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Follow-ups are sometimes merited.  My last diary, Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post, began:

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.

Well, I (along with many others) contacted The Washington Post.  And, we've been told, "a correction will be run" ...

Follow me past the fold for my response ...

After writing Gorephobia Prominent in the Washington Post, I sent the following letter to The Washington Post:

To the Editor,

Andrew Ferguson begins What Al Wishes Abe Said with the words

"You can't really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, The Assault on Reason."

Ferguson is right, the book doesn't have footnotes. But by being correct, Ferguson has been disingenous in deceiving Post readers.

The Assault on Reason does not have footnotes, it has endnotes. That is, it has 20 pages of endnotes.

Ferguson's OPED appeared 10 June under the banner title: FACT CHECK.

Sadly, I don't think that I could have made this up.

Will The Washington Post publish a prominent correction to Ferguson's deceptive opening?  As it stands, The Washington Post has given legitimacy to a false statement questioning Al Gore's veracity that reinforces the equally false statements that Gore claimed to have created the Internet.

I would hope that next week's Outlook section will have a front-page correction.

Sincerely, A Siegel

The Washington Post response that I received this evening:

from  Ombudsman Internet DropBox <>  6:33 pm (4 hours ago)
to  A Siegel <... @gmail DOT com>
date  Jun 11, 2007 6:33 PM
subject  Re: Re "What Al Wishes Abe Said"

Thank you for your note. A correction will run on the fact there were endnotes in the Al Gore book. However, the author stands by his belief that the Lincoln never said the things Al Gore quoted him as saying.

Deborah Howell, Washington Post Ombudsman

Okay, below is my response to Ms. Howell.

Dear Ms. Howell,

I appreciate that you responded. And, I respect that you are in a difficult circumstance here.  But, with all due respect, perhaps you should consider whether your response below is adequate.

  1.  Ferguson's article was a hit piece against Al Gore, based on a disingenuous and misleading statement.  Let us take a cue from Stephen Colbert:  What Ferguson wrote was "true", since the book has endnotes not footnotes. What he wrote was not the truth or truthful, since it so clearly misrepresented the situation, clearly suggesting that Gore had zero basis for actually believing that these were Lincoln's words. What Ferguson wrote was not truth or truthful, but pursued a false 'truthiness' that Gore cannot be trusted (note the reference to Gore's internet).
  1. The argument / discussion about the universal Lincoln -- all things to all people, whether or not quotes are real -- is quite interesting and worthy of an Outlook piece. But, Ferguson's discussion of this quote is stained by his overt misrepresentation of Gore's work in his opening words and his snide attacks on Gore and others in this OPED.
  1.  Ferguson might state that he stands by his assertion as to the quotation.  Let's start with a simple question: can you seriously take him at his word when he so misrepresented The Assault on Reason in claiming "no footnotes" and implying that there was no way for him to know Gore's source, when there are endnotes and the source is clearly stated within those endnotes?  Secondly, I am a historian -- although not a specialist in Lincoln.  Today, I have done a little research and found ... that the authenticity of the quote is disputed, with some scholarly work claiming it authentic and others claiming it is not. It does look to be the case that it is not an authentic quote (unusual source, but interesting; see also HProf's Gore and Lincoln: Good News, Bad News.)). Note, that even by Ferguson's statement, it was not until 1999, in an obscure journal, that there was strong scholarship "proving" it not authentic. What is the possibility that Al Gore had a Lincoln book on the shelves published prior to 1999? Such as the one cited in his notes?  Honestly, I do not know the truth but, again, based on Ferguson's misrepresentation of simple facts in the opening words, I have no basis simply to trust him on an issue of serious academic examination.  
  1. This was a prominent attack on Al Gore (and others).  I would hope that the correction is given as much -- if not more -- prominence in The Washington Post.  Might I suggest that next week's Outlook section have a "FACT CHECK" box on its front page with a clear statement correcting Ferguson's misleading opening lines?
  1.  Your readers might want to know the consequences of such misrepresentation from an author. Will Ferguson be allowed access to The Washington Post's pages again? Why should Post readers/subscribers (like myself) trust him?  With so many good and credible authors in the world, why give an inch to one who provides such misleading material?
  1.  WashPost.COM runs article corrections (such as here).  As of late Monday night, there is no such correction running with Ferguson's misleading What Al Wishes Abe Said.  Can we expect such a correction to be posted Tuesday.

