Gore Re-Gored During Washington Post’s Goring of Dean

?Huh, you might ask? Well, I’ve been arguing that what happened to Howard Dean is representative of the media’s habit of not reporting objectively, but in being lazy and reporting their interpretation of the story of a candidate, whether the facts support the story or not. Given the way Gore was treated in the 2000 campaign, I’ve come to call this “being Gored.” I didn’t come up with this first, and I’m not sure who did, but the idea was certainly suggested to me by Eric Boehlert’s mid-January assessment in Salon.com of the media treatment of Dean’s “anger problem.” It’s interesting to compare this column about Dean to one Boehlert wrote about Gore just after election day in 2000. Seems to me that what Dean experienced was exactly the same phenomenon.

What is interesting about all of this is what the Washington Post did with the question of Dean’s “gaffes” in a Jan. 23rd editorial. I only heard about this editorial as it was quoted by media whore Tim Russert in his lengthy Feb. 1st interview with Howard Dean on NBC’s Meet the Press. The transcript is available (for the relevant passage, search the transcript for the word “Quayle”), and from it, we find that Russert placed this question, depending on the words of the Washington Post editorial to do the heavy lifting:

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post had a very interesting editorial and it tried to put it in context, and let me share it with you and our viewers and talk about it. “Defending the Rant: The speech has caused such big trouble for Mr. Dean because it so graphically evoked already-present worries about the candidate’s temperament. This is a common political phenomenon. Thus, Mr. Quayle’s misspelling of potato was a big deal”–”of underlying doubts doubts about the vice president’s intellect. President George”–Herbert Walker–”Bush’s supposed fascination with a supermarket scanner resonated because of the perception of the president as out of touch with ordinary folk. Likewise, the grief that Vice President”–”Gore took over his alleged boasts to have discovered pollution problems at Love Canal, invented the Internet”–”inspired a character in `Love Story’ was the product of his reputation for self- serving puffery. In each of these cases, the importance of an episode, real or imagined, was inflated because of the pre-existing political condition.”

Do you agree with that?

Where to begin? Dan Quayle’s spelling, George Bush the elder’s supermarket scanner, and Gore’s Internet, Love Story and Love Canal “fabrications” all contrasted with Dean’s “anger.”

They’re all there.

Every last one of them.

Any journalist interested in truth would see that the real conclusion from all of these is that political journalists are incompetent, since every one of these stories except for the Dan Quayle “potato” story is an clear misrepresentation of fact. The Bush scanner incident was created out of whole cloth by the New York Times, and everyone has long known that all three of the Gore stories are false (as well as all the others not mentioned here in this shorthand version of the “Gore is a liar” meme). But the Washington Post editorial board sees each of these little stories as having power only because they are emblematic of certain essential characteristics of each of the candidates involved. But surely, the problem is with these little stories themselves, since they are false (with the exception of the Quayle story), and the real issue is how journalists repeat such false and misrepresented stories. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear that the Washington Post has not mistaken the chicken for the egg, failing to consider that these stories may not be so much emblematic as they are transformative of existing images, that these fabrications have their power not because they are seen as particularly good representations of existing known truths, but because they are such good stories that they completely alter the story by becoming the only stories that get told.

The only valid conclusion from the examples cited in the editorial is that journalists who came up with the Dean anger stories are just as incompetent and untrustworthy as the ones who trafficked in these falsehoods about Gore and Bush senior.

But no, that’s never the lesson that journalists take away from these facts. It’s never their problem, but instead it’s the problem of the candidate.

How can the Howard Dean’s of the world ever succeed in revolutionizing our political system when the media outlets are all staffed by journalists who do not understand that their first responsibility is to truth?