dissent. As always, copycat pundits jumped into line, eager to type the pleasing new story. Quite plainly, this included a number of scribes who knew that the story was false.

As we’ve seen, Connolly got things rolling on October 7, along with helpmates Rauber and Davey. Within a week, the notion that a “new Al Gore” had changed his costume was being flogged all through the press. And those cowboy boots were endlessly cited—an emblem of Gore’s troubling “makeover.” Gore had always worn the boots—but now they showed how phony he was. Everyone knew how disturbing it was that phony Gore had just pulled on those boots.

On October 14, for example, Suzanne Fields of the Washington Times announced in her syndicated column that “Al Gore has a new costume—cowboy boots and brightly colored shirts.” Ben Wattenberg, same day, same paper: “Transformation indeed. We are told that this is the new, the newest Al Gore…He has donned cowboy boots.” Pundits raced to recite the script, looking for ways to make the tale even dumber. On October 15, Steve and Cokie Roberts managed to do so in their syndicated column:

ROBERTS AND ROBERTS: Look at Al Gore, after almost 23 years in public life, suddenly searching for his “authentic” self and then finding it in cowboy boots and open-necked shirts.

Is this the same Al Gore who grew up in a fancy hotel in Washington, went to Harvard and now lives in the vice president’s mansion, a short walk from the elite prep school he attended? Somehow, we doubt that cowboy boots and polo shirts were part of the dress code at St. Alban’s.

Gore had worn boots throughout his career. He had worn “open-necked shirts” on the trail all year long. But now, according to Team Roberts, Gore was “suddenly” wearing those boots—and it seemed a hopeful wasn’t “authentic” unless he was obeying his high school’s old dress code! (Roberts and Roberts got bonus points—they even worked in the fancy hotel.) But Steve and Cokie were hardly alone; on October 10, Tony Kornheiser had flogged similar themes in his nationally syndicated Post column:
KORNHEISER: Did you see where Mr. Gore moved his campaign to Nashville and put on a pair of cowboy boots, for heaven’s sake? (What does he do, leave them outside his door every night to be shined, as he did as a child in the Shoreham Hotel?)
Kornheiser was having some factual problems; for the record, Gore’s family had lived in a small apartment at the Fairfax, a modest residential hotel, when his father served in the Congress. (By contrast, the Shoreham is fancy.) At any rate, almost everyone typed the new tale at the Post. “This is not your father’s Al Gore,” Richard Cohen wrote on November 23. “This is the new model,” one which “comes in new colors…a bold black shirt and khaki pants and, on occasion, cowboy boots.” (Cohen’s headline: “The New Gore.”) The Post’s Marjorie Williams chimed in five days later, referring to “the new improved Al Gore, with the earth tones and the cowboy boots.” (At least she knew enough to say “earth tones.”) Translation: there is simply no story so stupid and false that your vacuous pundits won’t rush to recite it. Robotically, pundits recited the new standard claim: phony Gore has just pulled on his boots.

With this work being done by the nation’s top pundits, the theme spread all through the ranks. How stupid could these profiles be? At the Los Angeles Times, two different writers complained that Gore’s boots were “too shiny.” Meanwhile, at least four publications waged a war over how high Gore was cuffing his pants in order to show off his boots. According to the Los Angeles Times, the pants were cuffed three inches too high; Time magazine said “at least six.” At Time, Karen Tumulty handled the topic, making a plainly false claim:
TUMULTY (11/1/99): It was a different Gore campaign—and a different Al Gore—that New Hampshire voters saw rolling through their state last week…Gone were the crisp navy suits, replaced by khaki pants hemmed short enough to display at least 6 in. of his shiny cowboy boots.
“Gone were the crisp navy suits?” The “crisp navy suits” had been gone all year, as scribes had repeatedly noted. (As Karl had noted on CNN, they were gone back in 1997!) But remember: Basic facts are routinely deep-sixed when your press corps comes up with a new, pleasing story. And pleasing new motives are quickly invented, making the story work better. Example: Newsweek entered the fray on October 18 with a feature headlined, “Meet the New Veep.” The magazine offered a photo of Gore at the Nashville opening, adorned with a set of mocking notations. “Responding to Bill Bradley’s nomination surge,” Newsweek wrote, “Al Gore rejiggered his campaign. Advisers left the Beltway for Nashville; suits made way for more casual garb.” This report included a new, common theme—Gore dumped his suits and pulled on his boots due to Bradley’s rise in the polls; this claim was now widely asserted. And of course, no one mentioned that Gore had actually “ditched the suits” back in March, when Bradley was barely a blip in the polls. No one mentioned that Gore had “shed the blue suit” back in 1997, when Karl saw him stumping in Iowa. And no one mentioned that Chen and Seelye had said, in the spring, that Gore had “shed the blue suit” due to Clinton. Remember: When the press corps’ Standard Stories change, pundits all know that they must drop the old ones. And some scribes will simply lie to their readers. One such scribe was the aforementioned Dobbin, of the Sacramento Bee/Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

