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June 10, 2007

Ho-Hum, More Stunning Right-Wing Hackery In The Washington Post

Andrew Ferguson of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard writes this for Donald Graham's newspaper:

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.

Here's p. 282 of The Assault on Reason:

Ferguson goes on to say the Lincoln quote that Gore uses is bogus, and actually dates from the 1880s. Perhaps this is true, but I don't think I'd rely on his research skills.

(Ferguson's mistake was first pointed out by Anonymous Liberal and Ron Chusid.)

Posted at June 10, 2007 02:41 PM | TrackBack

Now, I carry no water for Andrew Ferguson. It was clearly doltish of him not to realize Gore's book had notes.

But shouldn't we grit our teeth and admit he has a point? If the quotation is fake, it's a problem. Gore wants his book taken seriously, and if he got duped by a fake quotation from an important source, that's something he'll need to apologize for and correct in the next edition. It certainly doesn't torpedo his whole argument, which I largely agree with, but details count. You would certainly twit any right-winger who got duped by a fake quote -- and rightly so.

Can't somebody please just go find page 40 of the freakin' "Lincoln Encyclopedia" and actually see whether that quote appears? It seems that would be a prerequsiste to getting one's knickers in too much of a twist either about Gore or Ferguson.

Posted by: Andrew at June 10, 2007 06:47 PM

Here's a source mentioning its usage in the Encyclopedia and claiming that it's been verified as authentic Lincoln:

Posted by: darrelplant at June 10, 2007 07:35 PM

I haven't read Gore's book, nor do I have the Lincoln encyclopedia mentioned, but I've got my Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln here in front of me and there is no letter to Col. Elkins written on the date mentioned. There may be an error in attribution.

Posted by: Todd Alcott at June 10, 2007 07:37 PM

I only know what I read in snopes and there it says that this letter was a forgery which pulled the wool over the compiler of the Lincoln Encyclopedia. Of course, that snopes entry is dated 2002, so it's possible that someone has verified the authenticity of the letter since then and snopes has failed to correct the entry.

Posted by: Aunt Deb at June 10, 2007 07:48 PM

I don't know what Lincoln did or didn't say, but I can't help but note that attacking Gore for supposedly making stuff up is by now a pretty familiar tactic. that's why I'm suspicious that ole Andy Ferguson is engaging in hi-falutin' bunkery.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at June 10, 2007 09:00 PM

Andrew Ferguson was on CSPAN a few years ago taking phone calls on one of their morning call-in programs. He started laughing about Robert Bly and denigrating his poetry as a way to put down Bly's ideas on masculinity. I got the distinct impression that Ferguson knew less than nothing about poetry and wished that I could have called in to ask him just how many books of poetry he'd read in the last year.

Ferguson is a condescending tool.

Posted by: gmoke at June 10, 2007 09:01 PM

Of course, technically, he's correct about "footnotes" if they don't appear at the bottom of the page. Seems a little persnickety, though.

Posted by: darrelplant at June 10, 2007 11:21 PM

I do wish people would learn the difference between Footnotes (at the bottom of the page) and endnotes (at the end of the chapter or document).

Gore clearly hasn't used footnotes and so Andrew Ferguson is right in that regard. He's probably just hoping that nobody will double check so that he appears to be honest.


Posted by: Zwack at June 11, 2007 08:54 AM

The U. of Michigan site has no listing of a letter to William Elkins on Nov. 21, 1864. It makes reference to an "endorsement on an envelope" to a William Elkin (not Elkins) on Feb 21, 1849, but that is clearly a different document, even if it might be the same person. However, given even earlier "dubious" documents in the list that mention a David Elkin and an Elkin and Davis Dry Goods, it seems that Lincoln did know at least one individual named Elkin prior to 1849. The William Elkin named in the 1849 document was most likely a relative of some sort. In any event, the U. of Michigan list does not provide support for Snopes, which itself cites only one source for the claim that the letter is bogus. Anyone out there have access to a copy of Merrill Peterson's "Lincoln in American History"? That's the source Snopes quotes and it would be interesting to see what evidence Peterson adduces to support his claim.

Posted by: jjcomet at June 11, 2007 10:15 AM

A bit more research shows that William F. Elkin was one of the "Long Nine," a close-knit group of Illinois State Legislators in the 1840s and 1850s that included Lincoln. The Nash book seems to have misspelled the name in its attribution, but there is no dispute that Lincoln was a close political ally of a William F. Elkin. Since the U. of Michigan site (which I would consider much more authoritative than Snopes, prima facie) does not list the 1864 letter among the "unsourced" writings or those of "dubious" provenance, I'd say those who claim the letter is fake need to prove their case a bit more conclusively.

Posted by: jjcomet at June 11, 2007 10:38 AM

Sorry, crossed in the digital night.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 11, 2007 10:43 AM

That's not the page you want to scan. You want to scan the page with the Lincoln quote, with the superscript 88 next to it. And then let Ferguson try to explain how he looked at the quote, and the superscript 88, and wonder about the provenance of the quote, and then looked at the bottom of the page, and then gave up and went off to write his screed.

It's the superscript 88 next to the quote that kills Ferguson's credibility.

OT: I hate endnotes, I wish publishers would use footnotes.

Posted by: David Conrad at June 14, 2007 09:42 PM