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14 July 2000

Our current howler (part IV): Yes, we have no examples

Synopsis: Fallows suggests that Gore "invented" a charge. We think you’ll soon say: Look who’s talking.

An Acquired Taste
James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly, 7/00

Presidential turnouts seen tonight in first major presidential test
Paul Taylor, The Washington Post, 2/8/88

Dukakis, in mainstream, urges multilateral efforts
Edward Walsh, The Washington Post, 5/1/88

It's bit ironic to see James Fallows portray Gore as a ruthless attacker—and then serve up a worthless "example" like Gore's 1988 exchange with Gephardt. According to Fallows' article, Gore is "the most lethal debater in politics," a man "who leaves opponents feeling not just beaten but brutalized," a guy who "has learned to destroy opponents in debates." He is "manifestly willing to lie for convenience," with "a willingness to bend the rules and stretch the truth if necessary." He has the "ability to fight close in and mean." He has "the ruthlessness to frame—or distort—facts in an argument of devastating effect," and he's "willing to fight with whatever tools are necessary." On the cover, Gore is shown as a vampire. The cover art does not distort the essence of the Fallows portrayal.

But who exactly is "stretching the truth?" To be honest, it doesn't seem to be Gore. The truth is, in the 1987-88 Dem debates, almost all the contestants took on the others; as we showed yesterday, Gore was only one of many who engaged in free-wheeling critique of other hopefuls. Indeed, the complaints that Gore made on February 18 had been made by professorial, bow-tied Paul Simon in TV ads just one week before; Fallows' readers, of course, just aren't told that. And Fallows never even tries to claim that Gore's statement about Gephardt was in any way false (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/00). Does Fallows actually think it's strange when a Democrat talks about minimum wage? If his soul is too gentle to stomach this combat, he ought to repair to the leafy retreat where such a sensitive spirit might flourish.

But at least we finally reach a debate in which Fallows seems to say Gore is lying. It's the same 2/18 forum in which Gore challenged Gephardt; earlier in the evening's debate, Gore had taken Dukakis on too. "Dispatching Gephardt was important," Fallows says, "but the real target was Dukakis" (the front-running Dem). Early on, Fallows reports, Gore criticized a response by the Duke:

FALLOWS: Gore: "...Now, I listened to Mike talk, and it sounds a little bit different from what he said in Iowa about a week ago, on the eve of the caucuses there, when he implied that it would be all right to have a Soviet client state established in Central America..."

According to Fallows, Dukakis disputed Gore's statement, provoking an extended exchange:

FALLOWS (continuing directly): Dukakis [starting to splutter]: "I never said that—I'm not going to—sorry, sorry—I'm not going—"
Gore [plowing ahead]: "And if a President of the United States made a statement like that in office, it could have catastrophic consequences—"
Dukakis [appealing to Roger Mudd, the moderator]: "Roger! I'm not going to sit here and listen to that. I never said that, Al! I never implied it—" [Dukakis is really angry, at least for him.]

"Well, that's the way it was reported," Gore said, "and I read the transcript, and what you said is if they had offensive missiles there, offensive weapons, then you wouldn't tolerate that, but if they didn't, then a Soviet client state might be just fine." According to Fallows, Dukakis disputed Gore's characterization two more times.

In his analysis, Fallows rather plainly suggests—two separate times—that Gore may have been making this whole matter up:

FALLOWS: Viewers watching the debate might well have drawn two conclusions: Gore was the tough guy on foreign policy, and Dukakis had said something questionable and possibly unpatriotic about the Soviets and Central America. Surely a United States senator would not simply invent such an accusation. If Dukakis sounded so touchy, Gore must have hit a nerve.

"If Gore had not wholly invented the accusation," Fallows says, "he had taken large interpretive liberties."

In these passages, Fallows twice suggests the possibility that Gore had "invented" his accusation. That is plainly, egregiously false. "That's the way it was reported," Gore said, and it's abundantly clear what he meant. Dukakis had appeared on Meet the Press on February 7, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. On the show, he was asked about an earlier statement concerning the Monroe Doctrine. Paul Taylor described the exchange in the Washington Post the next day:

TAYLOR (2/8): Dukakis, appearing on "Meet the Press," predicted a "photo finish" [in Iowa] Monday night. Questioned about the Monroe Doctrine, he said that as president he would not tolerate the introduction of offensive weapons into a client-state in the Western Hemisphere, but implied that he would not object to the mere creation of a Soviet client.

