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22 September 2000

The Daily update: Kristol clear

Synopsis: Misdirection is a powerful force. This week, it’s even grabbed William Kristol.

Gore's Family Values
William Kristol, The Washington Post, 9/21/00

Gore, in Attack on Drug Industry, Focuses on 2 Medicines
Kevin Sack, The New York Times, 8/29/00


We think William Kristol is one of Washington's two or three most valuable pundits. He's smart, and willing to speak outside his party's prevailing soundbites. That is why it's so bizarre to see him dragged into the Gore doggy mess. The Washington press corps is all riled up about the cost of pills for dogs. We expect no better from typical scribes. But from Kristol, we do expect better.

Readers, let's go to the data. Gore's mother-in-law does take the drug. Gore's dog does take the drug. By all accounts, the company does charge more for the human version. And the two prices Gore cited on August 28 were accurate wholesale prices, taken from a congressional report. Here's how Kevin Sack of the New York Times quoted Gore the next day:

SACK (8/29): Mr. Gore, speaking of the drug Lodine, and its prices, said, "While it costs $108 a month for a person, it costs $37.80 for a dog."

That quote is perfectly accurate. It doesn't mention mom-in-law or Gore's dog. It's trivial, and not worth talking, but the statement by Gore is accurate. Sack was discerning enough on August 29 to put it at the end of his piece.

But somehow, William Kristol is in a fit about Gore's trivial comment. In a stunningly intemperate op-ed in the Post—why does a newspaper publish such nonsense?—Kristol says that Gore is "ruthless," "shameless," and yes, "conscienceless" because of what he said. Understand this now: Al Gore lacks a conscience because he mentioned his mother-in-law's arthritis medicine to a roomful of seniors! Kristol even accuses Gore of "dissembling," although Kristol—apparently short on conscience himself—is willing to make such an accusation without really specifying what the crime was:

KRISTOL: On Tuesday Gore acknowledged that the numbers he had used were wholesale drug prices cited in a congressional report, not the real prices paid for the medicines used by [his mother-in-law] and [his dog]. Asked whether he had consulted with [his mother-in-law] before using her in a campaign speech, Gore replied, "The issue is not her; the issue is what seniors around the country are paying."

Can you ID the "dissembling" there? In a sane world, using wholesale prices to illustrate an overall point would not be called "conscienceless" "dissembling."

Gore's mother-in-law does use the drug. The drug does "cost $108 a month for a person," according to the congressional report. The Boston Globe, in the story which started this addled frenzy, did say, "Gore's overall message was accurate—that many brand-name drugs that have both human and animal applications are much more expensive for people than for pets." It's a matter of pathology when pundits decide that these facts define "conscienceless" living.

Readers, misdirection is a powerful force. David Copperfield can make you think the Statute of Liberty is no longer there (it is). Guys on street corners can make you swear that the pea is under the cup on the right (it isn't). And spinners and sophists can get you to focus on utter, wholesale trivia. (Socrates predicted they would do this.) The RNC started pushing the theme behind this drivel back in March 1999; it was based on three building-block examples that were all completely bogus. But the press corps (Who lacks a conscience again?) has toyed with these tales for almost two years. William Kristol's Weekly Standard (Who likes to dissemble?) engaged in one of the great deceptions of the current campaign, selectively quoting a New Yorker piece to make it look like Gore was lying. (He wasn't. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/99. Other links below). And now the Irati are saying, "LOOK OVER HERE," telling you (to quote Kristol again): "But [what seniors are paying] is not the issueThe issue is Gore's apparently conscienceless exploitation of his own family."

When you tell a group of seniors that your mother-in-law take a certain drug, that is not "conscienceless exploitation" of your family. No sane person would think so. And so when Kristol swears that it really is, that is an act of pathology on his part. The issue is what seniors are paying, unless you—like so many pundits—simply don't care about seniors in Florida. Future generation will look back in amazement at the disturbance that drove this clownlike press decade. But when we actually reach the crazy point now defined by the doggy-pill hubbub, the crackpot nature of the Clinton Scandal Decade has made itself—alas!—Kristol clear.

Visit our incomparable archives: If you want to know who lacks a conscience, do review the Weekly Standard's presentation of Peter Boyer's 1994 profile of Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/99, 4/12/99, 2/17/00, 5/26/00). You'll see an example of dissembling in the raw. Engineers who played with facts in this way would, of course, be instantly fired. They wouldn't be walking around two years later making weird statements like Kristol has made.

Not a word of it is true: Another illustration—Peggy Noonan, in WSJ's OpinionJournal:

NOONAN: As for Mr. Gore, he is obviously bright, with a tough and disciplined mind not unlike Mrs. Clinton's. But he too this week gave us more reason to doubt what is inside him. I suspect people are starting no longer to be amused but actually concerned by Mr. Gore's tendency to lie in speeches and interviews. In the past five days he unspooled a heartfelt story of how his mother-in-law and dog both take the same arthritis medicine, but the pooch's meds are cheaper and this is a scandal. It certainly might be if it were true, but apparently not a word of it is.

"Not a word of it is true?" Mom-in-law does take the drug. Poochy-pup does take the pill, too. The prices were straight from a congressional report. The drug costs more for people than for pets. Apparently not a word is true? Any chance that Noonan could actually find out before she makes these remarkable statements? Incredibly, Noonan seems to think that Gore made this statement "in the past five days." His statement was made on August 28; how much else does Noonan not know about this matter? Incredibly, though, throughout this article—from the headline on down—she repeatedly refers to Gore as "evil." It's hard to believe this degree of disturbance—and the danger to society when voices like these influence those who are even less balanced. Why is Noonan still in print? Why is she still being put on the air? And isn't it time to find this irresponsible author a bottle or two of relaxants? We really shouldn't skimp on price. Calming Noonan is in the national interest.

Dumb-Good vs. Evil-Smart
Peggy Noonan, OpinionJournal, 9/22/00