When reading about the media it can sometimes be very strange. There is something there, but you can't quite see it. Something you can smell, but can't quite place it. It's like being in a forest in the black of night, you can see nothing, and then lighting flashes and for a moment everything is perfectly visible. The it goes black again, and it's hard to remember what it looked like.
I had a moment like that today while reading about Bob Woodard.
Bob was giving a talk (Woodward's off the cuff reminiscences of various Washington dinners can in no way be called a lecture) about his life and times covering (and being one of) the powerful. Woodward spent a good deal of time spinning his yarns about Washington and threw in one about why we should all mock Al Gore:
He [Woodward] also told an unflattering, but amusing story about sitting next to former Vice President Al Gore at a dinner, saying being with him was “taxing,” and added, “To be really honest, it’s unpleasant.”
Woodward said Gore pressed him on why the journalist didn’t go after Bush, who beat Gore in the 2000 presidential election, over the war in Iraq.Gore was a former reporter before becoming a politician, and “he thinks he invented [reporting] also,” Woodward joked in reference to an often misquoted statement that the ex-vice president claimed he invented the Internet.
Got that? I sure didn't. Woodward has a tendency to make up dialog, so who knows what really went down, but just taking his word for it, this is awful. A former Senator and Vice President of the United States of America asks why so much of the media was asleep at the switch in the run up to and during the Iraq War and Woodward can give no answer. He can however tell the crowd "To be really honest, it's unpleasant." Hooray for the National Press Corps.
This is of course a lie, or perhaps more generously a gross distortion. Al Gore never said "I invented the internet." The radio program This American Life did a exhausted investigation into what sparked this lie, and traced it to a campaign event Gore did at a New Hampshire high school where according to the video and audio tape of the event, these were words Gore never spoke. So the whole thing, the quote that has come to define one American politician was a lie. This is your national press corps.
The awful journalists at TAL didn't stop there, they also interviewed the high schoolers who saw the Vice President campaign, and their descriptions are that of a person you and I have never met:
Lucas Gallo: He wasn't as stiff as people say he was. He comes out, takes his jacket off or whatever. He walks around, he asks for audience participation, he talks to the audience.Hell, he's probably more interesting than Bob Woodward talking about playing golf with Netanyahu.
Ashley Pettingill: There's a question that said, what do you like to do for fun? And he mentioned that he liked The Simpsons.
Alyssa Spellman: He kind of understood that we are people, we are kids, but we're not dumb. We understand what's going on. And he respected that.
Lucas Gallo: I mean, he was still Gore. But he wasn't quite as stiff as like-- he didn't just get up and talk like the other candidates did. He's kind of a neat speaker to see.
This is like that flash of lighting in a dark wood. Woodward illustrates that class of journalists, of which he is the Dean, more interested being "in" than telling the truth, more interested in perpetuating their caricatures of politicians than explaining the complex and bewildering world we live in. Here is a powerful man, worshiping power, worshiping lies and worshiping his own ability to tell these lies and get away with them. Here is a powerful man ignoring one of the most important questions we can ask of the national press corps, our national press corps! Why on earth did you so blindly support such a disastrous war and defer to such a terrible president?
The best answer we get? "To be really honest, it's unpleasant."
I guess it is.