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May 27, 2006

Jonah Goldberg is a Man of Principle

You've got to admire Jonah Goldberg's unwavering, unblinking commitment to his principles. I only wish his determination served a higher purpose than "Al Gore is a jackass":

These folks never want to engage whether Gore was in fact telling the truth or exaggerating. Do they think Gore ever really spent a whole summer as a teenager speaking fluent French about Sartre et al only to come home and get C's in French? If it's not true, isn't it really weird that he would say it? And, truth be told, if it is true, don't you think it's really weird that this is what a fifteen year-old kid wanted to do with his summer? (italics his)

If Gore didn't spend the summer in France studying existentialism, he's a liar. If he did, he's weird. Heads Jonah wins, tails Gore loses.

Jonah, it should be said, has no evidence that Gore didn't go to France for a summer, though that doesn't stop him from implying it in a nationally syndicated newspaper column (somebody call a blogger's ethics panel!). My guess is the young Al spent a number of weeks in France and, at 59, that's what dominates his memories from the Summer of 1962. So here's what we've got: Al Gore possibly misremembers particular dates from youth, George W. Bush refuses to publicly recall entire swaths of his ("When I was young and reckless..."). It's interesting to note which the press appears to prefer.

Relatedly, when I was 17, I spent a Summer at UCLA. Well, actually, it was six weeks, I just call it a summer. I am, it would seem, a liar. Worse, because I wanted to spend a high school summer taking college courses in philosophy, I'm weird. No wonder I like Al Gore. What is a wonder is that Jonah, who is constantly admonishing liberals to spend more time immersed in philosophy, doesn't. I guess some things are more important than consistency.

Update: Jonah's "evidence" for Gore's deception was that he couldn't find mention of this Summer in any of his bios of Gore. Well, as eagle-eyed reader Mike points out, he should have used Amazon's "Search Within This Book" feature (or at least thrown up one of his customary blegs). Debra Saunders' demolition project The World According to Gore (excitedly blurbed by The Weekly Standard) says:

While his father served in Congress, Gore spent most of the year living with his parents in an eight-flooor apartment on Embassy Row's elegant Fairfax Hotel. He was "finished" by extensive foreign travel. To help their boy learn Spanish, his parents sent him to Mexico one summer. They also shipped him to France and Switzerland to improve his C average in French.

As for Jonah's "And, truth be told, if it is true, don't you think it's really weird that this is what a fifteen year-old kid wanted to do with his summer?" It would seem his father sent him over there for some remedial education -- Dad's choice, not the fulfillment of young Gore's long-standing desire to study Sartre.

Just to explain why this irritates me so much, and thus why I've spent time debunking it, all that happened here was that Jonah heard Gore mention that he spent a summer studying existentialism in France, decided not to believe it, and wrote a newspaper column based on his hunch. That's it. It wasn't true, as you can see from Saunders' book, but hundreds of thousands of Angelenos -- my family included -- read it over their morning coffee nevertheless. And I doubt they're going to see a correction anytime soon. It's irresponsible journalism, and Jonah should know, and do, better.

It's missed potential, too -- I get some shit for this from you guys, but I think Jonah's a good writer, and, when he's not hacking it up, an interesting and fresh intellect. I would've loved to see a column based on this post of his. But rather than challenge his readers, he sought to do nothing but reactivate their old biases, and do so over something as small as which summer Gore spent in France. By his own admission ("there he goes again"), and for that matter, actions, he wasn't interested in the facts on the ground, just their superficially easy fit with larger narratives about Gore's untrustworthiness. It's disappointing. The LA Times -- and its unsuspecting readers, like my grandparents -- deserve better.

May 27, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

I think Matt Y. finally scored a point against Jonah. It was bound to happen sooner or later, I guess.

Posted by: Matt | May 27, 2006 7:27:34 AM


Once one summer, when I was a teen, I spent a week at camp. And then later that summer I went with my family to visit my Grandmother.

But now I know that couldn't be true because Jonah told me I couldn't fit both of those two things into one summer. Think about it - two trips in one summer. How can you fit TWO things into ONE thing? Of course, you can't. It just doesn't make any sense.

Thank you God for Jonah.

Posted by: backspace | May 27, 2006 7:49:34 AM

I would guess Al was too busy toking up and tapping French ass to worry about grammar. Truth be told Jonah, who's hooker budget is only rivaled by his Cheeto budget, wouldn't get that.

Posted by: John Gillnitz | May 27, 2006 9:07:04 AM

Give it up, Ezra. All you are demonstrating by this childish rant is that you are just another wanker.