In late March, Muriel Dobbin accompanied Gore to New Hampshire (as noted above). On April 4, she profiled the hopeful’s early campaigning, stressing his casual dress. “When Al Gore took off his stiff white collar and strolled into homes in New Hampshire in a sport shirt with his hair ruffled,” she wrote, “it was the beginning of his living-room campaign for the White House. It was Gore the warm and fuzzy candidate, not Gore the stiff vice president.” After describing Gore’s friendly style, Dobbin returned to the question of wardrobe. “Casually dressed in a polo shirt, sweater and khaki pants, Gore set about showing that he was not shackled by the trappings of power,” she wrote. In September, Dobbin was back on the trail again. “Gore has shed his blue suits and strangling white collars for khakis and cowboy boots,” she again noted. The date was September 12.

In early April and again in September, Dobbin noted Gore’s casual dress. She even explained the casual clothes—the VP was making himself more approachable. But on October 7, a new spin emerged, derived from Connolly’s bogus “reporting.” According to this invented tale, “the new Al Gore” had just ditched the suits and pulled on his boots due to the surge by Bill Bradley. Plainly, Dobbin knew this story was false; on December 17, she typed it up anyway. She previewed that night’s Gore-Bradley debate—and contradicted her prior reporting in obedience to her cohort’s new story:

DOBBIN (12/17/99): [I]t was Gore who took the gloves off first, and his aggressive posture appears to be boosting his candidacy.
In acknowledgment of a sagging campaign and an unexpected challenge from Bradley, the vice president moved his headquarters from Washington to his home state of Tennessee, took to wearing khakis and cowboy boots, stepped up his pursuit of the grass roots, and set his sights on his competitor.
Dobbin simply lied to her readers—Gore “took to wearing khakis and boots” when he moved to Nashville, she said. And Dobbin typed another lie—Gore ditched the suits in response to Bradley. She had said something totally different in April, but now the corps had a new Standard Tale. Plainly, Dobbin knew the story was false. But so what? The scribe started typing.

Let’s review what happened. In October, Gore opened his new Nashville headquarters. He showed up wearing the same type of clothes he had worn on the trail for six months. No one with an ounce of sense would have wasted five words on this topic.

But Ceci Connolly had a story she liked. Ceci Connolly wanted to say that Gore had just reinvented himself. So, although she described Gore’s casual dress in the spring, she pretended that Gore had just ditched his suits in the fall. And pandering pundits all through the press corps ran to repeat the false story.

Truly, it’s hard to believe that your Washington press corps behaves in the ways that it actually does. Inner voices will scream in your ears; surely, this tale can’t be accurate. But all throughout Campaign 2000, the Washington press corps invented false tales as part of its endless War Against Gore. (Usually, these tales were absurdly trivial.) They lied to their readers; deceived the voters; and made a farce of your White House election. It takes hundreds of pages—and then hundreds more—to describe all the harm they have done.

But the facts about your “press corps” are clear. On October 27, this same dysfunctional Washington press corps booed, jeered and laughed at Gore as he conducted Debate I with Bradley. Four days later, the Wolf flap was born—and the press corps got itself busy with “earth tones.” An ugly flap would run for a month—in the face of an odd lack of evidence.

TOMORROW: Earth tones and alphas

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Long before the Wolf flap began, Brian Williams ranted and railed about Gore’s troubling polo shirts. Such clothing is common on the stump, of course; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/02. For real-time reports on Williams’ bizarre work, see THE DAILY HOWLER 10/11/99, 10/12/99, and 2/15/00. For a later report on Howard Fineman’s blatant fakery, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/11/01. Then try to believe that we let these people steward our troubled American discourse. And permit yourself a low, mordant chuckle as we export our great system to others.