v. the media
by Robert Parry
February 1, 2000 | To read the major newspapers
watch the TV pundit shows, one can't avoid the
that many in the national press corps have decided
President Al Gore is unfit to be elected the
next president of
the United States.
Across the board -- from The Washington Post to
Washington Times, from The New York Times to
York Post, from NBC's cable networks to the traveling
campaign press corps -- journalists don't even
disguise their contempt for Gore anymore.
At one early Democratic debate, a gathering of
reporters in a nearby press room hissed and hooted
Gore's answers. Meanwhile, every perceived Gore
including his choice of clothing, is treated
as a new excuse to
put him on a psychiatrist's couch and find him
Journalists freely call him "delusional," "a liar"
Yet, to back up these sweeping denunciations,
the media has
relied on a series of distorted quotes and tendentious
interpretations of his words, at times following
by the national Republican leadership.
In December, for instance, the news media generated
of stories about Gore's supposed claim that he
the Love Canal toxic waste dump. "I was the one
it all," he was quoted as saying. This "gaffe"
then was used to
recycle other situations in which Gore allegedly
his role or, as some writers put it, told "bold-faced
But behind these examples of Gore's "lies" was
sloppy journalism. The Love Canal flap started
Washington Post and The New York Times misquoted
on a key point and cropped out the context of
sentence to give readers a false impression of
what he meant.
The error was then exploited by national Republicans
amplified endlessly by the rest of the news media,
the Post and Times grudgingly filed corrections.
Almost as remarkable, though, is how the two newspapers
finally agreed to run corrections. They were
shamed into doing so by high school students
Hampshire and by an Internet site called The
edited by a stand-up comic named Bob Somerby.
Though the major media often portrays the Internet
bastion for crazed conspiracy theories, the nation's
newspapers appeared to have sunk into their own
The Love Canal quote controversy began on Nov.
Gore was speaking to a group of high school students
Concord, N.H. He was exhorting the students to
cynicism and to recognize that individual citizens
As an example, he cited a high school girl from
Tenn., a town that had experienced problems with
waste. She brought the issue to the attention
congressional office in the late 1970s.
"I called for a congressional investigation and
Gore told the students. "I looked around the
other sites like that. I found a little place
in upstate New
York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing
on that issue,
and Toone, Tennessee -- that was the one that
hear of. But that was the one that started it
After the hearings, Gore said, "we passed a major
law to clean up hazardous dump sites. And we
efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning
around the country. We've still got work to do.
But we made
a huge difference. And it all happened because
school student got involved."
The context of Gore's comment was clear. What
interest in the toxic-waste issue was the situation
in Toone --
"that was the one that you didn't hear of. But
that was the
one that started it all."
After learning about the Toone situation, Gore
other examples and "found" a similar case at
Love Canal. He
was not claiming to have been the first one to
Canal, which already had been evacuated. He simply
other case studies for the hearings.
The next day, The Washington Post stripped Gore's
comments of their context and gave them a negative
"Gore boasted about his efforts in Congress 20
years ago to
publicize the dangers of toxic waste," the Post
found a little place in upstate New York called
he said, referring to the Niagara homes evacuated
1978 because of chemical contamination. 'I had
hearing on this issue.' Gore said his efforts
made a lasting
impact. 'I was the one that started it all,'
he said." [WP, Dec.
The New York Times ran a slightly less contentious
with the same false quote: "I was the one that
started it all."
The Republican National Committee spotted Gore's
boast and was quick to fax around its own take.
"Al Gore is
simply unbelievable -- in the most literal sense
of that term,"
declared Republican National Committee Chairman
Nicholson. "It's a pattern of phoniness -- and
it would be
funny if it weren't also a little scary."
The GOP release then doctored Gore's quote a bit
After all, it would be grammatically incorrect
to have said, "I
was the one that started it all." So, the Republican
fixed Gore's grammar to say, "I was the one who
In just one day, the key quote had transformed
was the one that started it all" to "I was the
one that started it
all" to "I was the one who started it all."
