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GoreOPhobia, the WashPost, and Howell’s pseudoApologia

June 17th, 2007 · 2 Comments

A week ago, the Washington Post Outlook section featured, under the banner “FACT CHECK”, a malicious attack on Al Gore starting off with flagrantly false information.

The outrage floursished …

As per Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post,

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, today, the saga continues as the Post‘s ‘voice of reason’, the intermediary between the readership and the newspaper’s practices, spoke up.

Follow me over the fold to learn about Deborah Howell’s failure to right the wrong …

*Fourth on a topic*

This is the fourth and (hopefully) last diary discussing Andrew Ferguson’s disingenous truthiness attack on Al Gore. In order, the others were:

* Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post: An initial discussion, pointing to the error in the OPED, discussing my letter to The Post. This seemed to have sparked a number of other LTEs to The Post, many of which were documented in posts.

* Washington Post responds re Gorephobia Truthiness … documenting a note received from Deborah Howell, the Post’s ombudsman, and my response to her.

* GorePhobia and the Washpost: HEADS UP … the saga continues which discussed how The Post contacted me (and others) requesting permission to use material online and, potentially, in the print version, how Post editors decided to not use any of it, and Howell comments to one correspondent about plans for a Sunday column.


The Post and responsible journalism?

The Washington Post has, an institution, spoken. When it comes to malicious misuse of its pages by right-wing partisan hacks, it doesn’t really care. Following publication of What Al Wishes Abe Said, the outraged letters and communications flowed. How do I know? Because I expressed my outrage. In reaction, the Post ran a correction in the paper (and online, now, with the 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.

Wow. What a strong statement!

Passive voice. Hard to know who caused this? Could Ferguson be at fault? Editor? Jeez, how did this minor accidental error occur?

An error, sort of like spelling someone’s name wrong, buried in the pages of the paper.

Even with this notable correction, The Post received a significant amount of commentary and compaints. Several Kossacks were contacted by the Post for potential OPEDs, online commentaries, letters to the editor, and with information that people at The Post were angered and that Ferguson was banned from The Post‘s pages. (See discussion, cites, and comments to the saga continues). As part of this, the heads-up, Deborah Howell’s ombudsman’s column would cover this issue.

*The Ombudsman Speaks … softly*

Well, what was Deborah’s reaction?

In Notes Overlooked and News Overdone?, 13 paragraphs into the story (of course, with Paris issues more important), Deborah cleans up her column with the following:

Al Gore partisans were furious about a piece by Andrew Ferguson titled “Fact Check” in Outlook last Sunday. It started by saying: “You can’t really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book ‘The Assault on Reason.’ It’s a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation, and annotating it with footnotes would be like trying to slip rubber bands around a puddle of quicksilver.” Ferguson, senior editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, went on to say that he didn’t believe an Abraham Lincoln quote in the book was authentic.

Note, this is just “Al Gore partisans” who are upset. This has nothing to do with the reality and credibility with the newspaper, but is simple partisanship.

Might as well put in a photo of the man being libeled ...

And, well, isn’t nice that Ferguson’s malicious attack gets another shot.

But Gore did have 20 pages of endnotes and cited a 1950 Lincoln encyclopedia for the quote. Ferguson didn’t check the back of the book, and neither did Outlook editors. Boaz Kochman of New York wrote: “Mr. Ferguson’s entire column is based on a falsehood. I trust that a correction is forthcoming.” The correction appeared Monday.

Well, you’ve seen that correction above. What a joke. Didn’t “check the back of the book” and he is claiming credibility for attacking Al Gore’s scholarship?

Thank you Mr. Kochman. So far, this is the only reaction that we have seen from a Post reader (New York, note, rather than someone from the DC area — is this to hint that is only ‘outside agitators’ who are angry?). My understanding from editors is that they have no intention of printing (or putting online) any reader reactions to this utterly absurd publication.

Ferguson said, “I’m mortified about this. It was incredibly stupid. How I missed them is inexplicable.” Ferguson said he worried that “everyone will dismiss” his point about the Lincoln quote. The encyclopedia Gore quoted is discredited by most Lincoln scholars, he said. “But there’s no reason Gore should have known that.”

Well, so, he got the malicious attack in The Washington Post and The Washington Post didn’t see fit to publish any response or indicate institutional anger/remorse for enabling this Assault on Reason.

Kalee Kreider, Gore’s communications director, was upset that Gore wasn’t called about the piece. “Well before the Outlook piece, [Gore] had learned the quote was questionable, so he requested a change in the second edition” of the book.

Well, to a certain extent, fine … correct the scholarship, if it is appropriate. But, should anyone be trusting Ferguson on whether it is day or night? Whether the sun sets in the East or West? Anything this man says or writes should be greeted now with utter skepticism, rather than being quoted favorably (such as by Howard Kurtz this past week).

Guess what? My outrage continues.

*Tilting at windmills?*

Below is my letter to the Post ( and a separate missive to Deboarah Howell ( Note, too many words, but polite (and, sadly, respectful) throughout. Do I expect The Post to change? Expect? No. Hopefully influence? Yes.

So, these follow.

To the Editor and Ms. Howell,

With all due respect, when it comes to Andrew Ferguson’s false statements in his Outlook piece a week ago (What Al Wishes Abe Said), the ombudsman’s column lets Ferguson and the situation slide.

