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Al Gore v. the media
  by Robert Parry

February 1, 2000 | To read the major newspapers and to
watch the TV pundit shows, one can't avoid the impression
that many in the national press corps have decided that Vice
President Al Gore is unfit to be elected the next president of
the United States.

Across the board -- from The Washington Post to The
Washington Times, from The New York Times to the New
York Post, from NBC's cable networks to the traveling
campaign press corps -- journalists don't even bother to
disguise their contempt for Gore anymore.

At one early Democratic debate, a gathering of about 300
reporters in a nearby press room hissed and hooted at
Gore's answers. Meanwhile, every perceived Gore misstep,
including his choice of clothing, is treated as a new excuse to
put him on a psychiatrist's couch and find him wanting.

Journalists freely call him "delusional," "a liar" and "Zelig."
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 scripts written
by the national Republican leadership.

In December, for instance, the news media generated dozens
of stories about Gore's supposed claim that he discovered
the Love Canal toxic waste dump. "I was the one that started
it all," he was quoted as saying. This "gaffe" then was used to
recycle other situations in which Gore allegedly exaggerated
his role or, as some writers put it, told "bold-faced lies."

But behind these examples of Gore's "lies" was some very
sloppy journalism. The Love Canal flap started when The
Washington Post and The New York Times misquoted Gore
on a key point and cropped out the context of another
sentence to give readers a false impression of what he meant.

The error was then exploited by national Republicans and
amplified endlessly by the rest of the news media, even after
the Post and Times grudgingly filed corrections.

Almost as remarkable, though, is how the two newspapers
finally agreed to run corrections. They were effectively
shamed into doing so by high school students in New
Hampshire and by an Internet site called The Daily Howler,
edited by a stand-up comic named Bob Somerby.

Though the major media often portrays the Internet as a
bastion for crazed conspiracy theories, the nation's prestige
newspapers appeared to have sunk into their own pattern of
reckless journalism.

The Love Canal quote controversy began on Nov. 30 when
Gore was speaking to a group of high school students in
Concord, N.H. He was exhorting the students to reject
cynicism and to recognize that individual citizens can effect
important changes.

As an example, he cited a high school girl from Toone,
Tenn., a town that had experienced problems with toxic
waste. She brought the issue to the attention of Gore's
congressional office in the late 1970s.

"I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing,"
Gore told the students. "I looked around the country for
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 you didn't
hear of. But that was the one that started it all."

After the hearings, Gore said, "we passed a major national
law to clean up hazardous dump sites. And we had new
efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water
around the country. We've still got work to do. But we made
a huge difference. And it all happened because one high
school student got involved."

The context of Gore's comment was clear. What sparked his
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 looked for
other examples and "found" a similar case at Love Canal. He
was not claiming to have been the first one to discover Love
Canal, which already had been evacuated. He simply needed
other case studies for the hearings.

The next day, The Washington Post stripped Gore's
comments of their context and gave them a negative twist.
"Gore boasted about his efforts in Congress 20 years ago to
publicize the dangers of toxic waste," the Post reported. "'I
found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal,'
he said, referring to the Niagara homes evacuated in August
1978 because of chemical contamination. 'I had the first
hearing on this issue.' Gore said his efforts made a lasting
impact. 'I was the one that started it all,' he said." [WP, Dec.
1, 1999]

The New York Times ran a slightly less contentious story
with the same false quote: "I was the one that started it all."

The Republican National Committee spotted Gore's alleged
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 Jim
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 more.
After all, it would be grammatically incorrect to have said, "I
was the one that started it all." So, the Republican handout
fixed Gore's grammar to say, "I was the one who started it

In just one day, the key quote had transformed from "that
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."

I of taking the offensive against
these misquotes, Gore tried to head off the controversy by
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 story of
Gore's new exaggeration.

"Let's talk about the 'love' factor here," chortled Chris
Matthews of CNBC's Hardball. "Here's the guy who said he
was the character Ryan O'Neal was based on in 'Love
Story.' It seems to me he's now the guy who created
the Love Canal [case]. I mean, isn't this getting ridiculous?
Isn't it getting to be delusionary?"

Matthews turned to his baffled guest, Lois Gibbs, the Love
Canal resident who is widely credited with bringing the issue
to public attention. She sounded confused about why Gore
would claim credit for discovering Love Canal, but defended
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, on trying
to define what the hazards were in this country and how to
clean it up and helping with the Superfund and other
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 missteps by
Vice President Gore," she wrote. "The man who mistakenly
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, 1999]

That night, CNBC's Hardball returned to Gore's Love Canal
quote by playing the actual clip but altering the context by
starting Gore's comments with the words, "I found a little
town "

"It reminds me of Snoopy thinking he's the Red Baron,"
laughed Chris Matthews. "I mean how did he get this idea?
Now you've seen Al Gore in action. I know you didn't know
that he was the prototype for Ryan O'Neal's character in
'Love Story' or that he invented the Internet. He now is the
guy who discovered Love Canal."