Let me tell you, I have multiple graduate degrees in/related to history. I have multiple peer-reviewed articles in academic journals. I have been on editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals.  I serve as a peer reviewer.  Al Gore, in his book, cites a serious work and quotes from it in a work that is not focused on Lincoln (e.g, not a biography/such), but is using that quote within a larger discussion. It does matter if the Lincoln quote is accurate or not, but it is not a stain on Gore's scholarship that he did not know the questionable authenticity of the quote. (The stain would be if someone could prove that Gore knew it was false and searched for a source to cite to use it even with that knowledge. I doubt, sincerely, that this is the case.)  And, to be honest, I suspect that (if this is not an authentic quote), Gore's work would have passed through most peer reviews, unless perhaps a Lincoln scholar knowledgeable about this quotation were one of the reviewers.

On the other hand ...

An error like Ferguson's in a submission (especially as an opening sentence setting up the entire thesis to be examined in the article) would lead to the article's rejection, immediately. Nothing else an author wrote would have any credibility.  After such an egregiously misleading statement, a reviewer would be trying to determine which of these was the case:

  • Either, the author (Ferguson) was so clueless that they did not realize that a book they were looking at (attacking) had 20 pages of endnotes; or
  • The author was maliciously choosing to attempt to mislead the readers.  

Either option is not a good reflection on the author's scholarship.

You wrote that

"a correction will run".

 I certainly hope that this will not be on page A2, where perhaps 1 of 1000 people who read Ferguson's OPED will notice it.

You wrote that

"the author stands by his belief that the Lincoln never said the things Al Gore quoted him as saying".

Might I ask how you can simply give him any credibility in this regard after his flagrant misrepresentation of Gore's documentation of his source material?

Again, I hope that I (and the 100,000s of other Post subscribers who Ferguson misled) see a prominent correction to Ferguson's misrepresentation in next Sunday's Outlook section.

And, if you/The Post wishes to look into the question of this quote, perhaps it would make sense to request a piece from an actual Lincoln scholar rather than a partisan pundit.  And, to have a balanced discussion of how Lincoln has been used/misused by politicians (of both parties) and others over the past 140 years.  Again, the "universal Lincoln" is an interesting question, worthy of discussion.

I also hope to see an examination of the issue of Ferguson's misrepresentations in your next column.


A Siegel


Please note, I am reserving most of my outrage and action for energy (Energize America) and Global Warming (The Climate Project) issues.  But ... we need to work to keep the press honest ... and, for good or bad, this is the press that enters my home every morning.  And, well, I work to do this 'politely', to keep the doors open for the next time ... because, sadly, there will be a next time.

UPDATE Can I claim credit, What Al Wishes Abe Said  has had a correction added since I sent the letter:

Correction to This Article
Andrew Ferguson's June 10 Outlook article, "What Al Wishes Abe Said," said that former vice president Al Gore's book "The Assault on Reason" does not contain footnotes. The book contains 20 pages of endnotes.

It is a start ...
UPDATE II Of course, there is always the material that you wished you included, that you meant to. Above was written off the top of my head. I had planned / thought to include something like the following:

Imagine ... Imagine if Mr. Ferguson had started his article appropriately ... It might have begun something like ...

What do Al Gore and Ronald Reagan have in common?  They both fell victim to the confusing world of the Universal Lincoln. Somewhat like the Bible, Lincoln can be all things to all people. Sometimes, however, the universal Lincoln turns out not to be real, but words created by others, for their own purposes, over the past 140 years. In a speech, Ronald Reagan used a series of Lincoln quotes that were invented 100 years ago.  Al Gore, in Assault on Reason, uses a Lincoln quote from the Lincoln Encyclopedia that Lincoln scholars have shown in 1999 to be invented in the late 1800s. ....

And, then, he could have gone on to discuss Universal Lincoln ...

Originally posted to A Siegel on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 09:20 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips/Mojo: 12 June 2007 (78+ / 0-)

    So, the original letter was short enough for potential publication. Polite, perhaps even to the point, with what I considered a catchy line.

    The follow-up ... longer than an OPED.  

    But, the passive voice "a correction will run" and the willingness to grant Ferguson any authority (even if he is right, why should The Post (or anyone else) trust him ... time for independent fact-checking) frustrated me.

    Now, I wonder whether there will be another response ...

    Anyone else get the response from The Post ... and what was your reaction?

    Blogging regularly at Ecotality Blog for a Sustainable Future.

    by A Siegel on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 09:21:26 PM PDT

  •  Got a Wind Story (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pithy Cherub, Bionic, Sychotic1, A Siegel

    in my Diary tonight...

    Wind farm power proposal is gaining momentum.
    Alternatives to fossil fuels are gaining popularity as the threat of global warming looms. The recommendation of the state Public Service Commission and three other state agencies to negotiate with Bluewater Wind for an offshore wind farm highlights this movement toward alternatives. Lewes Cape Gazette

    I'm not going anywhere. I'm standing up, which is how one speaks in opposition in a civilized world. - Ainsley Hayes

    by jillian on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 09:25:30 PM PDT

  •  The Assault on Reason (6+ / 0-)

    One point for you to fix in the second sentence of your  point #3: the title of Al Gore's book isn't "The Age of Reason" (that was by Tom Paine), but "The Assault on Reason."  You need to fix the tag, too.

    You make some good points, but the Post certainly won't do much more than correct the footnote/endnote error.

  •  Any idea how many footnotes Ferguson's (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pithy Cherub, Dallasdoc, Topaz7, A Siegel

    new book on Lincoln has?

    "Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you." -- Fry, Futurama

    by LithiumCola on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 09:44:37 PM PDT

  •  This is an odd assertion (8+ / 0-)

    "the author stands by his belief that the Lincoln never said the things Al Gore quoted him as saying".

    How in the world can Ferguson positively prove that Lincoln didn't say a particular phrase?  There may be a scholarly dispute about the provenance of a quote, but that reduces Ferguson's op-ed to a dusty historiological dispute that would choke most historians, much less most general readers.

    If we toss this aside, what about the more substantive criticism that Ferguson was exhibiting the precise assaults on reason that Gore's book concerned?  Did either Deborah Howell or Andrew Ferguson give a hint of the irony involved?  I certainly did my best to point this out to them, as did you.

    Just when you think they can't get any worse, you're not surprised to learn you were wrong.

    by Dallasdoc on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 09:53:53 PM PDT

  •  I give you major props (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dallasdoc, Tigana, A Siegel

    as a Historian for not taking any BS regarding this hit piece.

  •  The WaPo should spend more time discussing (6+ / 0-)

    Romney's (and bush's) bullshit statement that Saddam didn't let the inspectors in before we went to war than attacking Gore for using a quote from a source that anyone not a Lincoln scholar would accept at face value.

  •  If Gore does run, it's going to be up to us... (5+ / 0-) defend him against another constant torrent of lies from the DC press corps's cool kids--and clearly the smear campaign is already beginning. Thanks for the rapid response.

    Devastating p//nag3 of the WaPo in the second letter, btw. Hard to see how anyone with any decency could read that and not feel ashamed of the publication they work for.

  •  Well Done A/S your energy is amazing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, TeddySanFran, sephius1

     and I think it is important that we do our best to prevent the msm from slipping any further into cheerleader status if possible. Especially  WAPO . It seems increasingly willing to publish right wing distortions, hit pieces and propaganda - what a sad decline.

  •  Good job (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, llbear

    The Ombies will generally read a thought-fully written disagreement. The test will be of their independence and responsibility to be the watchman of their organization and take the offending reporter to task.

  •  Wow, excellent work. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, llbear

    Kind of reminds me of Thomas Jefferson -- "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" -- which, I have heard he actually didn't say.  What gets me is that the actual quote rings true, so who the hell cares who said it?

    You're right -- quoting a great president or founding father is akin to "The bible says ...".  I think that instead people should look at quotes on the merits -- do they agree or disagree with what it says.

  •  My exchange (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, TeddySanFran

    Yeah, I got the same canned "response," and here's what went out in reply (with a cc to the author, whose email address was included in the hit piece).

    Hi, Deb:

    Thanks for the note. A correction is the least you can do.

    Of course, the footnote/endnote canard, along with what you call "the author's belief" about the Lincoln quote, were most likely the least important of Dishonest Ferguson's intentions in the first place.

    As the president who Dishonest Ferguson seems to admire more than Honest Abe famously said, "Mission accomplished."