Posted by: Andrew | May 27, 2006 9:20:52 AM

Al Gore went to France? Why, that's as bad as Bill Clinton going to the Soviet Union! After all, France is in the treeeeeeeasonous Axis of Weasels who didn't like us and stuff and wouldn't join us in Iraq.

The only question: why does Al Gore Hate Freedom(tm)?

Posted by: Jeff Fecke | May 27, 2006 9:28:33 AM

On p. 3 of The World According to Gore, Debra Saunders writes that Gore's parents "shipped him to France and Switzerland to improve his C average French." I can't tell what Sauders's source is, since my access to it is Amazon's Search Inside the Book function, but if you want to pursue this further, perhaps a trip to the library is in order.

Posted by: Mike | May 27, 2006 9:37:40 AM

Jonah, it should be said, has no evidence that Gore didn't go to France for a Summer,

Except for that campaign theme where he was plowing the hilly fields on his family's farm (and we all know that planting crops on a steep plane is the way it's done).

It's interesting to note which the press appears to prefer.

Let's see: Dan Rather & 60 Minutes running fake memos & Matt Lauer asking questions about drug use versus Jonah Goldberg writing a column.......gee, can't tell which one the infamous right-wing press appears to prefer. Maybe we can get Nina Burleigh on the case.

Posted by: RW | May 27, 2006 9:38:39 AM

What I don't understand is this: why should we give a rat's ass what Al Gore did when he was 15? Doesn't jonah have a damn thing on his agenda more pressing than worrying about how Al Gore spent a few days, weeks or months 34 years ago? If not, perhaps someone could give him something else to worry about? Broder's obsessed with the Clinton marriage, Jonah's worried about Gore's trip to France - gee, can't SOMEBODY worry about America in 2006?

Posted by: Mike Clark | May 27, 2006 10:03:36 AM

Make that 44 years ago - even more reason for him to quit worrying about Gore's childhood and GET A LIFE!

Posted by: Mike Clark | May 27, 2006 10:04:47 AM

I spent the summer, well six weeks actually, learning French at a boarding school in Nice when I was fifteen too. It was cool and interesting and I met lots of worldly people and learned to speak French which I still do and rather fluently too.

The doughy pantload is the very definition of right wing vapidity. He's the perfect example of why we need affirmative action. Does anybody believe he'd be anything but a mid-level manager in ever expanding elastic topped pants if he wasn't the spawn of that Nixon abetting, Linda Tripp manipulating mother of his? If we lived in a meritocracy that's where he'd be all right!

Posted by: joker | May 27, 2006 10:05:23 AM

Hmmm, let's recap:

1) Unlike Bu**sh** and Cheney, Al Gore actually went to Vietnam.

2) But Doughy Pantload refuses to serve in George and Dick's Excellent Iraq Adventure.

3) Unlike Bu**sh** and Cheney, Al Gore studied French in France and can apparently actually speak some French, though we don't know exactly how fluently. It also seems that Gore may have studied Spanish in Spain, though again we don't know exactly how fluently he speaks the language.

4) I got Andrew Jackson right here in my pocket sayin' Doughy Pantload can't speak ANY foreign language, except possibly a very minimal amount of Hebrew which he might've had to memorize for his Bar Mitzvah when he was twelve or thirteen.

Posted by: Worst. President. Ever. | May 27, 2006 10:49:22 AM

I think the conservatives are right, and that we should bring back shunning. Let's start with Goldberg.

Posted by: mwg | May 27, 2006 11:35:24 AM

One night I spent a week in Philadelphia.

Posted by: Bruce | May 27, 2006 11:39:43 AM

"What I don't understand is this: why should we give a rat's ass what Al Gore did when he was 15?"

It's the current attack against 'An Inconvenient Truth'. Resurrect that old bullshit trope of "Gore The Serial Liar" in readers, and you don't have to worry about the fact that you can't debunk the science.. that shameful Al Gore invented global warming!

Posted by: so crates | May 27, 2006 11:55:19 AM

I'm ashamed for my alma mater UCLA after reading this rubbish:

I think Jonah's a good writer, and, when he's not hacking it up, an interesting and fresh intellect

This isn't nearly as bad as your uber-pathetic "It was the smelly hippies at school that made me a lib hawk!!!" post at Pandagaon that caused me to stop taking anything you wrote seriously, but I should have checked the destination of the link Atrios provided before clicking on it if that's the level of nonsense you write here.

Posted by: Henry Holland | May 27, 2006 12:21:33 PM

"What I don't understand is this: why should we give a rat's ass what Al Gore did when he was 15?"

Because the other day, Gore was bragging to Arianna Huffington about his summer in France at 15. In fairness to Goldberg, Gore brought this up. He told Arianna that he travelled to France when he was fifteen to study the existentialists. Goldberg doubts this story.

