21 June 1999
Our current howler (part III): Tale of two hopefuls
Synopsis: It was the best of coverage, it was the worst of coverage, as the press corps got tough on Love Story.
Bushs First Campaign Trip Starts in a Fishbowl
David Von Drehle, The Washington Post, 6/8/99
Commentary by Tony Snow, Mara Liasson, Brit Hume
Fox News Sunday, Fox, 6/13/99
Missteps keep Gore from getting a running start
Jill Lawrence, USA Today, 6/16/99
Commentary by Bernard Shaw
Inside Politics, CNN, 6/16/99
Al Gores mission
Editorial, The Washington Times, 6/17/99
Author of Love Story Disputes Gore Story (Hint: Tipper Wasnt Jenny)
Melinda Henneberger, The New York Times, 12/14/97
Should the press corps have reported the Bush tax pledge blunder? It might have been worth a few mentions. It just struck us as odd: to compare the press corps boastful words with its corresponding lack of action. The Washington press corps was boasting and bragging; it couldnt wait to examine every word that Bush said. David Von Drehle, in the Post:
VON DREHLE: How can any candidate be relaxed when, his very first day out, every step, word and bead of sweat is being studied by scores of writers?
Examine the clips about Bush Break-Out Weekend: the posturing in the press never ends.
But whatever one thinks of the tax pledge problems, the global warming matter should have been reported. Governor Bush has served in office just over four years; obvious questions exist about his familiarity with major issues. His double flip on global warming concerned an issue of substance (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/99). But most papers didnt report the confusion, and the Fox News panel grinned right through it. The press corps ignored the sort of mistake it had sworn it was waiting to pounce on.
But the FNS panel did come to life just after its exchange on warming. The talk had switched to Vice President Gore, and the pundits were deeply disturbed:
SNOW: OK, heres--we never got to this with Leon Panetta--how does Al Gore explain all of these sort of wacky things about I invented the Internet, I was the inspiration for Love Story? I mean, these kind of autobiographical flourishes that he doesnt need and arent true.
He needs to stop doing this stuff? The Love Story remark to which Snow referred occurred in 1997!! The gang, so permissive on policy gaffes, was back on the tired old movie remark, which weve discussed in detail (links below). Completely impassive as Bush flipped on policy, the panel was concerned by a misreported, old remark--by an incident that would have been utterly trivial even had it occurred as described. And the Fox Sunday gang was hardly alone in its concern with the Love Story matter. All throughout the celebrity press, pundits were disturbed by that troubling remark. USA Todays Jill Lawrence:
HUME: What he needs to do is stop doing this kind of stuff. Because if there is no more of it, then it stops being a running story and it becomes old and you dont really associate it with him.
LAWRENCE: But the vice president, who once claimed inaccurately to have been the model for the hero of the book Love Story, has created some of his own problems.
Lawrence is wrong on the facts, as well see below, but Bernie Shaw was worried too. He reported Jim Nicholsons vacuous photo op at the apartment-hotel where Gore lived as a teen:
SHAW: As if that werent enough, Nicholson also led a birthday celebration for Love Story author Erich Segal, a dig at Gores claim that he and his wife Tipper were the role models for the main characters in Segals story, a claim later denied by Segal himself.
The Washington Times editorial board was more emphatic:
WASHINGTON TIMES: [H]e 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.
We saw no one except the Times Greg Pierce file any report about Bush-on-warming. But all throughout the celebrity press corps, troubled pundits found themselves drawn to that two-year-old, pointless remark.
Pointless--and misreported. Shaw, Lawrence, Snow and the Times all agreed: Gore made inaccurate statements. But that is not what a reader could glean from the actual Love Story reporting. Back when the dimwit matter first appeared, Melinda Henneberger penned a long profile. She quoted Segal on the actual genesis of that handsome hunk, Ollie Barrett IV:
HENNEBERGER: The character of the preppy Harvard hockey player Oliver Barrett 4th was modeled on both Mr. Gore and his college roommate, the actor Tommy Lee Jones [Mr. Segal said].
Compare that to what Lawrence said above. Segal denied reports that the Ali McGraw character had been based on Gores then-girlfriend, Tipper; but Henneberger went on to describe the way those reports had first appeared in the press. Henneberger interviewed the two major journalists who were actually present when Gore discussed the film. The reporters agreed: Gore had actually said that a Nashville newspaper quoted Segal saying the Gores were the models:
HENNEGERGER: [Gore] said Segal had told some reporters in Tennessee that it was based on him and Tipper, [Karen] Tumulty said. He said all I know is thats what he told reporters in Tennessee.
Segal agreed such a story had appeared, although it wasnt fully accurate:
HENNEBERGER: [T]he reporter just exaggerated, Mr. Segal said. He made it out to be the local-hero angle.
Its sad that we have to waste our time yet again, going back through this inane story--a story which was pointless the day it appeared, but which the celebrity press dumbly loves. According to Hennebergers reporting, Gore had not made an inaccurate remark; he had described a newspaper story, which everyone agrees did appear. And he had been one of Segals models for the Love Story part. Shaw, Snow, Lawrence and the Times all said different. According to Hennebergers detailed reporting, the pundits were all flat-out wrong.
But what a portrait of the celebrity press corps is painted by their love for this story! And what a portrait is drawn by the contrast with the Bush global warming affair. The Fox News panel sweetly smiled when Bush double-flipped on a matter of substance. But, two minutes later, they eagerly took themselves back in time to examine an utterly pointless story--a misreported, silly tale that would have been trivial even had it been true.
Dear readers, as we watched the Fox gangs approach, our own thoughts drifted to another great novel. No, it wasnt Segals moving Love Story; it was Dickens sublime Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of coverage--and the worst of coverage--as the Fox gang limned the two leading hopefuls. As we glanced about the celebrity press, we almost thought we saw patterns unfold.
Tomorrow: We almost think we see a pattern in the early Governor Dub-and-Al coverage.
Visit our incomparable archives: We first wasted our time on this inane topic several months ago. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/99-4/1/99, for our three-part report.
Henneberger speaks: We found Hennebergers lengthy Times piece to be heavily spun itself (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/99). Despite learning that Tumulty had misstated Gores remark in her Time article, Henneberger wrote a lengthy, exciting piece, focussing on what was wrong with the reported statement which Gore had not actually made. However, two nuggets of information could be found in her piece: Gores actual statement on the matter was correct, and Gore had been a model for the Barrett part. Obviously, none of this makes any difference whatsoever, and only a groaningly misguided press corps would ever have discussed it to begin with.
Lets make some news: The genesis of the Love Story flap is too comical not to be savored. First, a reporter misstated what Segal said. Then, Tumulty misreported Gores remark about that original article. Maureen Dowd--who else?--divined Gores motive for the remark which he hadnt made. Then, when Henneberger discovered these facts in her reporting, she typed up a heavily spun account, which kept the excitement running high.
Today, the Bernie Shaws still go on air, making flatly inaccurate statements. The Fox Sunday gang expressed it perfectly: Gore has to stop doing this stuff, they said, discussing a remark that is almost two years old!
Surely, Zeus halls ring out with laughter. Is Bush confused on global warming? Dont expect the press to tell you. Theyre still researching Ali McGraw.