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Washington Post responds re Gorephobia Truthiness …

June 11th, 2007 · No Comments

Follow-ups are sometimes merited. My last diary, Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post, began:

Sometimes you can’t make things up.

Under the title “Fact Check”, Andrew Ferguson starts his Sunday Washington Post OPED

“You can’t really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, The Assault on Reason.”

Ferguson is absolutely right … and, amazingly arrogant in his disdain for common understanding of “truth” …

Like almost every academic / scholarly work published nowadays, Assault on Reason does not have footnotes … rather it has endnotes.

Well, I (along with many others) contacted The Washington Post. And, we’ve been told, “a correction will be run” …

Follow me past the fold for my response …

After writing Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post, I sent the following letter to The Washington Post:

To the Editor,

Andrew Ferguson begins What Al Wishes Abe Said with the words

“You can’t really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, The Assault on Reason.”

Ferguson is right, the book doesn’t have footnotes. But by being correct, Ferguson has been disingenous in deceiving Post readers.

The Assault on Reason does not have footnotes, it has endnotes. That is, it has 20 pages of endnotes.

Ferguson’s OPED appeared 10 June under the banner title: FACT CHECK.

Sadly, I don’t think that I could have made this up.

Will The Washington Post publish a prominent correction to Ferguson’s deceptive opening? As it stands, The Washington Post has given legitimacy to a false statement questioning Al Gore’s veracity that reinforces the equally false statements that Gore claimed to have created the Internet.

I would hope that next week’s Outlook section will have a front-page correction.

Sincerely, A Siegel

The Washington Post response that I received this evening:

from Ombudsman Internet DropBox 6:33 pm (4 hours ago)
to A Siegel <... @gmail DOT com>
date Jun 11, 2007 6:33 PM
subject Re: Re “What Al Wishes Abe Said”

Thank you for your note. A correction will run on the fact there were endnotes in the Al Gore book. However, the author stands by his belief that the Lincoln never said the things Al Gore quoted him as saying.

Deborah Howell, Washington Post Ombudsman

Okay, below is my response to Ms. Howell.

Dear Ms. Howell,

I appreciate that you responded. And, I respect that you are in a difficult circumstance here. But, with all due respect, perhaps you should consider whether your response below is adequate.

1. Ferguson’s article was a hit piece against Al Gore, based on a disingenuous and misleading statement. Let us take a cue from Stephen Colbert: What Ferguson wrote was “true”, since the book has endnotes not footnotes. What he wrote was not the truth or truthful, since it so clearly misrepresented the situation, clearly suggesting that Gore had zero basis for actually believing that these were Lincoln’s words. What Ferguson wrote was not truth or truthful, but pursued a false ‘truthiness’ that Gore cannot be trusted (note the reference to Gore’s internet).

2. The argument / discussion about the universal Lincoln — all things to all people, whether or not quotes are real — is quite interesting and worthy of an Outlook piece. But, Ferguson’s discussion of this quote is stained by his overt misrepresentation of Gore’s work in his opening words and his snide attacks on Gore and others in this OPED.

3. Ferguson might state that he stands by his assertion as to the quotation. Let’s start with a simple question: can you seriously take him at his word when he so misrepresented The Assault on Reason in claiming “no footnotes” and implying that there was no way for him to know Gore’s source, when there are endnotes and the source is clearly stated within those endnotes? Secondly, I am a historian — although not a specialist in Lincoln. Today, I have done a little research and found … that the authenticity of the quote is disputed, with some scholarly work claiming it authentic and others claiming it is not. It does look to be the case that it is not an authentic quote (unusual source, but interesting; see also HProf’s Gore and Lincoln: Good News, Bad News.)). Note, that even by Ferguson’s statement, it was not until 1999, in an obscure journal, that there was strong scholarship “proving” it not authentic. What is the possibility that Al Gore had a Lincoln book on the shelves published prior to 1999? Such as the one cited in his notes? Honestly, I do not know the truth but, again, based on Ferguson’s misrepresentation of simple facts in the opening words, I have no basis simply to trust him on an issue of serious academic examination.

4. This was a prominent attack on Al Gore (and others). I would hope that the correction is given as much — if not more — prominence in The Washington Post. Might I suggest that next week’s Outlook section have a “FACT CHECK” box on its front page with a clear statement correcting Ferguson’s misleading opening lines?

