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Al Gore as Allegory: Nothing in Moderation

5 years ago
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Al Gore, Nobel Laureate and alleged "crazed sex poodle" has surely consulted an astrologer at some point in his highly eventful 62 years, and if she was any good at all she told him, "You have quite an unusual chart here, Senator. No, really."

He's been up, down, out and then in, denied the presidency but redeemed . . . by Hollywood, where he'd never before been beloved. Perhaps most improbably, after being mocked throughout his life as too beige, too careful, and all too maddeningly perfect, the guy who as a kid on a field trip approached his teacher and inquired, "Sir, is it the time to be rowdy now?" whose likeness in his high school yearbook literally has him up on a pedestal -- "People who have no weaknesses are terrible" the caption reads -- has been recast quite late in the run as a brute from the first. People are complicated, of course, so I'm not sure why we're so set on it being all one or the other. Or why the new rendering is no more nuanced than the old stick drawing of Al Gore, insufferable Eagle Scout.
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.

Follow Melinda Henneberger on Twitter.
Filed Under: Scandal, Media, Al Gore, Woman Up

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personally I think the woman who accused him, is not credible. as a woman her statement is strange and I would say this if she made the claim against President Bush. But having said that, it is also not unusual for men to have a mid life crisis and for years do things that are "out of character". I know that when I went threw menopause, I did things that were not my norm. I still look back and am shocked that "I did that". The real proplem is that we as a society seem to judge not by the totallity of a persons life, but by the one time they fail.

July 13 2010 at 10:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Al Gore "annoyingly right"? Anyone who has been following climate science knows that there hasn't been any "global warming" for 15 years despite CO2 levels rising steadily, that we have 5x as many polar bears now than in 1950, and that the arctic ice is recovering.

Al Gore is annoyingly irrelevant.

July 13 2010 at 6:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yes!!! Thank you Melinda. You have, in your own special way, shown us the double standard in American Society. Tiger Woods is a monster, Al Gore is a "complicated person". Is my comment racially motivated? Is the media racially biased? Does society reflect the media perspective? Y, Y, and Y.

July 10 2010 at 6:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Well done, Melinda! Whether I agree with everything you say or don't is irrelevant; it is a thoughtful and well communicated.


July 10 2010 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If this woman did not come forward and file an official police complaint against Al Gore for sex crimes he committed against her, she has no credibility what so ever, and the state should not be able to come back 4 years later to prosecute a case no one came forward to make an official complaint about.

July 10 2010 at 6:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Title reads "Opinion: What Gore sex scandal reveals about us". When we label a home-less man a "hero" because he picks Old Glory up off of the ground, in the rain, folds it and leaves it on the hood of a car, that paints a pretty crystal clear image of "us". I as well as many others, as well as Al Gore, served this country and offered it our lives so that flag can fly. I'm not an Al Gore supporter, however, it's pathetic that "we" zero-in on his faults and not his attributes. If we all measured ourselves as the great teacher taught and "let him that is without sin cast the first stone", this page would be blank!

July 10 2010 at 6:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Why judge when you haven't a clue? It sells articles and news. I find it very hard to believe a man in his position would go after some fifty year old massage therapist! Give me a break. He could have any one of those "pretty interns"...there is no true logic to the accusations. Why waste a career on some old woman in a hotel room? The media has been hoping for some way to trash VP Gore. Sell sell sell the assumed trash. One day the media will have taste/class...whatever you wish to call it. As long as trash sells no one is sacred. Mc Carthyism is alive today! News media get over yourselves! Grow up! Find something of value to project into the universe! Give us all a break (that includes yourselves).

July 10 2010 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Who cares? Nobody from the mainstream media wrote about Bush, Sr. and his supposed womanizing on Barbara, and no mainstream media mentioned the supposed Bush II "love child and/or abortion" rumor. Is it only so called "liberals" who are open to such scandals while the so called "conservatives" get away with it (like Strom Thurmond) until they die? Unless these supposed extramarital shenanigans are affecting these politicians' ability to do their jobs (to the pitiful extent that politicians indeed actually DO the jobs they were elected to do) or raise my taxes, I couldn't care less.

July 10 2010 at 6:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A real nobel laureate ...and...'denied the presidency'...? say what?
A lie of a film and 'awards' given because he was a rich democrat and the democrats couldn't win even tho' they managed to get sun young moon involved...puh-leeze

July 10 2010 at 6:09 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

He is a democrat so we at AOL love him and will protect him for better or worse.

July 10 2010 at 6:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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