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GorePhobia and the Washpost: HEADS UP … the saga continues

June 15th, 2007 · No Comments

Perhaps you missed this … but … sometimes you can’t make things up.

Under the title “Fact Check”, Andrew Ferguson started his OPED in last Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook section:

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

True, but not truthful or honest. No footnotes but 20 pages of endnotes …

Well, in the six days since publication, The Washington Post has received a flood of complaints and commentaries … and they’ve acted … well … sort of …


A quick background

While most of my blogging could be related to putting up wind turbines, other sometimes describe me as a Don Quixote, ready to tilt at windmills and fight the good fight. For all too many reason, Ferguson’s maliciously disingenuous OPED What Al Wishes Abe Said truly angered me.

And, well, I wrote The Washington Post and wrote Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post. Following that, I received a note from Deborah Howell, the Post’s ombudsman, which prompted Washington Post responds re Gorephobia Truthiness … which documented a much longer missive that I sent to Deborah Howell.

Note — if you haven’t seen those, you might want to check for background … not critical but …

*Another contact from the Post*

Wednesday, I received the following note from a Post Outlook staffer

Deborah Howell forwarded on your letter to her on Andrew Ferguson to us in the Outlook section. We’re planning on publishing an online feature with some of the reader response. I wondered if we could use a portion of your letter, pasted in below.

Wow … cool … this sounds like a real reaction from the Post … What did they want to publish?

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.

Truly, that was a request to publish a substantive, meaningful, and, could one say, biting response to Ferguson’s malicious attack on Gore?

Let me tell you, that is one e-mail that prompted a quick phone call giving approval. From the Post staffer:

Thanks again for your prompt reply.
As I said, we’re hoping to post this feature tomorrow mid-day.

Wow, mid-day Thursday.

And, well, as part of that phone call … some encouragement to write up an OPED for submission for consideration. Late Wednesday night, with cross-continent support from Hekebolos, prepared a 650 word submission that I sent in at 2 am. Have to say, in my estimation, not half bad. But, how about Hekebolos’ review:

me: thanks … did I waste your time?
HEKEBOLOS: heck no! it’s a great article
i’m looking forward to seeing it in virtual print

Well, I wanted to see it in hard copy.

Hmmm …

*Dashing of Hopes: phase 1*

Late Thursday, couldn’t find it online. A call into the Post, with apologies for calling to check in. What was I told? “That’s odd. I edited it and sent it on to the online editor awhile ago. It should have already been up online.”

And, well, that phone call was a little bit difficult. A brief thank you for the OPED submission but, with the thank you, the message that the Post Outlook editors had decided that it was not necessary to publish anything Sunday. And, well, that they were satisfied with the correction that ran on page A2, 12 June, and probably unread by 99+% of Post readers:

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.

Sort of disgusting.

The “article … said”, not the author of the article???? And, well, that ‘correction’ only deals with “fact” and not the truthiness implications of getting that “fact” wrong and how central that abuse of truth was critical to the OPED’s maliciousness.

Friday afternoon, still nothing. Sent in a note with a query. The response:

Many apologies for the delay on this. Though I edited the responses and solicited a response from Ferguson at the request of my editor and the online opinions editor, in the end they decided not to run the pieces. I really apologize for this.

I had hoped to get it published online because I thought it was a good and necessary conversation.

Unfortunately, it was not my ultimate decision.

No, I guess not. But, what does this say about The Washington Post‘s corporate position about honesty in OPEDs and handling dishonest submissions?

Evidently, I am not the only one concerned.

I believe the ombudsman is addressing this matter in her column on the op-ed page.
Thank you again for your careful reading and for writing in to Outlook. I apologize again for this confusion.

Well, evidently Deborah Howell and at least some others at the Post are not enthused at the situation. A late post from Noziglia in Washington Post responds re Gorephobia Truthiness …, a Noziglia well worth reading, contained the following:

I have news. I hate to steal your thunder, but I just got a call from the Ombudsman at the Washington Post, Deborah Howell. She told me the following news:

1. A correction has already run. We knew that.
2. This incident will be the subject of her Ombudsman article in the coming Sunday edition of the Post.
3. Ferguson is personna non grata at the Post. He has expressed regrets at making his mistake,[mistake?] but the Post staff is quite embarrassed by his taking advantage of them.
4. My e-mail to the Post, copied below, last to first, will be inncluded in an internal e-mail she is writing to the Post staff, alerting them to the need to make sure they get their facts straight. She said that I had put the issue in language that makes sense.
I want to thank you for your original Diary entry, which prompted me to check my copy of Gore’s book, and write my e-mail. In a perfect world, this whole thing may make a real diference in the way news is getting reported. They know we’re watching them!!

Well, sometimes it is nice to have the wind taken out of one’s sails, the thunder stolen. Simply put, Noziglia — You’re welcome. No, you’re thanked.

From Noziglia’s letter (again, see the full post),

I look forward to reading the correction/comment on this issue.

The question I raised should be part of that comment.
Does the Post fact check on what columnists write BEFORE it’s published? Part of the game plan of some political factions is to put invented facts into publication, and then recycle references to the original lie until it “becomes the truth.” You have a responsibility to protect your readers from that, and you have not done a very good job.

Really well written and evidently written in a way that communicated with Howell, such that she intended to use it in internal communications. Bravo Noziglia … BRAVO!

Would I have liked to see my material being quoted in the Post’s online dealing with Ferguson’s abusiveness? Absolutely.

Would I have loved to have an Outlook piece on this issue? Absolutely.

But, Noziglia’s news is a positive sign.

And, well, thank you, because it is one of those (1000s of) validations of impact from engagement in this community.

But, let’s look at how Ferguson has been treated in the Post’s publications since Sunday.
* Howard Kurtz did a ‘he said, she said’ in his weekly chat
* Kurtz had no hesitation about citing Ferguson favorably on other material.
* And, a mainly favorable review of Ferguson’s Lincoln book (with no comment about Sunday’s abusivess). Note, that the review does point to something about Ferguson:

Ferguson also manages to mischaracterize — character assassinate might be a better term — a number of Lincoln enthusiasts whom I have known for years, while puffing up some I wish I hadn’t.

This suggests something … hmmm … Perhaps the Post could have checked the pedigree on an author attacking a public figure, not that The Weekly Standard should have suggested anything.

For example, in the 23 October 2000 (e.g., just before the 2000 presidential election that Al Gore won), Ferguson published “The Metaphors Make the Man” in The Weekly Standard. From a strongly supportive review:

“In “The Metaphors Make the Man,” Ferguson sets out to destroy the notion that Gore is some kind of intellectual.”

Does this suggest an objective perspective on Gore, appropriate for space in The Washington Post related to an evaluation of Gore’s scholarship?

In any event, the above provides the promised (threatened) update and the heads-up:

Sunday, Deborah Howell, we’ll be reading you.

We hope that it will be worth reading

*NOTE* For a definition / discussion see GoreoPhobia and the Global Warming Epidemic.

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