    (Yeah, George Bush didn't actually say, "Mission accomplished." It was just printed in real big letters on a banner stretched overhead on the bridge of, irony of ironies, the USS Abraham Lincoln.

    You could look it up - )

    Thanks, Jerry

    Thanks for two terrific diaries. Let's keep chipping away at these assholes.

  •  your second letter was much too long (0+ / 0-)

    it should have focused on a single point.

    Initially Fergerson insinuated that Gore made up the quote. Now you've shown that Gore did have a source. (Which Fergerson lied about). Its now up to Fergerson to show the basis for his belief that that the source was in error.

    Cicero : If you're going to back a policy do it wholeheartedly. You'll win no points for timidity.

    by PoliMorf on Tue Jun 12, 2007 at 06:08:38 AM PDT

  •  the correction I wish they'd run (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, TeddySanFran, Mr Rick

    The passage in Andrew Ferguson's June 10th op-ed that stated:

    Still, I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88.

    should have read:

    Still, I wish I could be bothered to turn to page 277.

    Thanks for staying on top of this.

    There's the further historical error that Ferguson utterly misrepresents Lincoln as a cheerleader for laissez faire corporate capitalism--but expecting a correction on that one is obviously asking way, way too much.

  •  Another update (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    Mr. Siegel:

    I have news.  I hate to steal your thunder, but I just got a call from the Ombudsman at the Washington Post, Deborah Howell.  She told me the following news:

    1.  A correction has already run.  We knew that.
    1.  This incident will be the subject of her Ombudsman article in the coming Sunday edition of the Post.
    1.  Ferguson is personna non grata at the Post.  He has expressed regrets at making his mistake, but the Post staff is quite embarrassed by his taking advantage of them.
    1.  My e-mail to the Post, copied below, last to first, will be inncluded in an internal e-mail she is writing to the Post staff, alerting them to the need to make sure they get their facts straight.  She said that I had put the issue in language that makes sense.

    I want to thank you for your original Diary entry, which prompted me to check my copy of Gore's book, and write my e-mail.  In a perfect world, this whole thing may make a real diference in the way news is getting reported.  They know we're watching them!!

    How about that!!!!!

    Yours, Noziglia

    Tuesday, June 12
    Ms. Howell:

    I live in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

    Whether or not Lincoln wrote the quote is not an issue of fact, but opinion, and the author is entitled to his.  He is not, however, entitled to state his opinion as if it were fact, when there are reputable scholars such as the authors of the book Gore used as his source, who disagree.

    Thank you for your kind reply, and I look forward to reading the correction/comment on this issue.

    The question I raised should be part of that comment.  Does the Post fact check on what columnists write BEFORE it's published?  Part of the game plan of some political factions is to put invented facts into publication, and then recycle references to the original lie until it "becomes the truth."  You have a responsibility to protect your readers from that, and you have not done a very good job.


    David Noziglia

    From: Ombudsman Internet DropBox
    Date: 2007/06/11 Mon PM 05:05:02 CDT
    To: David Noziglia <>
    Subject: Re: Do OpEds Need to be True?

    Thank you for your note. A correction will run on the fact there were endnotes in the Al Gore book. However, the author stands by his belief that the Lincoln never said the things Al Gore quoted him as saying. I might like to use this in a column or my internal staff memo. Where do you live in Virginia?

    Deborah Howell
    Washington Post Ombudsman

    Monday, June 11
    To:                                                                                                                                           Subject:  Do OpEds Need to be True?                                                    

    Here is a simple question:

    When the Post publishes an opinion piece from a guest writer, does the paper have at least the minimal responsibility to see whether the writer is lying about simple, basic facts?

    I understand that a guest writer is entitled to his own opinion, but the Andrew Ferguson pieces, "What Al Wishes He Said," contains numerous factual falsehoods.

    The Gore book does not contain footnotes.  It contains endnotes, including one for the specific Lincoln quote that got Ferguson's knickers in such a twist.  Following that reference leads to evidence that it is entirely likely Lincoln did write the quote in question.

    The answer to this leads to the more important question:  Does the Post care whether anything it publishes is true or not, or is it just in the business of attacking and sliming Democrats, in order to serve the interests of the established power structure?

    I know the answer to the last, as well as the answer you will give me.

    Thank you for your attention.

    "A judicious questioning of the obvious may well be a mark of genius." David Lindley

    by Noziglia on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 04:30:01 PM PDT

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