Had Gore "invented" his accusation? Hardly. As is clear from the highlighted texts, Gore was virtually reading word-for-word from a Washington Post news report. It was Paul Taylor, not the Tooth Fairy, who reported what Dukakis "implied." And the topic had arisen on Meet the Press because of an earlier Dukakis statement. Fallows provides some background:

FALLOWS: If Gore had not wholly invented the accusation, he had taken large interpretive liberties. Earlier that month Dukakis had been quoted as saying that the Monroe Doctrine had been superseded by the treaty establishing the Organization of American States and other agreements. This could be interpreted as meaning that the United States should be more careful about throwing its weight around in the Americas, which in turn could mean "tolerating" regimes it did not like.

That's right—that's exactly how it could be interpreted. And that's why the topic came up on Meet the Press, eleven days before Gore brought it up. The topic was raised on Meet the Press because questions were already being asked about what the Duke had said. But Fallows makes a remarkable statement about what Gore should have done:

FALLOWS (continuing directly): But Gore did not need to rely on these interpretations, because he had heard Dukakis directly address the question. Two months earlier, at a debate in Washington, D.C., Tom Brokaw had asked Dukakis, "If there is a Soviet satellite state in Central America, another Cuba, and it's called Nicaragua, would that bother you?" Dukakis replied, "It would bother me. It would depend on whether or not it had offensive weapons. If it does, we have a perfect right to go in with our partners in the American community and take the steps we have a perfect right to take."

Incredibly, even the two-month-old statement which Fallows cites plainly supports Gore's position. "It would depend on whether [a satellite state] had offensive weapons," Dukakis says. "If it does, we have a perfect right to go in." This statement—somehow offered by Fallows as exculpatory for Dukakis—completely supports Gore's challenge to Dukakis' view on this matter.

Please understand—we aren't attempting to rehash Nicaragua. We aren't attempting to determine whose proposals were right. Instead, we are watching Fallows attempt to back up some very aggressive accusations. According to Fallows, Al Gore is a liar—a guy who will say "whatever it takes." The charge is a very serious charge, and the Atlantic milks it for all that it's worth, starting with its remarkable cover. And guess what? Fallows' attempt to support his position would get him laughed out of a freshman writing class. Even the two-month-old statement which Fallows drags in quite plainly supports Gore's position.

This is the way the mighty Atlantic decides to slander public figures? On the basis of logic that would get college freshmen laughed right out the door? For the record, the idea that Dukakis had blundered on Central America was still around long after Gore left the race. For example, here was the Post's Edward Walsh, in May, reviewing the Duke's successful run:

WALSH (5/1): Dukakis' emphasis on human rights and international law has led him into some of the few missteps of his plodding but steadily successful campaign...

Campaigning in Iowa earlier this year, Dukakis said the Monroe Doctrine had been "superseded" by the Rio Treaty and the charter of the Organization of American States. Pressed on the subject during a television interview [Meet the Press], Dukakis was asked whether he would tolerate the introduction of a Soviet client state in the Western Hemisphere even if that country was not armed with offensive weapons that threatened its neighbors.

"We've got to start respecting the law in this country," replied Dukakis, a lawyer by training. "I mean, do we or don't we believe in the treaties and documents that we sign and ratify?"

Dukakis later remarked that he should have said the Rio Treaty and OAS charter "expanded" on the fundamental principles of the Monroe Doctrine.

In other words, he "later remarked" that he had misspoken. Whether you think it's important or not, it's exactly what Gore had said.

In summary, it's abundantly clear where Gore got his question. The matter stayed in the news after Gore left the race. Meanwhile, Fallows' attempt to support his insinuation about Gore is simply a laugh-out-loud howler. But this is one of only two alleged examples of Vampire Gore telling lies in debate—one of only two examples, from five debate cycles, offered to support this article's claims. Five debate cycles, over twelve years, with over two dozen debates in 1988 alone—and this is the best that Fallows can offer? It's hard to believe that such savage claims are supported by such a lack of examples. But guess what? The other example is from the 2000 primaries. Incredibly, it has even less merit.

Next: School boys draw teeth on pictures of those they disfavor. So too at Michael Kelly's Atlantic.

For the record: Fallows does offer an explanation about Dukakis' two-month-old statement. For the record, we offer it here. The passage directly follows the last material we quoted from Fallows. We'll reprint that to provide the full context:

FALLOWS: But Gore did not need to rely on these interpretations, because he had heard Dukakis directly address the question. Two months earlier, at a debate in Washington, D.C., Tom Brokaw had asked Dukakis, "If there is a Soviet satellite state in Central America, another Cuba, and it's called Nicaragua, would that bother you?" Dukakis replied, "It would bother me. It would depend on whether or not it had offensive weapons. If it does, we have a perfect right to go in with our partners in the American community and take the steps we have a perfect right to take."

