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12 May 2000

Our current howler (part IV): Race men

Synopsis: Gore fibbed about his dad on race, the Globe said. But then we read Maraniss and Nakashima.

Al Gore and the window of certainty
Myra MacPherson, The Washington Post, 2/3/00

Al Gore's Lies—About Me
Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, 5/11/00

Record shows Gore long embellishing truth
Walter Robinson and Michael Crowley, The Boston Globe, 4/11/00

Gore: A Political Life
Bob Zelnick, Regnery, 1999

13 ways of looking at Al Gore and race
David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, 4/23/00

The Globe went back twelve years to prove that Gore fibs, and even then served up hopeless examples; Gore's statement in Cotulla was perfectly accurate, and was fleeting and trivial to boot. How troubled was the Post's MacPherson about the Gore comment? To all appearances, not troubled at all. She asked Gore what he meant by his remark, and he gave her a simple answer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/11/00). When this pointless incident is quoted twelve years later—in an article attacking a public figure's integrity—it becomes another example of the troubling pathology that helps drive our modern press corps.

How concerned was MacPherson, the scribe on the scene? This is the paragraph which immediately follows her passage about Gore's remark:

MACPHERSON: In a year of intense scrutiny of private lives, the Gores (with their four children) come off looking something like the Brady Bunch...

According to the Globe, Gore's alleged fibs "attracted little attention" in 1988 because his campaign was so hapless. By contrast, MacPherson cites the "intense scrutiny" the candidates were getting in that Year of Gary Hart—and she shows no sign of concern about Gore's remark, on which she had in fact followed up.

But so it goes when our modern press corps sets out to prove someone's a liar. According to Robinson and Crowley, "the facts have never been quite enough" for Gore, and the writers hunted high and low for examples. Often the facts weren't enough for them; they feigned puzzlement over Gore's "seven years of journalistic experience," for example (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/00). And no incident is too trivial or too innocent to include, as their exegesis of the Cotulla remark shows us.

What does it mean when such highly-placed scribes will torture the facts in this manner? When they're willing to do so in a major article attacking a public figure's integrity? That's the question we'll attempt to ponder through the rest of our special report. But the noxious pathology of attack and distortion is spreading rapidly through the press corps. As an example, take yesterday's column by Jeff Jacoby, the nationally-syndicated Boston Globe columnist.

Jacoby, nobly aping a hundred Like Thinkers, begins by rattling off Gore's alleged lies (his term). At the end of a list of paraphrased statements, we see the last one. Then a comment:

JACOBY: His father, the late Senator Albert Gore, Sr., was a brave civil rights crusader, [Gore has said]. Hogwash, all of it.

According to Jacoby, when Gore praises his father's career on civil rights, it's "hogwash," another example of the way that Gore, in Jacoby's term, "lies like a rug."

The language is exceptionally strong. Indeed, it's language virtually never used about public figures until the press corps' decline this past decade. But sadly, Jacoby's list of alleged "lies" by Gore is littered with groaners by Jacoby. And in his inclusion of Gore Senior's civil rights record, Jacoby echoes Robinson and Crowley. Indeed, Robinson and Crowley's first example of Gore's alleged fibbing—found right in their very first paragraph—is Gore's account of his father's career in the field of civil rights. It's the topic to which the Globe's two scribes devote the most space in their article.

Under the circumstances, it would hardly be surprising if the Boston Globe's readers think that Gore has fibbed about his father's civil rights record. Robinson and Crowley visit the theme three times, describing Gore's statements in quite pungent terms. According to Robinson and Crowley, Gore's statements about his father show that a "predilection persists" for Gore to "create myths about his [own] life and record." They later say, "It is not just his own life story and record that Gore has selectively rewritten," going on to describe his father's civil rights record at some length.

Robinson and Crowley's comments about Gore Senior lead on to Jacoby's blunter charge. But it is strange to see Gore called a "liar" on this, because a generation of historians and commentators, of various viewpoints, have praised his father's record on civil rights. Just last year, for example, Bob Zelnick wrote a biography of Vice President Gore for the conservative publisher Regnery. The book was quite critical of Gore in several areas. But Zelnick praised Gore's father on civil rights. After describing a long history of principled stands, Zelnick penned this summation:

ZELNICK: The actions of Gore, [Sen. Estes] Kefauver, and, at the state level, [Gov. Frank] Clement, and their courage and decency on the civil rights issue, would be more a source of political trouble than benefit in Tennessee, though none of the three ever lost an election because of his position, at least until Gore's defeat in his 1970 campaign. Each reelection would be challenged and each man would be accused of being "out of touch" with sentiment in the state, or worse yet, a traitor to his region, his heritage, and his people. None of the three ever backed down. None ever engaged in racial demagoguery. None would ever require sympathetic chroniclers to explain that his conduct had to be judged in the context of his time and its political exigencies. Their courage would inspire later generations of southerners who sought to purge the region of its terrible racial heritage.

That is what Regnery's biographer wrote about Gore Senior on race, just last year. Last month, a more detailed study of Gore Senior and race was published by David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima. Entitled "13 Ways of Looking at Al Gore and Race," the article was the cover story of the April 23 Washington Post Sunday magazine. Early on, the writers gave this nugget statement:

MARANISS AND NAKASHIMA: Long before Bill Clinton came along, [Vice President] Gore lived in the shadow of another dominant politician, his father. Many of the deepest tensions of American race relations were played out during the long career of Sen. Gore, whose opposition to the segregated ways of his native South angered many of his constituents and eventually led to his political demise.