5. Your readers might want to know the consequences of such misrepresentation from an author. Will Ferguson be allowed access to The Washington Post‘s pages again? Why should Post readers/subscribers (like myself) trust him? With so many good and credible authors in the world, why give an inch to one who provides such misleading material?

6. WashPost.COM runs article corrections (such as here). As of late Monday night, there is no such correction running with Ferguson’s misleading What Al Wishes Abe Said. Can we expect such a correction to be posted Tuesday.

Let me tell you, I have multiple graduate degrees in/related to history. I have multiple peer-reviewed articles in academic journals. I have been on editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals. I serve as a peer reviewer. Al Gore, in his book, cites a serious work and quotes from it in a work that is not focused on Lincoln (e.g, not a biography/such), but is using that quote within a larger discussion. It does matter if the Lincoln quote is accurate or not, but it is not a stain on Gore’s scholarship that he did not know the questionable authenticity of the quote. (The stain would be if someone could prove that Gore knew it was false and searched for a source to cite to use it even with that knowledge. I doubt, sincerely, that this is the case.) And, to be honest, I suspect that (if this is not an authentic quote), Gore’s work would have passed through most peer reviews, unless perhaps a Lincoln scholar knowledgeable about this quotation were one of the reviewers.

On the other hand …

An error like Ferguson’s in a submission (especially as an opening sentence setting up the entire thesis to be examined in the article) would lead to the article’s rejection, immediately. Nothing else an author wrote would have any credibility. After such an egregiously misleading statement, a reviewer would be trying to determine which of these was the case:
* Either, the author (Ferguson) was so clueless that they did not realize that a book they were looking at (attacking) had 20 pages of endnotes; or
* The author was maliciously choosing to attempt to mislead the readers.
Either option is not a good reflection on the author’s scholarship.

You wrote that

“a correction will run”.

I certainly hope that this will not be on page A2, where perhaps 1 of 1000 people who read Ferguson’s OPED will notice it.

You wrote that

“the author stands by his belief that the Lincoln never said the things Al Gore quoted him as saying”.

Might I ask how you can simply give him any credibility in this regard after his flagrant misrepresentation of Gore’s documentation of his source material?

Again, I hope that I (and the 100,000s of other Post subscribers who Ferguson misled) see a prominent correction to Ferguson’s misrepresentation in next Sunday’s Outlook section.

And, if you/The Post wishes to look into the question of this quote, perhaps it would make sense to request a piece from an actual Lincoln scholar rather than a partisan pundit. And, to have a balanced discussion of how Lincoln has been used/misused by politicians (of both parties) and others over the past 140 years. Again, the “universal Lincoln” is an interesting question, worthy of discussion.

I also hope to see an examination of the issue of Ferguson’s misrepresentations in your next column.

Sincerely,

A Siegel

=====

Please note, I am reserving most of my outrage and action for energy (Energize America) and Global Warming (The Climate Project) issues. But … we need to work to keep the press honest … and, for good or bad, this is the press that enters my home every morning. And, well, I work to do this ‘politely’, to keep the doors open for the next time … because, sadly, there will be a next time.

*UPDATE* Can I claim credit, What Al Wishes Abe Said has had a correction added since I sent the letter:

Correction to This Article
Andrew Ferguson’s June 10 Outlook article, “What Al Wishes Abe Said,” said that former vice president Al Gore’s book “The Assault on Reason” does not contain footnotes. The book contains 20 pages of endnotes.

It is a start …
*UPDATE II* Of course, there is always the material that you wished you included, that you meant to. Above was written off the top of my head. I had planned / thought to include something like the following:

Imagine … Imagine if Mr. Ferguson had started his article appropriately … It might have begun something like …

What do Al Gore and Ronald Reagan have in common? They both fell victim to the confusing world of the Universal Lincoln. Somewhat like the Bible, Lincoln can be all things to all people. Sometimes, however, the universal Lincoln turns out not to be real, but words created by others, for their own purposes, over the past 140 years. In a speech, Ronald Reagan used a series of Lincoln quotes that were invented 100 years ago. Al Gore, in Assault on Reason, uses a Lincoln quote from the Lincoln Encyclopedia that Lincoln scholars have shown in 1999 to be invented in the late 1800s. ….

And, then, he could have gone on to discuss Universal Lincoln …

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