Posted by: Aaron | May 27, 2006 12:32:25 PM

And Arianna, who speaks a handful of languages fluently and would know a poor accent from a pitch-perfect one, reported that Gore's French had "pitch-perfect accent". She has criticized Gore in the past, and I can't imagine she'd do an about-face and lie about something to make him look good.

As a former teacher and bilingual person, I can attest to the fact that you don't get that "pitch-perfect accent" unless you spend a decent amount of time immersed in the culture and country of its speakers.

End of discussion.

Posted by: litbrit | May 27, 2006 12:44:23 PM

Goldberg can have all the personal reservations he wants about Al's veracity. The fact is he did zero research and just published "Al Gore's weird or a liar" based solely on his personal biases. If he had at least made it clear that he was going solely off his own personal dislike for Al Gore and not with any factual basis, He might have been pardonable for writing, but then why would LA Times print it?

Posted by: Geeno | May 27, 2006 12:49:41 PM

The meme that Gore is a big exaggerator is one of those pieces of misinformation which is an article of faith among those who don't read the Daily Howler.

The trouble is...Gore isn't a braggart or a liar, but he is the object of resentment and envy by those who who live with constant underachievement, while whining about how hard they work.

Posted by: Nancy Richardson | May 27, 2006 12:55:00 PM

The kind words about Jonah not withstanding, I don't think truthfulness, as opposed to "truthiness", matters to Goldberg. Did any of the retailers of the "Gore claims to have invented the Internet" or "Gore claims to have inspired the novel 'Love Story'" memes care about the facts? No, because truth and falsehood were irrelevant to the goal of validating negative perceptions of Gore.

For ideologues and partisan hacks it's always all about politics all of the time. Football being their preferred paradigm for the game of politics, it follows that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. Expecting ethics or intellectual rigor from this crowd is a mug's game.

It's interesting to note the blatant anti-intellectualism embedded in Jonah's fabulation though. Evidently he thinks that a precocious intellect is some sort of character flaw. Put him down as one of those who thinks that knocking back Budweisers with the boys is a better qualification for the Presidency than intellectual curiousity.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | May 27, 2006 1:10:42 PM

In fairness to Goldberg, Gore brought this up. He told Arianna that he travelled to France when he was fifteen to study the existentialists. Goldberg doubts this story.

Wow, so much dishonesty in three sentences it's hard to know where to start. This story began with a blogpost by Huffington relating a story Gore mentioned to her in a conversation. It is stretching the definition to say that Gore "brought this up". Goldberg may doubt the story, but has absolutely no evidence it isn't true. So apparently Al Gore can have a conversation with someone and then be accused of lying without a shred of evidence.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | May 27, 2006 1:12:46 PM

litbrit,

If Arianna's ear is so sophisticated, what's up with her ridiculous accented English?

You're quite right about picking up accents, though. I know a German who speaks perfect Brooklynese, and my son's High German is heavily Swiss. I'd expect Gore's French to be Cannesian if there is such a thing.

As to his continued average performance in academic French after an alleged summer of language immersion, that's entirely feasible. Gore seems reasonably intelligent, but he wasn't a top drawer student. Language fluency doesn't necessarily translate into grammatical competence, and might even work against you, especially if you learned an idiom. You'll easily be understood, but you couldn't write for Match.

My bottom line, Jonah doesn't make his case, but Al Gore is still a serial exaggerator, and IMHO, half a bubble off plumb.

Posted by: Old Dad | May 27, 2006 1:19:35 PM

Al Gore spent his "summer" improving his French - this is either weird or dishonest according to Jonah. Personally I loved the movie that was based on his summer, no not Love Story, but If Looks Could Kill .

Posted by: UCFjoustudent | May 27, 2006 1:28:56 PM

My bottom line, Jonah doesn't make his case, but Al Gore is still a serial exaggerator, and IMHO, half a bubble off plumb.

Excellent recitation of the media/republican talking points. Any evidence for this at all? Anything Somerby hasn't refuted hundreds of time?

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | May 27, 2006 1:50:51 PM

My bottom line, Jonah doesn't make his case, but Al Gore is still a serial exaggerator, and IMHO, half a bubble off plumb.

So now the threat level has been downgraded from "serial liar" to "serial exaggerator?" In that case, ought we not to rate the scale of exaggerations (if, in fact, that discription is accurate) by scale and potential harm? How do Gore's supposed "exaggerations" rank compared with say "We know Saddam has WMD's and we know where they are." or "Mission accomplished?" Bluntly, how many lives have Gore's alleged "exaggerations" cost?

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | May 27, 2006 2:01:01 PM

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