at some point in his highly eventful 62 years, and if she was any good at all she told him, "You have quite
For years, he was belittled for being so annoyingly right all the time; Gail Sheehy once criticized him for having no discernable body fat. "He tries too hard to be perfect,'' she wrote in "Flawless, But Never Quite Loved,'' a 2000 opinion piece
in The New York Times
. "Perfection is a serious flaw for a modern politician. Mr. Gore has suffered from it all his life." Maureen Dowd pegged him as a "goody-goody . . . locked into the Good Son Role," "the Tin Man: immobile, rusting, decent," and "so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct he's practically lactating."
But that was always a caricature; Gore was also sarcastic, droll, and fully capable of playing hard ball. A journalistic colleague I had no reason to doubt told anyone who would listen that Vice President Al Gore
had tried to stick his tongue down her throat out of nowhere at a New Year's Eve party in the mid-'90s, when all she'd been expecting was a friendly peck.
Now that he's been accused of behaving not just badly but criminally with a massage therapist summoned to his Portland, Oregon, hotel room in the fall of 2006 -- just before his comeback -- the all-new take on the boring old Gorester is that he was a boor in Bubba
's league all along: "If the massage therapist's story is true,'' despite Gore's denial, writes
Ann Althouse, "we are looking at the same problem we saw with Clinton. . . . What makes a man treat a woman like that? Generally, I think it's because he's done things like that before, many times, and gotten away with it. We're talking about an older man, with a big reputation and a lot to lose. Why would he proceed in such a crude fashion? I would guess that his sensibilities have numbed over the years, as women acceded to his moves. The moves became less and less elaborate.''
My friend and former Slate colleague Emily Yoffe, whose work I am on the record as liking quite a lot
, imagined in print that "He had to have long ago concluded there are different rules for the people whose little, wasteful lives are destroying the planet and the person whose mission it is to save it." She continued:
While the rest of us are supposed to fret about our choice of light bulb, Gore must believe it's actually more efficient for him to have a string of mansions where he can rejuvenate himself for the burdens he must carry. And since he's rich he can take care of any personal indulgences with the modern indulgence of carbon offsets. So, there he was at the end of another long day, meeting draining people, lecturing them on how to live, and he needed to blow off some tension. It's understandable he doesn't want to bed groupies -- they could want things like phone calls and attention. And he's not going to cross the legal line by going to a pro. So the late-night massage is perfect. The masseuse is a woman whom you pay well to come to your room and rub your naked body, and if some special adductor work happens, all the better.
Which doesn't jibe at all with the Gore I got to know pretty well while doing a series of long biographical pieces
about him for The New York Times
in 2000. My husband, Washington Post
reporter Bill Turque, wrote a Gore biography, "Inventing Al Gore,"
but one thing that's not in his book that he learned in the course of reporting it is that Gore told one of his closest friends that he was not only a virgin when he met Tipper at his senior prom, but that in all the years since, he had never had sex with another woman.
What we wondered most after the 2000 recount
was how in God's name Gore managed to put one foot in front of the other until the march started to make some kind of sense again. Is the answer in Molly Hagerty's 67-page statement
to the Portland police? Much of it does have the sickening ring of truth, which doesn't make it true. And some of it doesn't add up, just like in real life.
Sometimes I think bank robbers might get more respect than reporters do. (And yes, that's even if you count poor Rip Torn
, who got so drunk he broke into a bank he seems to have mistaken for his house, then curled up and fell asleep there.) I mean, do even thieves have to listen to long, error-filled screeds about "the robbers" at their very own dinner tables, delivered by their very own family and friends? On one particularly galling occasion, as a member of a profession
held in perhaps even lower esteem stood in my living room drinking my wine and holding forth on how "you can't trust the media," I only barely suppressed the urge to blurt, "See you and raise you on the trust issues, there, Padre
With left and right united in jihad and much of our industry battling PTSD, I am loath to indulge in the kind of press bashing we in the press used to take such pride in. Yet our handling of the Gore sex allegation does perplex me, especially because I'm not sure I'm right.
When Politics Daily reporter Annie Groer called to relay what she'd read in the initial "nothing here, folks" statement issued by the Portland police, Annie and I both had the same lofty and perhaps mistaken reaction: Oh, ugh.
If the police
hadn't taken the charge seriously -- and they'd done everything but scribble dollar-signs in the margins -- then why should we? Since the police
had issued a statement, however, we would do a short, just-the-facts item and basta
. The Times, the Post, and most every other outlet did likewise, as conservatives complained that we were ignoring the story out of ideological loyalty (to the guy we tore to shreds
during the 2000 campaign?) and liberals cried that we were over-covering it, eager as ever to do anything for a buck.
Salon served up "Three Reasons to Doubt the Al Gore Sex Assault Story,"
while The Washington Times
ran with the dubious claim that "the Al Gore
cheating scandal . . . came as no surprise to some in Washington.'' (Rush Limbaugh
stuck to the original
Gore-is-a-bore script, however, joking, "How do you massage a wooden object?")
Only, when are we going to acknowledge that people we agree with on public policy issues do the wrong thing sometimes -- and vice versa? That our wild swings in judging public figures as heroes and then monsters are kid stuff? (I wish I could argue that such black-and-white characterizations are a major reason for public erosion of trust in the Fourth Estate, but a quick look at what sells rules that out.) Flawed as we in "the media" are, most of us do continue to run away from both R and D sex scandals, despite the limitless appetite of . . . you, dear readers, for anything that smells like dirty laundry.
At Politics Daily, we do so much journalism that I couldn't be prouder of
-- yet the most popular stories in the month before
the Gore sex investigation was reopened
by Portland police included news
about Al and Tipper Gore's divorce, news
about their eldest daughter's separation, and non-news about a Gore affair that didn't even happen
. For a boring guy, he certainly has held our interest. And whatever comes next for one of the most complicated people I've ever known, when we sketch him or any other figure in the news as a cartoon, it is we who are being obstinately simple.
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