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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2000/ 12 Tishrei, 5761

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Consumer Reports

A big night for the
embellisher-in-chief -- DID YOU HEAR the one about the time a killer shark chased Al Gore home from Sunday school?

His mama didn't believe him, either. Al was only 3 years old.

Al's fibs and stretchers have grown more ambitious with the passing of the years. Tipper could entertain you at length about some of the whoppers she heard when Al was the star of the rugby scrum at St. Albans and they were hanging out together after big games with National Cathedral School, nibbling foot-long hot dogs and sipping chocolate malts at the Jockey Club.

Al had to break a date once when Sonny Jurgensen called on the eve of a Redskins-Cowboys game to ask for late-night tutoring in the two-minute drill, and Tipper has the details about how Brooks Robinson always bobbled the hot grounder at third base and never got to the line drives down the foul line until Al showed him how.

Mastering storytelling skills takes years of hard work, so there's no mystery about those mysterious huffs, puffs, pants, sighs and whispers during his first debate with George W. Bush. Making up stuff what the Associated Press delicately calls "embellishments" takes a lot out of a guy, even someone with such a long and distinguished history of Olympian embellishing.

Only last week, two memorandums this is for real surfaced from Al's first race for president, in 1987 and 1988, in which his top aides warned him that embellishing, fun as it might be, carried with it considerable risks in high-stakes politics. Voters just wouldn't put up with liars. This was before Bill Clinton made the scene.

Mike Kopp, the deputy press secretary of that campaign, warned the embellisher-in-chief in a memo dated "9/9/87" to knock it off. The memo was first published 10 days ago on the Internet by Matt Drudge and has been passed around on the campaign plane since to loud guffaws, snorts, chuckles, bleats, snickers, cackles and giggles, but so far there's been little sharing of it with readers and viewers. Jim Lehrer is said to be saving it for tomorrow night.

"We've been hearing an increasing number of remarks from members of the press corps (national, and regional) about your tendency to go out on a limb with remarks about your campaign," Mr. Kopp wrote in that long-ago memo. "It is clear that at least one of the other campaigns, [Dick] Gephardt's, has picked up on this and is helping to fan the flames.

"In the past, few reporters cared if you stretched the truth to make a point or as an applause line. But gone are those days. Because of your steady climb in the polls . . . we are becoming increasingly scrutinized, particularly by the national press.

". . . Maralee [Schwartz of The Washington Post] told me, during the course of our numerous lengthy conversations that day, that you have a growing reputation as a politician who 'stretches the truth to suit a political moment.' "

Collecting Al's exaggerations and prevarications has become a thriving industry. National Review magazine has collected some of the best for its Web site (, beginning with the biggest whopper of all, told on Jan. 26 of this year: "There has never been a time in this campaign when I have said something that I know to be untrue."

Cited with names, dates and sources are lies and subsequent retractions about soft money, tobacco, abortion, Hubert Humphrey's speeches (he said he wrote them but he didn't), Bill Bradley's voting record, Love Canal, the Internet, his Vietnam service, the test-ban treaty, the census, the Peace Corps, his home town, music lyrics, his career as a reporter, and arms control.

Harry Truman, in a fit of frustration in dealing with double talk and voluble advisers, once remarked that "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics." True enough, but Mr. Truman had never met Al Gore. (Or maybe he did: Didn't Al say he was the adviser who finally told HST it was OK to drop the bomb on Hiroshima?)

What seems to bug the vice president's staff most is that the boss is not a good liar. Americans may be willing now to accept a liar in the White House, but after Bill Clinton they're probably going to demand a good one. Al tells whoppers easily found out, and when caught he can't even weasel out of them. When he told the Teamsters that his mama had put him to sleep with the lullaby, "Look for the Union Label," it was only a matter of hours before someone pointed out that the union-label song was not written until Al was 27 years old. Bill Clinton would have explained that yes, his mother often gave him a bottle, burped him, and rocked him to sleep until he was 35. (He still hasn't been toilet-trained.)

Al isn't that quick on his feet, but you've got to give him credit for building an audience. We can't wait to hear his new ones tomorrow night.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


10/06/00: AlGore's black problem
10/04/00: In headlong pursuit of the bigot vote
10/02/00: A modest proposal for Rick Lazio
09/27/00: When folks at home give up on a scamp
09/25/00: Gore plot exposed! The secret minutes
09/18/00: Playing politics with the blood supply
09/14/00: Al sets out to find his 'tolerance level'
09/12/00: When it's time for a thumb in the eye
09/07/00: Making a daughter a campaign asset
09/04/00: A footnote to the lie: How he beats the rap
08/30/00: Unbearable lightness of a cyberjournal
08/21/00: Clinton chickens on AlGore's roost
08/16/00: The long goodbye to California's cash
08/09/00: Innocence by proxy is a risky scheme
08/07/00: After insulin shock, an authentic rouser
08/02/00: When it gets hard not to get a little giddy
07/31/00: George W.'s legions of summer soldiers
07/26/00: He's set a surprise --- or a trap for himself
07/24/00: How do you serve a turkey in August?
07/19/00: Would Hillary sling a lie about a slur?
07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit
07/12/00: The Texas two-step, a nudge and a wink
07/10/00: The Great Mentioner and his busy season
07/05/00: No Mexican standoff in these results
07/03/00: Denting a few egos in the U.S. Senate
06/28/00: Bureaucracy amok! Punctuation in peril!
06/26/00: The water torture of American resolve
06/21/00: The happy hangman is a busy hangman
06/19/00: Dick Gephardt finds a Dixie dreamboat
06/14/00: Taking a byte out of innovation
06/12/00: 'Go away, little boy, you're bothering us'
06/07/00: When a little envy is painful to watch
06/05/00: Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak
05/31/00: South of the border, politics is pepper
05/26/00: Running out of luck with home folks
05/24/00: The heart says no, but the head says yes
05/22/00: A fine opportunity to set an example
05/17/00: The Sunday school for Republicans
05/15/00: Hillary's surrogate for telling tall tales
05/10/00: Listening to the voice of an authentic man
05/08/00: First a lot of bluster, then the retreat
05/02/00: Good news for Rudy, bad news for Hillary
04/28/00: The long goodbye to Elian's boyhood
04/25/00: Spooked by Castro, Bubba blinks
04/14/00: One flag down and two memorials to go
04/11/00: Consistency finds a jewel in Janet Reno
04/07/00: Here's the good word (and it's in English)
04/04/00: When bureaucrats mock the courts
03/28/00: How Hollywood sets the virtual table
03/24/00: Dissing a president can ruin a whole day
03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult
03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology
03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain
03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden