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25 March 1999

Our current howler (part II): Who’s shoveling now?

Synopsis: Gore’s life on the farm didn’t fit the corps’ story. So they pretended it just never happened.

The Chosen One
Marjorie Williams, Vanity Fair, 2/98

Gore: A Political Life
Bob Zelnick, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999

Commentary by Bruce Morton
Inside Politics, CNN, 3/19/99

Farmer Al
Michael Kelly, The Washington Post, 3/24/99

Marjorie Williams, in a Vanity Fair profile, discussing Al Gore’s family background:

WILLIAMS: While Gore has been lampooned as “Prince Albert,” product of a silver-spoon childhood, the reality was more complicated...[Gore’s father] would become rich after he left the Senate, in the employ of industrialist Armand Hammer. But the senior Gores’ correspondence is full of suggestions that, when Al was young, the family’s upper-middle-class existence was a bit of a stretch.

She went on to discuss that fancy hotel we hear discussed so often:

WILLIAMS: Although the Fairfax Hotel [where the Gores lived in Wasahington] later became the Ritz-Carlton, it was not a posh place at the time Gore was growing up; in any case, the apartment was in their reach only because the hotel was owned by a cousin.

Bob Zelnick, in his new biography of Gore, spells it out even more clearly, and goes on to discuss that life on the farm we’ve heard derided of late:

ZELNICK: The Gores soon moved into a six-room, eighth-floor apartment of the Fairfax Hotel on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. There they lived rent-free, compliments of cousin Grady Gore, who owned the establishment. To make certain his son would be more than a product of Embassy Row, Al, Sr., insisted the boy spend a fair chunk of his childhood on the family’s 250-acre farm...Young Al would spend long weekends, summers, holidays, and his entire seventh year on the Carthage property. The senior Gore said it would build his character to live with the plain people who raised crops and livestock.

Zelnick describes the work regimen Gore Sr. provided for his son; he writes, “The young Gore never arrived on the farm without a long list of chores assigned by Senator Gore.” Detailed descriptions are found in the book; Williams put it like this:

WILLIAMS: Home was two places--the farm in Middle Tennessee where the Gores raised cattle and tobacco, and Apartment 809 in the Fairfax Hotel, on Embassy Row. On the farm, where he spent his summers and school breaks, his father insisted that he work as hard as the hired laborers to earn his pocket money.

We present these quotes because they may surprise readers, given the dung recently moved by our hard-working press corps, tireless in its back-breaking effort to shovel up scandal and hoo-hah. Gore recently told the Des Moines Register about his work experiences on his family’s farm; and the nabobs in the national press set out to “prove” he was fibbing. Except they only “proved” the case by their own sad-sack standards; listen, for example, to Mara Liasson, at the president’s recent (3/19) press conference:

LIASSON: Your vice president has recently been ridiculed for claiming that he invented the Internet and spent his boyhood plowing the steep hillsides in Tennessee. I wonder what you think of these claims and what advice you’d give him about how to brag on himself without getting in so much hot water.

We hope the readers will remember this question the next time they hear the press corps moan about the slippery, devious, well-crafted language they must parse from that ol’ debbil Clinton. Liasson implies Gore’s claims are false without ever actually saying they are; her question is a textbook example of insinuative language, from a reporter who won’t say what she plainly implies. But Liasson wasn’t alone this past week, in constructing suggestions that Gore had lied. Parse Bruce Morton, on Inside Politics, for slippery insinuation:

MORTON: Then there were Gore’s comments to the Des Moines Register. My father taught me how to clear out hog waste with a shovel and a hoe. He taught me how to clear land with a double-headed axe. How to plow a steep hillside with a team of mules. Well, Gore was a city kid, father a senator. He grew up in Washington, a well-known private school here, and then to Harvard. Summers at the family farm yes; but mules and double-blade axes? What he meant, a spokesman said, was the fact that the spent his summers working on the family farm. [Our emphasis]

This is broadcasting as bad as it gets. Morton implies throughout that Gore is lying: Gore didn’t clear out waste on a farm, he’s a “city kid” who went to Harvard. But how does Morton “contradict” Gore? He restates Gore’s words in the form of a question! Like on Jeopardy! Morton never states that Gore’s claims are false; he merely implies it, throughout his piece, in a tone of voice that was quite plain to viewers.

In the aftermath of the Gore remarks, GOP chairman Jim Nicholson jumped into action, sending out the silly, dim-witted spin we’re so used to from both of the parties. “Mr. Vice President, with all due respect,” he intoned, “you’re shoveling a lot more of it right now than you ever did back then.” It was the kind of brainless, fact-averse pleading we endure from those who hate Clinton’s lying. And I believe we mentioned that this sort of thing is routine from the Democrats too.

In theory, of course, a competent press corps exists to analyze hoo-hah like that. But let’s go back and stress the word “theory,” because the reality today is quite different. Today’s reality? It’s scandal-inventers like Morton and Liasson, giving us slippery, exciting, false journalism--giving us scandalous tales that they like, and taking care not to mention the facts.

There he goes again: We always turn to Michael Kelly for the least temperate reaction to any situation, and he comes through again with his angry piece in the Wednesday Post. (Kelly is perpetually furious.) Read it, friends, for a textbook example of insinuation without actual statement. Kelly nowhere says that Gore’s claims are false; but he ridicules the claims throughout his piece. Does Kelly know if Gore’s statement was false? If he does, why doesn’t he say so?

Those stubborn facts: Liasson ridicules Gore’s “steep hillside” claim. But here is Zelnick (for Regnery Press!), speaking in his own voice:

ZELNICK: On another occasion, the senior Gore ordered his son take a plow to a particularly steep slope. [Mrs. Gore] argued it was too dangerous but the Senator insisted.

Maybe Zelnick is lying here also.

Visit our incomparable archives: Liasson’s having a careless year. Last month, she helped to slander Sidney Blumenthal. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/99.