The "would" in "It would bother me" was slightly swallowed, so it could conceivably have been heard as "wouldn't." But Gore was five feet away as Dukakis said these words, and he could hardly have misunderstood Dukakis's point. In the second part of the answer Dukakis was clearly, if implicitly, referring not to the issue of whether a Soviet state in Central America would "bother" him but to the circumstances that would justify taking action.

Maybe that's "clear, if implicit" to Fallows, but it's hardly "clear, if implicit" to us. In fact, we don't have the slightest idea what Fallows means here. (For example, what's the "second part" of a three-sentence answer?) And by the way, it wasn't "clear, if implicit" to the Meet the Press panel, and it wasn't "clear, if implicit" to the Post's Taylor, either. And apparently Dukakis didn't think his original statement was "clear;" later on, he said that he meant something different. In this article, Fallows makes exceptional charges against a major public figure, and this is the way he supports them?


The Daily update (7/14/00)

Poor Jeff Jacoby! Boo hoo hoo: Jeff Jacoby's suspension is meaningless in itself. But it has allowed the press corps to showcase its devotion to copy-cat sloth (and inaccuracy). The air has been filled with angry scribes demanding that the Boston One be restored. Their conduct has revealed their deepest values. We'll review the case in detail next week.

But we thought we'd preview one matter. In July 1998, Jacoby—without any attribution—ripped off part of an April 1997 piece by Tucker Carlson in The Weekly Standard. Predictably, what Jacoby recycled (without attribution) was an ugly insinuation about Gore. And here comes the beauty part: Two weeks after Carlson's piece appeared, the Standard had run a detailed letter correcting what Carlson had said. Anyone reading Carlson's original piece could have seen that his charge had the sound of contrivance. But, at the time that Jacoby recycled the charge, it had stood corrected for over a year.

We wrote a letter to the Washington Times, which is where we saw Jacoby's column. The letter has been lightly revised for clarity. Article references follow:

July 30, 1998

Letters Editor
The Washington Times

To the editor:

How sad that you published columnist Jeff Jacoby's latest recycling of an old Al Gore-lacks-character canard, the one Jacoby expressed in his July 29 column. Jacoby says this about the 1996 Democratic Convention speech in which Gore described his presence at his sister's deathbed:

As for that dramatic deathbed scene, it was hard to see when he could have found time to squeeze it in: On the day his sister died, records show, he was busy talking politics with a reporter from the UPI and addressing the Kiwanis Club in Knoxville.

Jacoby implies what he was unwilling to say—that Gore was too busy campaigning to attend to his sister in the way he's described.

This suggestion was invented by Tucker Carlson in a May 19, 1997 Weekly Standard piece. But, in response to Carlson's insinuation, the Standard printed a detailed letter from Gore's driver in its June 2 issue. The driver explained how he drove Gore to Nashville from East Tennessee when word came that Gore's sister had taken a turn for the worse. If Jacoby has made any effort to know the truth about Carlson's insinuation, he surely must be aware of the facts which the Standard provided in this forum.

By the way: Jacoby and Carlson must be the only people on earth who haven't heard that it's possible to do more than one thing in a day. How does it feel to be publishing a writer whose grasp of reality is so slender?

Yours truly,

To our knowledge, the letter wasn't published. At any rate, Jacoby had recycled Carlson's year-old story, without attribution. Carlson's charge had long been known to be wrong.

Meanwhile, the weepy Jacoby has published a letter about the "nightmare" he has now undergone. Settle in for some real entertainment:

JACOBY: I joined The Globe as an op-ed columnist in February 1994. (The first line of my first column was: "So what's a nice conservative like me doing in a newspaper like this?") In the six and a half years since, I have produced close to 600 columns. I invite anyone to judge my integrity and my journalistic ethics on the basis of the work that I have done for The Globe. To my knowledge, the paper has never had any reason to question my work, or to doubt that I hold myself to the highest standards when writing for publication.

We're going to take him up on that offer. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo.

The Real Al Gore
Tucker Carlson, The Weekly Standard, 5/19/97

Poisonous rhetoric from a would-be president
Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, 7/23/98

Reprinted as:
Gore's incendiary fulminations
Jeff Jacoby, The Washington Times, 7/29/98

Visit our incomparable archives: To review Jacoby's recent work, visit our archives. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/12/00, 5/16/00, and 6/2/00. Also, see our Big Picture Report, filed at 7/11/00.