Ihttp://sm.org/exegesisnstead of taking the offensive
these misquotes, Gore tried to head off the controversy
clarifying his meaning and apologizing if anyone
got the wrong
impression. But the fun was just beginning.
The national pundit shows quickly picked up the
Gore's new exaggeration.
"Let's talk about the 'love' factor here," chortled
Matthews of CNBC's Hardball. "Here's the guy
who said he
was the character Ryan O'Neal was based on in
Story.' It seems to me he's now the guy who
the Love Canal [case]. I mean, isn't this getting
Isn't it getting to be delusionary?"
Matthews turned to his baffled guest, Lois Gibbs,
Canal resident who is widely credited with bringing
to public attention. She sounded confused about
would claim credit for discovering Love Canal,
Gore's hard work on the issue.
"I actually think he's done a great job," Gibbs
said. "I mean,
he really did work, when nobody else was working,
to define what the hazards were in this country
and how to
clean it up and helping with the Superfund and
legislation." [CNBC's Hardball, Dec. 1, 1999]
The next morning, Post political writer Ceci Connolly
highlighted Gore's boast and placed it in his
alleged pattern of
falsehoods. "Add Love Canal to the list of verbal
Vice President Gore," she wrote. "The man who
claimed to have inspired the movie 'Love Story'
and to have
invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean
to say he
discovered a toxic waste site." [WP, Dec. 2,
That night, CNBC's Hardball returned to Gore's
quote by playing the actual clip but altering
the context by
starting Gore's comments with the words, "I found
"It reminds me of Snoopy thinking he's the Red
laughed Chris Matthews. "I mean how did he get
Now you've seen Al Gore in action. I know you
that he was the prototype for Ryan O'Neal's character
'Love Story' or that he invented the Internet.
He now is the
guy who discovered Love Canal."
Matthews compared the vice president to "Zelig,"
Woody Allen character whose face appeared at
procession of historic events. "What is it, the
Zelig guy who
keeps saying, 'I was the main character in 'Love
invented the Internet. I invented Love Canal."
Former secretary of labor Robert Reich, who favors
rival, former Sen. Bill Bradley, added, "I don't
know why he
feels that he has to exaggerate and make some
of this stuff
The following day, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post
elaborated on Gore's pathology of deception.
Gore has told a whopper," the Post wrote. "Again,
caught red-handed and again, he has been left
apologizing. This time, he falsely took credit
for breaking the
Love Canal story. Yep, another Al Gore bold-faced
The editorial continued: "Al Gore appears to have
difficulty telling the truth as his boss, Bill
Clinton. But Gore's
lies are not just false, they're outrageously,
stupidly false. It's
so easy to determine that he's lying, you have
to wonder if he
wants to be found out.
"Does he enjoy the embarrassment? Is he hell-bent
destroying his own campaign? Of course, if
Al Gore is
determined to turn himself into a national laughingstock,
are we to stand in his way?"
On ABC's "This Week" pundit show, there was head-shaking
amazement about Gore's supposed Love Canal lie.
"Gore, again, revealed his Pinocchio
former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos.
was the model for 'Love Story,'
created the Internet.
And this time, he sort of discovered
(Judas Maximus - twisting the
knife in his old friend's back.)
A bemused Cokie Roberts chimed in, "Isn't he saying
really discovered Love Canal when he had hearings
after people had been evacuated?"
"Yeah," added Bill Kristol, editor of Murdoch's
Standard. Kristol then read Gore's supposed quote:
a little place in upstate New York called Love
Canal. I was
the one that started it all." [ABC's This Week,
Dec. 5, 1999]
The Love Canal controversy soon moved beyond the
Washington-New York power axis.
On Dec. 6, The Buffalo News ran an editorial entitled,
Gore in Fantasyland," that echoed the words of
Nicholson. It stated, "Never mind that he didn't
Internet, serve as the model for 'Love Story'
or blow the
whistle on Love Canal. All of this would be funny
if it weren't
The next day, the right-wing Washington Times
crazy. "The real question is how to react to
increasingly bizarre utterings," the Times wrote.