Ms. Howell starts her comments with “Al Gore partisans” as if only Gore partisans should be upset with such an egregiously false statement setting up a malicious attack on a major national figure in The Washington Post.

In the past week, I have heard over 10 times “Gore made up quotes” in his book. When pressed for sources, every person said it came from “The Washington Post”. They did not cite Ferguson or an OPED.

This is a typical way of political attack in the United States. Get a false piece of information into a major publication (such as the Post) and propagate it as fast as possible so that it becomes part of the Zeitgeist — even though it is not true. (Note that Ferguson made a reference to the false claims that Gore claimed that he invented the internet.)

Evidently this is an error without consequence in terms of conclusion and implication, based on The Washington Post’s handling of it.

I am a 40 year reader of The Washington Post. When residing in the DC area, I have been a subscriber (most of the past 20+ years). This incident makes my wife and I uncomfortable to have The Post enter our homes. Is that the confidence you wish to inspire in your readers,

Okay, it is too long or nearly so (it counts at 245 words and the limit is 250). But, The Post has shown that it is unwilling to publish a single reader’s reaction to Ferguson’s malicious truthiness.

As for Deborah Howell, she received the long missive. (Mea culpa for the overlapping, but I decided to provide you the verbatim material.)

Dear. Ms. Howell,

First, let me state my appreciation for fowarding some of my earlier correspondance to the Outlook staff for their consideration.

Second, however, let me state just some of my arenas of frustration with your few paragraphs on Andrew Ferguson.

1. “Al Gore partisans were furious …”

I wrote you as a “furious” historian. I do not know how to define it, but I do not believe that I am an “Al Gore partisan”.

In no way, in any of my correspondance, did I suggest that. I wrote with anger about how The Washington Post enabled a disingenuous and, in essence, libelous work to enter into its pages.

By starting your few paragraphs in this way, you are framing the conversation in a way (just like Ferguson did). Should anyone other than Gore partisans be furious? Is the Washington Post staff upset? Did this error have consequence or is it just something Gore partisans whined about? Are there consequences, in terms of how The Washington Post will handle things, for Ferguson’s article?

2. “The correction appeared Monday.”

As you are aware, this correction read:

“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.”

Nowhere does this, or does your column, deal with the fact that by starting this article in this way, Andrew Ferguson framed a false and malicious attack on Al Gore.

This correction was handled in the same way as you would handle a correction about an incorrect decimal point describing the inflation rate. Look at the items that ran with that correction. Is there not a difference between these?

Did this not merit more than that?

3. Andrew Ferguson’s history

Did it not matter to discussion how The Weekly Standard is a highly partisan conservative paper. That Andrew Ferguson has a history of attacking Democrats with questionable material. Let us stay with Al Gore, in the 23 October 2000 ( e.g., just before the election), 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? (source)

When a such a partisan is writing for The Post, do not the editors owe it even more to the readership to bend over backwards to ensure that all facts are, well, actually factual?

4. The quotation’s authenticity?

Has The Washington Post sought any serious look at whether Ferguson is correct? There seems to be a historiographic debate on this quote, which was not represented in his discussion.

5. The quote was not the only thing

Note that Ferguson had other malicious and false material in the OPED, such as the reference to the false claims that Al Gore claimed that he created the internet.

6. Putting false information into a major publication
A sad element of political discourse in this nation is the insertion of false information, by whatever means possible, into major newspapers for it then to be used in attacks referencing that news outlet. I have already experienced this over 10 times with Ferguson’s false statement about The Attack on Reason. You do not, in anyway, discuss The Post‘s responsibility for this: both in this incident and in general.

With all due respect, your column today continues The Washington Post‘s disservice to its readers and political discourse in this nation sparked by Ferguson’s abuse of informaiton.

Well, perhaps it is like forming stalagmites/tites …

Bit by bit …

Depositing material …

Eventually changing the shape of the world.

*Action for today, and tomorrow!*

Should we spend every waking moment writing (futile?) LTEs? No.

But, if everyone of us spends a little time, each month, getting out at least one LTE, then we help shift the discussion, bring the debate back to the reality-based world.

As for me, one of my favorite paths is Congress.ORG, which provides links to your representatives and a pretty good (it seems to me) listing of news outlets across the country. When you need to express something, drop by there, they make it easy to seek to have your voice heard.

If we, collectively, engage, more likely that we will be heard.

So, engage.


Whenever I engage with a newspaper/such, no matter how frustrated, my language remains ‘professional’. Even when angry, I try to keep doors open.

I respect that any posters understand that so that we don’t give ammunition to those who deride ‘those librul bloggers’.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 WashPost Embraces Will-Ful Deceit // Feb 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

    […] pages, the Post responds with weak corrections which few read, if they react in public at all. See GoreOPhobia, the WashPost, and Howell’s pseudoApologia (17 June 07) for a saga about a Post editor commissioning a piece to respond to a fundamentally […]

  • 2 Blogging about WashPost OPED Editing: Inane or Insane? // Aug 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    […] into energy analysis, Samuelson’s truthiness, and Sarah Palin’s paltry shallowness, and others, Kathleen Parker has stepped up to the plate for an attack on the American Clean Energy and […]