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.
Ferguson opens this piece
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. Still, I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88.
In any event, the core disingenuous nature of Ferguson's opening about Gore "not using " is, well, technically true but the 20 pages of endnotes begin on page 277.
On page 282, that ENDNOTE providing a source for the quotation:
88 "may prove groundless": Abraham Lincoln, "Letter to Col. William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864," The Lincoln Encyclopedia, ed. Archer H. Shaw (New York: Macmillan, 1950) 40
Boy, that was hard, wasn't it?
The interesting (not outraging) part: Universal Lincoln?
As to the quote itself, there is debate as to whether it is actually Lincoln or a created quote. This emerged in Ron Chusid's Washington Post Column Attacking Gore Contains Serious Error. Sadly, if Ferguson had restrained his Gorephobic tendencies, the OPED actually points to an interesting issue in how 'universal Lincoln' (like the 'universal Bible') proves himself useful to all comers, from all political perspectives.
And, the universal Lincoln is valued -- whether he said the words or they're invented (even if not invented by the speechwriter/politician). Reagan gave a speech quoting Lincoln when they weren't actually Lincoln's words. Though, Ferguson places this in an appropriate conservative context to highlight the perfidy (reading between the lines) of the 'liberal' press:
As the New York Times immediately and gleefully pointed out, the lines were written by a Baptist preacher in 1916. Reagan's speechwriter found them, under Lincoln's name, in a book called "The Toastmaster's Treasure Chest."
UPDATE Here is one scholarly look (What Lincoln Foresaw: Corporations Being "Enthroned" After the Civil War and Re-Writing the Laws Defining Their Existence) that might refute Ferguson's entire thesis becuse it states that the quote in question is authentic.
"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."
-- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
(letter to Col. William F. Elkins)
Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)
Some people expressed doubts about its authenticity, given Lincoln's work as an attorney for railroad corporations! It was an interesting job tracking it down and verifying its authenticity.
See this strong discussion calling this into question. In other words, this is a disputed quote -- and that dispute is beyond my ability to resolve at this time.
Now, the critical challenge and issue here is not with the disingenuous nature of Ferguson's Gorephobic broadside. It is, instead, in the utter lack of credibility for any Washington Post claim for assuring its readership of that they can rely on the Post to provide basic facts correctly.
Again, the banner above the OPED:
Could we make that up?
Now, Ferguson's false line will reverberate for months and years to come. It will become part of the false mythos used by too many pundits for time immemorial.
Truth, Truthful, Truthiness
Stephen Colbert can be so useful sometimes.
- Ferguson stated something "true" -- there are no footnotes.
- Ferguson was absolutely not "truthful" -- as there are endnotes, his opening and key premise is misleading and based on a statement that does not pass any test of reasonableness for debate. What he asserts is not the "truth" even if it is, in that narrow context of defining "what is is", "true".
- Ferguson pursues a false 'truthiness' framing -- can't trust Gore, he makes stuff up. The 'truthiness' is, evidently, far more important than truth and being truthful.
Some more "Truthiness" ... Gore and inventing the Internet
For a diversionary moment, let us return to one of the 2000 campaign's favorite memes: "Al Gore invented the Internet".
Back on 5 October 2000, Salon published Did Gore invent the internet?
But things that "everybody knows" are always worth examining for defects. And the "Gore claims he invented the Net" trope is so full of holes that it makes you wish there were product recalls for bad information.
Gore never claimed to have "invented" the Internet. What he said was: "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet."
And, the story goes on to quote key scientists and innovators in backing Gore's legislative importance for fostering the internet's emergence.
Showing how easy it is to squash false rumors and frames, Media Matters did an excellent piece on this in February 2007, Media perpetuate myth that Gore claimed to have "invented" Internet:
Gore did not say he "invented" the Internet. In the March 9, 1999, interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer that gave rise to the myth, Gore actually said: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."
In the past year alone, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press have all published columns, editorials, or articles that repeat or perpetuate the myth that Gore said he invented the Internet, ignoring their own reporting to the contrary
Hmmm ... the record is not necessarily so good for the truth to shine through.
Back to Ferguson and the FACT CHECK
An OPED in The Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section is prominent inside the Beltway, read by politicians and media alike. Ferguson's opening lines are likely to be quoted and used as sources by many.
Some questions to ponder:
- Will The Washington Post correct 'the facts' presented in this "Fact Check"?
- Will it do so in a prominent fashion?
- How many times will we hear that 'Gore didn't even bother to footnote his work'?
- Sharing this information (this discussion and some e-mails)
- Contacting the Washington Post with my frustration and a call for prominent correction (email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org)