New World Dictionary defines 'delusional' thusly:
apparent perception, in a nervous or mental disorder,
some thing external that is actually not present
a belief in
something that is contrary to fact or reality,
deception, misconception, or a mental disorder.'"
The editorial denounced Gore as "a politician
who not only
manufactures gross, obvious lies about himself
achievements but appears to actually believe
But The Washington Times' own credibility was
its editorial attack on Gore, the newspaper not
the bogus quote, "I was the one that started
it all," but
attributed the quote to The Associated Press,
actually quoted Gore correctly, ("That was the
The Washington Times' challenge to Gore's sanity
reminiscent of its 1988 publication of false
Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis
undergone psychiatric treatment. [As for the
insinuations about Gore's "delusional" behavior,
it might be
noted that the newspaper's founder and financial
South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon, considers
Yet, while the national media was excoriating
Concord students were learning more than they
expected about how media and politics work in
For days, the students pressed for a correction
Washington Post and The New York Times. But the
papers balked, insisting that the error was insignificant.
"The part that bugs me is the way they nit pick,"
Baker, a Concord High junior. "[But] they should
at least get
it right." [AP, Dec. 14, 1999]
When the David Letterman show made Love Canal
jumping off point for a joke list: "Top 10 Achievements
Claimed by Al Gore," the students responded with
release entitled "Top 10 Reasons Why Many Concord
Students Feel Betrayed by Some of the Media Coverage
Al Gore's Visit to Their School." [Boston Globe,
The Web site, The Daily Howler, also was hectoring
termed a "grumbling editor" at the Post to correct
Finally, on Dec. 7, a week after Gore's comment,
published a partial correction, tucked away as
the last item in
a corrections box. But the Post still misled
what Gore actually said.
The Post correction read: "In fact, Gore said,
'That was the
one that started it all,' referring to the congressional
on the subject that he called."
The revision fit with the Post's insistence that
the two quotes
meant pretty much the same thing, but again,
was distorting Gore's clear intent by attaching
"that" to the
wrong antecedent. From the full quote, it's obvious
refers to the Toone toxic waste case, not to
Three days later, The New York Times followed
suit with a
correction of its own, but again without fully
Gore's position. "They fixed how they misquoted
they didn't tell the whole story," commented
another Concord High junior.
While the students voiced disillusionment, the
involved showed no remorse for their mistake.
"I really do
think that the whole thing has been blown out
said Katharine Seelye of the Times. "It was one
The Post's Ceci Connolly even defended her inaccurate
rendition of Gore's quote as something of a journalistic
"We have an obligation to our readers to alert
them [that] this
[Gore's false boasting] continues to be something
of a habit,"
she said. [AP, Dec. 14, 1999]
The half-hearted corrections also did not stop
around the country from continuing to use the
A Dec. 9 editorial in the Lancaster [Pa.] New
published the polished misquote that the Republican
Committee had stuck in a press release: "I was
the one who
started it all."
The New Era then went on to psychoanalyze Gore.
the lying is a symptom of a more deeply-rooted
Gore doesn't know who he is," the editorial stated.
president is a serial prevaricator."
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writer Michael
concluded that "the Gore of '99" was full of
"suddenly discovers elastic properties in the
declared. "He invents the Internet, inspires
the fictional hero
of 'Love Story,' blows the whistle on Love Canal.
didn't really do any of those things." [Dec.
The National Journal's Stuart Taylor Jr. cited
the Love Canal
case as proof that President Clinton was a kind
toxic waste contaminant. The problem was "the
Clintonization of Al Gore, who increasingly apes
his boss in
fictionalizing his life story and mangling the
truth for political
gain. Gore -- self-described inspiration for
the novel Love
Story, discoverer of Love Canal, co-creator of
Taylor wrote. [National Journal, Dec. 18, 1999]
On Dec. 19, GOP chairman Nicholson was back on
offensive. Far from apologizing for the RNC's
Nicholson was reprising the allegations of Gore's
that had been repeated so often that they had
taken on the
color of truth: "Remember, too, that this is
the same guy who
says he invented the Internet, inspired Love
discovered Love Canal."
