Popular Delusions and the Madness of Drudge
   by Gene Lyons

When it comes to popular delusions, the myth of consistent "left-wing bias" in the national press
is right up there with alien visitations and creation-science. How anybody who witnessed the
Clinton-Lewinsky debacle, followed by the Washington press's gang-bang assaults on Al Gore
during the 2000 campaign could believe that the national press pimps for Democrats beggars my
poor imagination. But assuming purely for the sake of argument that persons buying into this notion
are actually capable of rational discussion, recent events offer plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Particularly gratifying was the ignominious collapse of the Ken Lay-in-the Lincoln-Bedroom canard.
For readers who missed it, Democrat-Gazette editors were forced to issue a correction Feb. 23
after running a Washington Times article two days earlier making the specious claim that the
discredited Enron CEO had spent the night at the Clinton White House in exchange for big bucks
to Democrats. My column pointing out that Lay's name didn't appear on published guest lists and
that Clinton's office categorically denied the allegation appeared on Feb. 13.

If it's too much to expect editors who think the Moonie paper a credible source to take my word
for it, minimal skepticism would have exposed the hoax. It must have taken me all of ten minutes
to debunk it. A bit more digging by The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby tracked the bogus tale to
its source: the infamous Drudge Report. Most likely tipped by Republican operatives seeking to
take the heat off President Bush, Drudge ran the unsourced item on Jan 11. Two days later,
it appeared as an unattributed "fact" in the Chicago Tribune. Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes
carried it to Fox News; USA Today and the Washington Times took it from there.  GOP pundits
parroted the falsehood on talk shows. Somerby found similarly-worded letters to the editor in
newspapers all over the country, testifying, if nothing else, to the fable's propaganda value.

Drudge openly scorns traditional journalists' fussiness about fact-checking, making his website ideal
for disseminating political disinformation. Rush Limbaugh can also be counted upon to broadcast
GOP-inspired buncombe from sea to shining sea. There is simply no equivalent myth-manufacturing
apparatus on the Democratic side. Drudge also claimed that former Clinton chief of staff
(and ARKLA CEO) Mack McClarty was a paid member of Enron's board. That's false too,
although the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and USA Today bought it, and have had to print retractions.
Bill Clinton did play golf against Lay in 1993, as part of  a Democrats vs. Republicans matchup
pitting him and Jack Nicklaus against the Enron executive and former President Gerald Ford.
Contemporaneous accounts don't say who won.

The point is that once upon a time, it would have been shocking that for more than a month, not a
single editor or reporter exercised minimal due diligence to determine if this too-good-to-be-true little
nugget had any basis in fact. Today it's business as usual. Indeed, had it not been for the pesky activists
at MediaWhoresOnline.com, it's not  clear the Lincoln Bedroom fable would ever have been corrected.
The website posts newsroom e-mail links and phone numbers, encouraging citizens to make pests of
themselves until journalists get it straight.

The week's second big Enron disinformation story was subtler piece of work sponsored by the
New York Times. Based on a leaked Enron memo, the front page piece by Richard Berke claimed
that the Houston-based corporation "quietly drew up a plan to cultivate close political ties to VP Al Gore
during the 2000 presidential race and tried to build relationships with his inner circle."

The key phrase is "tried to," because the article provides no evidence the scheme succeeded, nor even,
frankly, that it was seriously attempted. Corporations the size of Enron generate a lot of memos.

Berke described the strategy as a "double-sided" one for insuring Enron would have influence with
whoever won the election. On cue, the Republican pundits hit the airwaves. That same evening,
Newt Gingrich cited the Times article on FoxNews as evidence "that Enron and the Gore campaign
were plotting together all of last year." If Newt said it, you can bet that Rush Limbaugh beat it like a gong.

But anybody who read past Berke's lead paragraph had to wonder exactly what Enron's brilliant
plan consisted of. The article documented not a single meeting between Gore and Enron execs.
"So how did they try to build those close ties?" the Daily Howler asks. "By giving $614,000 to Bush,
and $14,000 to Gore! Of course! If THAT didn't bring the VP around, then nothing would EVER achieve it!"
Buried paragraphs deep into the Times account, those are the actual numbers. If Enron hoped to curry favor
with Gore by giving his opponent 45 TIMES more campaign money, no wonder the idiots went bankrupt.
Yesterday, a videotape emerged of Ken Lay endorsing Bush at an Enron employees meeting in October, 2000.

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