26 May 2000
Our current howler (part IV): Farm team
Synopsis: No one corrected the farm chores deception, raising a question: Why not?
Gore makes his candidacy official
David Yepsen, The Des Moines Register, 3/16/99
Inventing Al Gore
Bill Turque, Houghton Mifflin, 2000
Commentary by Bruce Morton
Inside Politics, CNN, 3/19/99
Al Gore's mission
Editorial, The Washington Times, 6/17/99
Foreboding beyond reality
Donald Lambro, The Washington Times, 3/25/99
White House doesn't require an Ivy League education, but...
Michael Medved, USA Today, 4/15/99
Internet Al, Down on the Farm
Editorial, The Weekly Standard, 3/29/99
Peter Boyer, The New Yorker, 11/28/94
In Iowa, Bradley's 'Bold' Agenda Places Gore on Defensive
Thomas Edsall, The Washington Post, 3/22/99
You can hardly blame poor Robinson and Scales for repeating
the tried-and-true Love Story soundbite. The treasured
tale had been repeated, over and over, since the RNC began to
campaign against Gore in the wake of the Clinton impeachment.
In March 1999, the RNC began to flog a set of minor incidents
which were said to impugn Gore's troubling character. The RNC
mocked Gore's comment on "inventing the Internet," and
revived the hibernating Love Story nonsense. To complete
the time-honored rule of three, one more topic was addedthe
No recent incident has raised so many issues about characterthat
of the Washington press corps. For three solid months, Gore was
called a liar in major publications for a remark about youthful
experiences on his family's farm. The accuracy of Gore's comments
was well-known to the press corps; many profiles had described
the part of Gore's upbringing which he had mentioned. But no one
in the press ever spoke up to challenge the remarkable attacks.
The modern press corps' puzzling pathology was played out in a
most striking manner.
Background: In March of last year, Gore was interviewed by
David Yepsen, the respected political reporter for the Des Moines
Register. Yepsen mentioned some criticisms of Gore being offered
by his Dem rival, Bill Bradley. Bradley "has been telling
audiences in Iowa that he is not sure Gore can win against Republicans,"
Yepsen reported. And that wasn't all he had said:
YEPSEN: Bradley, who played in the National Basketball Association
before serving in the Senate, has also said he has broader life
experiences than Gore.
According to Yepsen's article, Gore responded by describing
a series of his own life experiences, including service in Vietnam
and his early career as a journalist. Gore then said, according
to Yepsen, that Bradley's comment "may also refer to the
fact that Gore's father was a U.S. senator." Gore mentioned
the lessons he said he had learned from his father's courage on
civil rights and Vietnam. Then Gore described some youthful experiences:
YEPSEN: "I'll tell you something else he taught me. He
taught me how to clean out hog waste with a shovel and a hose.
He taught me how to clear land with a single-bladed ax. He taught
me how to plow a steep hillside with a team of mules. He taught
me how to take up hay all day long in the hot sun and then, after
a dinner break, go over and help the neighbors take up hay before
the rain came and spoiled it on the ground.
"I wonder if Senator Bradley has had any of those life
Is the NBA preparation for life in the White House? If not,
it's hard to see how Bradley's experiences were a whole lot broader
than Gore'sunless Bradley was referring to Gore's early
life as the son of a pol. Bradley had spent ten years in the NBA,
18 in the Senate, and two years post-Senate, largely preparing
his run. Gore had spent two years in the army, five years as a
journalist, then 22 years in political office. Gore came to Washington
as a congressman in 1977; Bradley arrived in the Senate two years
later. But at any rate, there could be little doubt about the
accuracy of Gore's description of his early farm experiences.
Beginning in 1987, a series of national profiles had described
his experiences on the family farm in Tennessee. Gore's father
had made him work hard, the profiles said, to teach him the value
Two recent biographies have described the chores in substantial
BILL TURQUE: For parts of virtually every summer through high
school, Gore worked with the farmhands and was often assigned
an extra project assigned by his father...Even the local kids,
who might have enjoyed watching a city slicker sweat some, were
appalled at how hard Gore was worked. "It was horrendous,"
said one woman who knew him well as a teenager.
Bob Zelnick, whose bio appeared in the spring of 1999, made
the farm chores the central metaphor of Gore's life, closing his
book with a final image of Gore plowing the farm's "dangerous
hillsides." As of spring 1999, any number of sources had
described this part of Gore's youth in substantial detail. It
would be completely absurd to deny it: Many members of
the Washington press corps were fully aware of these profiles.
But in the aftermath of the Yepsen article, Gore's honesty
was widely attacked. Three days after the article appeared, Bruce
Morton offered a commentary on CNN's Inside Politics which
suggested that Gore's remark on the chores was somehow inaccurate.
And the farm chores were already being linked, by Morton and others,
to Love Story and the Internet:
MORTON: Then there was Love Story. Gore once claimed
the two characters in the movie Love Story were based
on his wife Tipper and himself. The author said, "News to
me," and Gore backed off.
Charitably put, Morton didn't know what he was talking about.
But Morton's was an early version of a three-pronged critique
being faxed from the RNC. Three months later, in mid-June, the
Washington Times was still offering it:
THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Mr. Gore also has taken credit for the
Internet. And he has claimed that he and his then-girlfriend,
Tipper, who later became his wife, provided the inspiration to
author Erich Segal for the couple in "Love Story,"
an assertion Mr. Segal emphatically denied.
That of course was baldly false. But then, so was the implication
THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Then there was Mr. Gore reminiscing
about plowing the fields of Tennessee as a young boy, when in
reality he grew up in a luxurious downtown Washington hotel and
attended exclusive private schools during his father's tenure
in the Senate.
In the three months bridged by these presentations, Gore was
repeatedly called a liaror worsefor what he had said on the
chores. Donald Lambro said that "the deeply dishonest side
of Al Gore" was on display when "in a Midwest campaign
speech, this millionaire's son...told farmers how he had hosed
hog waste and plowed 'steep hillsides' with a team of mules in
the fields of Tennessee." (Lambro couldn't even get the source
of the comment right. For the record, Gore's father did not acquire
wealth until well after the period in question.) In USA Today,
Michael Medved said Gore's account of the chores showed that he
had a "delusional view of himself." And the Weekly
Standard, in a "Scrapbook" editorial, said Gore's
account of the chores was "preposterous," in a presentation
that was truly remarkable for the doctored "evidence"
that helped make its case.
The Standard quoted from a 1994 profile of Gore, by
Peter Boyer in the New Yorker. The passage concerned the
"elegant" hotel in which young Gore had grown up. We
think you should get the full impact:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD (paragraph 1): You probably thought you
knew Al Gore's life story by now. As told in the New Yorker
a few years back, the outlines are these: "Gore was a son
of politics, a child of Washington, where his father served for
thirty-two years as a congressman and a senator. The family residence
was an apartment in the elegant Fairfax Hotel, which was owned
by a Gore cousin..."
The portrait continued, but you get the picture. The Standard
went on to quote Gore's remarks to Yepsen on the farm chores,
calling his statement "preposterous." The editorial
voiced approval for "one of [Jim] Nicholson's many Gore-related
press releases last week," which ridiculed the notion of
"Gore's hog-raising career."
But if one takes a look at the full Boyer profile, one gets
a taste of the full-scale deception that sometimes drove the attacks
on Gore's character. Because, in the paragraph immediately preceding
the one the Standard quoted, Boyer described an interesting
subject. You guessed itBoyer described the very farm chores which
the Standard's editorial derided:
BOYER: ...That sense is embedded in the family lore, such
as the time when Al's father, believing that a boy needed to
know the rigors of real work, asked his son, then a teen-ager,
to plow a field with a particularly treacherous slope. Pauline
Gore warned that the task, requiring the use of an unwieldy hillside
plow, was too much to ask of the boy, and she and her husband
argued about it...
This paragraph immediately preceded Boyer's paragraph
about the hotel. Ironically, it described the very choreplowing
the hillsidewhich the Standard denounced as "preposterous."
And this wasn't the only attack on the chores which bordered on
outright deception. In the Washington Post, Michael Kelly wrote
an influential column, "Farmer Al," which ridiculed
the notion of the Gore chores. But Kelly himself, twelve years
earlier, had profiled Gore for the Baltimore Sun. In that profile,
Kelly included a full description of the farm chores which he
now mocked and derided.
Remarkable, isn't it? For three months, a three-part attack
on Gore's character unfolded, driven by releases from RNC headquarters.
In mid-June, Gore did an hour-long interview on 20/20 to
coincide with the official start of his campaign; Diane Sawyer
challenged Gore with a pop quiz on farm chores in the program's
third minute. But Gore's youthful experiences on the farm had
long been described by the Washington press corps. And Bob Zelnick's
critical bio, which appeared two months before, had described
the farm chores in detail.
For three solid months, this attack went on. Many in the press
corps surely knew it was false. But no one in the press corps
so much as said "Boo." We can't help but wonder: Why
Next week: When the press corps' wise men-and-women
won't enter the fray, our public discourse is ceded to spinners.
Standards: Why in the world did the Weekly Standard
present such doctored "evidence?" The Standardin
an editorial which ridiculed Gore's account of the choresquoted
a passage from Boyer's profile describing Gore's youthful Washington
residence. But the paragraph which immediately preceded
the one they quote described the farm chores in some detail.
Such selective presentationon so pointless a topicis little
short of astonishing. But the doctoring was likely done by Jim
Nicholson, at the RNC. On March 22as the attack on Gore's character
first began to unfoldthe Post's Thomas Edsall did a report from
Iowa. He described the RNC faxing the very material which the
Standard then hopelessly used:
EDSALL: In addition to boasting to the [Des Moines] Register
of his talents shoveling hog manure and plowing hillsides with
a mule team, Gore declared that his dad taught him "how
to clear land with a double-bladed ax...How to take up hay all
day long in the hot sun." Gore then wondered "if Senator
Bradley has had any of those life experiences."
Although Gore's family owned a working farm in Carthage, Tenn.,
Gore set himself up for a counter-attack, not by Bradley but
by the Republican National Committee. The RNC quickly found and
widely distributed a quote from a 1994 New Yorker article, just
the kind of material that will serve Bradley best if it becomes
public currency without Bradley's participation.
In the next paragraph, Edsall quoted the very passage from
the Boyer piece that the Standard used in its opening paragraph.
Somehow we doubt that the RNC also faxed the passage describing
Edsall's article displays the general approach the press corps
took to this matter. In Edsall's telling, Gore somehow "set
himself up" for the RNC attack by "boasting" about
his experiences. Edsallin a hopeless displaydoesn't mention
that Gore's statement was widely known to be accurate, or that
the RNC material was baldly misleading. This presentation began
a striking, year-long press corps narration. In it, Gore
is described as negative and dishonest, while faxes like this
by the RNC are accepted without any comment.