More than two weeks after the Post correction,
quote was still spreading. The Providence Journal
at Gore in an editorial that reminded readers
that Gore had
said about Love Canal, "I was the one that started
it all." The
editorial then turned to the bigger picture:
"This is the third time in the last few months
that Mr. Gore
has made a categorical assertion that is -- well,
There is an audacity about Mr. Gore's howlers
stunning. Perhaps it is time to wonder what
it is that
impels Vice President Gore to make such preposterous
claims, time and again." [Providence Journal,
Dec. 23, 1999]
On New Year's Eve, a column in The Washington
returned again to the theme of Gore's pathological
Entitled "Liar, Liar; Gore's Pants on Fire," the
Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder concluded that
Gore lies, it's without any apparent reason.
Mr. Gore had
already established his credits on environmental
better or worse, and had even been anointed 'Mr.
So why did he have to tell students in Concord,
Hampshire, 'I found a little place in upstate
New York called
Love Canal. I had the first hearing on the issue.
I was the one
that started it all.'" [WT, Dec. 31, 1999]
The characterization of Gore as a clumsy liar
the new year. Again in The Washington Times,
Tyrrell Jr. put Gore's falsehoods in the context
of a sinister
"Deposit so many deceits and falsehoods on the
record that the public and the press simply lose
interest in the
truth. This, the Democrats thought, was the method
Mr. Gore's many brilliantly conceived little
lies. Except that
Mr. Gore's lies are not brilliantly conceived.
In fact, they are
stupid. He gets caught every time Just last
Gore got caught claiming to have been the whistle-blower
for 'discovering Love Canal.'" [WT, Jan. 7, 2000]
It was unclear where Tyrrell got the quote, "discovering
Canal," since not even the false quotes had put
in Gore's mouth. But Tyrrell's description of
perceived as Gore's strategy of flooding the
with "deceits and falsehoods" might fit better
with what the
news media and the Republicans had been doing
Beyond Love Canal, the other prime examples of
"lies" -- inspiring the male lead in Love Story
and working to
create the Internet -- also stemmed from a quarrelsome
reading of his words, followed by exaggeration
rather than a fair assessment of how his comments
truth matched up.
The earliest of these Gore "lies," dating back
to 1997, was
Gore's expressed belief that he and his wife
served as models for the lead characters in the
bestseller and movie, Love Story.
When the author, Erich Segal, was asked about
stated that the preppy hockey-playing
male lead, Oliver Barrett IV,
indeed was modeled after Gore
and Gore's Harvard roommate, actor Tommy Lee
But Segal said the female lead, Jenny, was not
Tipper Gore. [NYT, Dec. 14, 1997]
Rather than treating this distinction as a minor
legitimate confusion, the news media concluded
had willfully lied. The media made the case an
against Gore's honesty.
In doing so, however, the media repeatedly misstated
facts, insisting that Segal had denied that Gore
was the model
for the lead male character. In reality, Segal
that Gore was, at least partly, the inspiration
character, Barrett, played by Ryan O'Neal.
Some journalists seemed to understand the nuance
could not resist denigrating Gore's honesty.
For instance, in its attack on Gore over the Love
quote, the Boston Herald conceded that Gore "did
material" for Segal's book, but the newspaper
added that it
was "for a minor character." [Boston Herald,
Dec. 5, 1999]
That, of course, was untrue, since the Barrett
one of Love Story's two principal characters
The media's treatment of the Internet comment
similar course. Gore's statement may have been
phrased, but its intent was clear: he was trying
to say that he
worked in Congress to help develop the Internet.
wasn't claiming to have "invented" the Internet
or to have
been the "father of the Internet," as many journalists
Gore's actual comment, in an interview with CNN's
Blitzer that aired on March 9, 1999, was as follows:
my service in the United States Congress, I took
in creating the Internet."