"With one notable exception, when he capitulated to regional sentiment and opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act," the pair wrote, "the choices he made over more than three decades in Washington were courageous—and they provided lasting lessons in the political education of his son."

Like many other chroniclers, Maraniss and Nakashima see the 1964 Civil Rights Act vote as the one time Gore bowed to political necessity ("survival undoubtedly was part of the calculation," they judge). But they describe the way Senator Gore's "reputation as a dauntless progressive on matters of race grew so much in later years," driven along by the renewed third-term vigor that helped defeat him in 1970:

MARANISS AND NAKASHIMA: [Sen. Gore] won reelection that fall [1964] and returned to Washington, where from then on he acted like an unflinching Southern progressive attuned to the needs of his black constituents. He voted for the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, opposed President Nixon's two Southern nominees for the Supreme Court...and eventually apologized for his 1964 vote, calling it the biggest mistake of his career. All during that time he took a pounding from segregationists and real estate interests who opposed the open housing laws.

The performance helped set him up for defeat, the authors say:

MARANISS AND NAKASHIMA: As Sen. Gore became more outspoken on issues of race and peace over the next six years, his standing in Tennessee deteriorated, his liberal positions were portrayed as contrary to the state's values, and he was defeated in the 1970 election. "The racist part of the campaign against Gore was so subtle that it did not need to be overt," said Charles Bartlett, a veteran journalist from Tennessee. "It was just part of the air down there that year."

Biographer Bill Turque also describes the racial element of the campaign that defeated Gore Senior. By that year, according to Maraniss and Nakashima, "the 1964 vote was long forgiven and forgotten" in Tennessee's black and civil rights communities. "When Al Gore retraced that same path years later in his own campaigns," the pair write, "he discovered that the Gore name had an unforgettable resonance in the black community, thanks to his father."

None of this, in our view, is a reason to vote for (or against) Vice President Gore this November. We don't think that pols should be voted up or down based on the deeds of their parents. But this is a good reason—an excellent reason—to stop the practice of calling Gore a "liar" for saying what so many others have said. Again we see it, in yesterday's column by Jacoby—the noxious pathology of attack and deception that increasingly rules our press corps.

But let's get back to Robinson and Crowley, whose article began with this topic. Why did the pair say that Gore had "selectively rewritten" his father's career on race? What was the basis for that allegation? Read this passage, and try to explain why such foolishness now appears in major newspapers:

ROBINSON AND CROWLEY: Since his father died 16 months ago, the vice president has described the elder Gore in several speeches, including one last April before an NAACP audience, as an early champion for civil rights during his three Senate terms from 1953 through 1971.

"Halfway through this century," Gore said, in declaring his candidacy last June, "when my father saw that thousands of his fellow Tennesseans were forced to obey Jim Crow laws, he knew America could do better. He saw a horizon in which his black and white constituents shared the same hopes in the same world."

It was a moving tribute, but with a notable omission: the elder Gore voted against the landmark civil rights legislation of his time, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which repudiated the Jim Crow laws.

Do you follow this? Gore, praising his father's legacy in his announcement speech, didn't specifically mention that one 1964 vote! On that basis, the writers say he has "selectively rewritten" his father's record and shown his "predilection" to "create myths about his life." Amazing. But then, how vacuous can two writers be? Read this gem a few paragraphs later:

ROBINSON AND CROWLEY: [D]uring his lifetime, the elder Gore made no claims to match his son's recent recollections. Late in his life, he said he regretted his vote against the 1964 measure. In his memoirs, he said he was "no white knight" on civil rights.

Gore Senior says he was "no white knight," and this suggests, to our hapless scribes, that there is something strange about Gore's comments. And they suggest that Gore's comments on his father's career are another example of Gore's "recent recollections"—as if Gore somehow dreamed this stuff up. Gore Senior's modesty is now used to pretend that his record was other than what it was. But what more can we expect from a pair of scribes willing to pretend they don't get 2 + 5? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/00)

How is it possible? How it is possible that such writing could afflict us, let alone in an article in a major paper attacking a public figure's integrity? In their article attacking the character of Gore, Gore Senior's record on civil rights is the first topic the two writers mention. They treat the matter three separate times; it receives more attention than any other topic. And when we reach the end of their ruminations, this silly sophistry is the best they can manage? We ask again what we've asked all week long: Why is this mess in this newspaper?


Next week: Peter Keating, on the cover of George, says Bush and Gore are both Great Big Liars.

Looking ahead: After we examine this month's George cover story, we'll return to the Globe's 4/11 piece, and we'll review a January 28 Globe article on the same theme. And we'll scan the journalism of attack and outright deception as it began to unfold in March 1999—always with the puzzling acquiescence of the press corps' best known figures.

Visit our incomparable archives: Review our articles on the Globe's puzzling piece:

The Globe's problem was easy as 2 + 5. So why in the world was it published? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/00.

Twelve years ago, on one occasion, Dukakis said Gore bungled facts. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/10/00.

Gore fibbed about where he went to school, the Globe said. But the evidence is strikingly different. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/11/00.

Gore fibbed about his dad on race, the Globe said. But then we read Maraniss and Nakashima. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/12/00.