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Caveat lector

11 October 2000

Our current howler: There they go again

Synopsis: Pundits were clucking about Bush’s childhood books. As usual, the pundits were wrong.

Commentary by Margaret Carlson
Imus in the Morning, MSNBC, 10/10/00

Inside George's Web
Gail Collins, The New York Times, 10/10/00

Bush Gets (Green) Egg on His Face Over Reading List
Carla Marinucci, The San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13/99

Gore shows pattern of exaggeration
Carter Yang,, 10/7/00

Sorry, folks. Cool your jets! It's just another example of the press corps' inept ways. Margaret Carlson was chatting with Imus on yesterday's "in the morning" spectacular. She stated something with which we agree—that the press corps focuses on errors by Gore more than on errors by Bush. Then she careered off the rails:

CARLSON (10/10): I think we're exaggerating Gore's exaggerations and exaggerating Bush's dumbness...We didn't make that much of George Bush's favorite book being The Very Hungry Caterpillar which wasn't written when he was a child. And that falls into the category of the Gore [misstatements].

Carlson may have had the hungry little bug on the brain because Gail Collins had noted it that very same morning:

COLLINS (10/10): Mr. Bush, you may remember, was asked last year about his favorite boyhood book, and named "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," which was written the year after he graduated from college.

Very curious, George.

The incident helped Collins fill her space, but it actually wasn't "curious" at all. What is "curious" is the press corps' endless attraction to trivia, copy-catting and stupid slander. The matter of the hungry caterpillar was raised in a San Francisco Chronicle column last November. As part of a "literacy campaign" (get this) conducted by Pizza Hut, the nation's fifty thumb-twiddling governors were asked to name their favorite childhood books. Carla Marinucci took it from there:

MARINUCCI: The survey of 50 governors, conducted by Pizza Hut as part of a literacy promotional campaign, drew some expected responses from Bush's colleagues. Most named classics such as Dr. Seuss, "The Little Engine That Could" and "Aesop's Fables." But four of the seven books named by Bush, who was born in 1946, weren't written until long after he was out of grade school.

Hay-yo! Character problem!! Why hasn't the story been more widely heard? We don't know, but Marinucci was enough of a pro to include a fuller context:

MARINUCCI: Bush had company among governors who named books that didn't exist when they were kids. Washington Gov. Gary Locke named Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go," published in 1990, and "Stellaluna," published in 1993.

The Pizza Hut people were forgiving to a fault.

"Maybe my question was misleading," Weinstein said. "I apologize for that."

Actually, Marinucci was being insinuative to a fault. Bush was not the only governor who took the question about "childhood books" one way and not another. (By the way: If Bush spent more than ten seconds of his time on this matter, we conclude he's not fit to be president.)

But context didn't make Collin's column. Carlson—almost surely not knowing what she was talking about—likely saw the note in the Times, and bruited it on to Imus. But understand this well—if the press corps had wanted to make Bush a Big Liar, they could have spun and dissembled about this silly matter, turning it into a "character issue." That is exactly what they have done with Gore, on item after item, to this day.

Case in point? An exposition by Carter Yang, writing on the ABC web site. Yang writes the three millionth recent story about Gore's naughty, naughty bad lies. "Gore shows pattern of exaggeration," the worthless article's headline says. Unfortunately, Yang shows a pattern of lacking a clue. Here's one pathetic example:

YANG: Last December, Gore acknowledged accidentally misleading reporters aboard Air Force Two to believe he and Tipper were the inspiration for the 1970s romance novel Love Story. A spokeswoman said it was a simple "miscommunication."

We have no idea what Yang is talking about. Gore made no such statement "last December" (or at any other time, for that matter). The meaningless incident occurred in November 1997, and the silly press flap occurred in December of that year. Yang's erroneous time frame lets you see how much he has researched this incident. Meanwhile, did Gore "acknowledge accidentally misleading reporters," and did his spokeswoman say it was "a simple miscommunication?" Yang is spinning nicely (or perhaps just copying a recent AP report which included this very same narrative). The spokeswoman, Ginny Terzano, actually said, "We apologize if there was a miscommunication with reporters in an off-the-record conversation with reporters where they did not take notes" (our emphasis). Yang perhaps can't sort that out, but Terzano is suggesting that the reporters got the facts wrong. In fact, Time's Karen Tumulty did acknowledge that she had slightly misreported what Gore really said. We know of no time when Gore himself ever "acknowledged accidentally misleading reporters;" in the reporting on the incident, Gore stressed that what he had said was accurate. Yang—who thinks this incident happened last year—is giving a type of improved account he provides for other pseudo-incidents in his story. And talk about a whole new standard of accuracy! (For others, of course, not oneself.) Yang complains that Gore's recent comment about doggy pills "wasn't quite true." Ohmigod! Quick! Write a story! And Yang challenges an anecdote Gore told at a luncheon honoring his mother last April; Gore had said a certain event happened after "a few days," when it really happened after "several weeks." To give you an idea of Yang's surpassing bad judgment (and high standards for others), the trivial incident Gore was recounting had occurred in 1971! (Meanwhile, who had alone reported this pseudo-flap in the first place? Who else, folks? The Post's Ceci Connolly!)

Yang—who thinks that Love Story happened last year—is nevertheless happy to rattle on, attacking the character of a major public figure. Don't worry, folks. The press corps could have done the same thing to Bush, if it had happened to fit their brain-dead agenda. The Carter Yangs could have had a time with that hungry little bug, as Carlson and Collins showed us in their comments yesterday morning.