Republicans quickly went to work on Gore's statement.
press releases, they noted that the precursor
of the Internet,
called ARPANET, existed in 1971, a half dozen
before Gore entered Congress. But ARPANET was
networking of about 30 universities, a far cry
"information superhighway," ironically a phrase
credited to Gore.
As the media clamor arose about Gore's supposed
he had invented the Internet, Gore's spokesman
Lehane tried to explain. He noted that Gore "was
in Congress on the connections between data transmission
and computing power, what we call information
And those efforts helped to create the Internet
that we know
today." [AP, March 11, 1999]
There was no disputing Lehane's description of
congressional role in developing today's Internet.
media was off and running.
Routinely, the reporters lopped off the introductory
"during my service in the United States Congress"
jumped to word substitutions, asserting that
that he "invented" the Internet which carried
the notion of a
hands-on computer engineer.
Whatever imprecision may have existed in Gore's
comment, it paled beside the distortions of what
meant. While excoriating Gore's phrasing as an
the media engaged in its own exaggeration.
Yet, faced with the national media putting a hostile
cast on his
Internet statement -- that he was willfully lying
-- Gore chose
again to express his regret at his choice of
Now, with the Love Canal controversy, this media
distortion has returned with a vengeance. The
media has put a false quote into Gore's mouth
extrapolated from it to the point of questioning
Even after the quote was acknowledged to be wrong,
words continued to be repeated, again becoming
From the media's hostile tone, one might conclude
reporters have reached a collective decision
that Gore should
be disqualified from the campaign.
At times, the media has jettisoned any pretext
According to various accounts of the first Democratic
in Hanover, N.H., reporters openly mocked Gore
as they sat
in a nearby press room and watched the debate
Several journalists later described the incident,
overt criticism of their colleagues. As The Daily
observed, Time's Eric Pooley cited the reporters'
only to underscore how Gore was failing in his
attempt to connect."
"The ache was unmistakable -- and even touching
-- but the
300 media types watching in the press room at
were, to use the appropriate technical term,
out by it," Pooley wrote. "Whenever Gore came
strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer,
like a gang of
15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless
Hotline's Howard Mortman described the same behavior
the reporters "groaned, laughed and howled" at
Later, during an appearance on C-SPAN's Washington
Journal, Salon's Jake Tapper cited the Hanover
"I can tell you that the only media bias I have
terms of a group media bias was, at the first
Bill Bradley and Al Gore, there was hissing for
Gore in the
media room up at Dartmouth College. The reporters
hissing Gore, and that's the only time I've ever
press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party
event." [See The Daily Howler, Dec. 14, 1999]
Traditionally, journalists pride themselves in
deadpan expressions in such public settings,
chuckling at a comment or raising an eyebrow,
demonstrating derision for a public figure.
Reasons for this widespread media contempt for
Conservative outlets, such as Rev. Moon's Washington
Times and Murdoch's media empire, clearly want
the election of a Republican conservative to
House. They are always eager to advance that
In the mainstream press, many reporters may feel
savaging Gore protects them from the "liberal"
label that can
so damage a reporter's career. Others simply
venting residual anger over President Clinton's
survival of the
Monica Lewinsky scandal. They might believe that
political destruction would be a fitting end
to the Clinton
Reporters apparently sense, too, that there is
danger in showing open hostility toward Clinton's
Yet, the national media's prejudice against Gore
including fabrication of damaging quotes and
misrepresentation of his meaning -- raises a
question about this year's election and the future
How can voters have any hope of expressing an
judgment when the media intervenes to transform
one of the
principal candidates -- an individual who, by
all accounts, is a
well-qualified public official and a decent family
man -- into a
What hope does American democracy have when the
can misrepresent a candidate's words so thoroughly
become an argument for his mental instability
-- and all the
candidate feels he can do about the misquotes
As The Daily Howler's Somerby observes, the concern
about deception and its corrosive effect on democracy
back to the ancient Greeks.
"Democracy won't work, the great Socrates cried,
sophists will create mass confusion," Somerby
recalled at his
Web site. "Here in our exciting, much-hyped new
the Great Greek's vision remains crystal clear."
[The Daily Howler, Jan. 13, 2000]