Matthews compared the vice president to "Zelig," the
Woody Allen character whose face appeared at an unlikely
procession of historic events. "What is it, the Zelig guy who
keeps saying, 'I was the main character in 'Love Story.' I
invented the Internet. I invented Love Canal."

Former secretary of labor Robert Reich, who favors Gore's
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. "Again, Al
Gore has told a whopper," the Post wrote. "Again, he's been
caught red-handed and again, he has been left sputtering and
apologizing. This time, he falsely took credit for breaking the
Love Canal story. Yep, another Al Gore bold-faced lie."

The editorial continued: "Al Gore appears to have as much
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 on
destroying his own campaign? Of course, if Al Gore is
determined to turn himself into a national laughingstock, who
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 problem," declared
former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos. "Says he
was the model for 'Love Story,' created the Internet.
And this time, he sort of discovered Love Canal."

(Judas Maximus - twisting the knife in his old friend's back.)

A bemused Cokie Roberts chimed in, "Isn't he saying that he
really discovered Love Canal when he had hearings on it
after people had been evacuated?"

"Yeah," added Bill Kristol, editor of Murdoch's Weekly
Standard. Kristol then read Gore's supposed quote: "I found
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, "Al
Gore in Fantasyland," that echoed the words of RNC chief
Nicholson. It stated, "Never mind that he didn't invent the
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
so disturbing."

The next day, the right-wing Washington Times judged Gore
crazy. "The real question is how to react to Mr. Gore's
increasingly bizarre utterings," the Times wrote. "Webster's
New World Dictionary defines 'delusional' thusly: 'The
apparent perception, in a nervous or mental disorder, of
some thing external that is actually not present a belief in
something that is contrary to fact or reality, resulting from
deception, misconception, or a mental disorder.'"

The editorial denounced Gore as "a politician who not only
manufactures gross, obvious lies about himself and his
achievements but appears to actually believe these

But The Washington Times' own credibility was shaky. For
its editorial attack on Gore, the newspaper not only printed
the bogus quote, "I was the one that started it all," but
attributed the quote to The Associated Press, which had
actually quoted Gore correctly, ("That was the one...").

The Washington Times' challenge to Gore's sanity also was
reminiscent of its 1988 publication of false rumors that
Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis had
undergone psychiatric treatment. [As for the Times'
insinuations about Gore's "delusional" behavior, it might be
noted that the newspaper's founder and financial backer,
South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon, considers himself
the Messiah.]

Yet, while the national media was excoriating Gore, the
Concord students were learning more than they had
expected about how media and politics work in modern

For days, the students pressed for a correction from The
Washington Post and The New York Times. But the prestige
papers balked, insisting that the error was insignificant.

"The part that bugs me is the way they nit pick," said Tara
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 the
jumping off point for a joke list: "Top 10 Achievements
Claimed by Al Gore," the students responded with a press
release entitled "Top 10 Reasons Why Many Concord High
Students Feel Betrayed by Some of the Media Coverage of
Al Gore's Visit to Their School." [Boston Globe, Dec. 26,

The Web site, The Daily Howler, also was hectoring what it
termed a "grumbling editor" at the Post to correct the error.

Finally, on Dec. 7, a week after Gore's comment, the Post
published a partial correction, tucked away as the last item in
a corrections box. But the Post still misled readers about
what Gore actually said.

The Post correction read: "In fact, Gore said, 'That was the
one that started it all,' referring to the congressional hearings
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, the newspaper
was distorting Gore's clear intent by attaching "that" to the
wrong antecedent. From the full quote, it's obvious the "that"
refers to the Toone toxic waste case, not to Gore's hearings.

Three days later, The New York Times followed suit with a
correction of its own, but again without fully explaining
Gore's position. "They fixed how they misquoted him, but
they didn't tell the whole story," commented Lindsey Roy,
another Concord High junior.

While the students voiced disillusionment, the two reporters
involved showed no remorse for their mistake. "I really do
think that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion,"
said Katharine Seelye of the Times. "It was one word."

The Post's Ceci Connolly even defended her inaccurate
rendition of Gore's quote as something of a journalistic duty.
"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 newspapers
around the country from continuing to use the bogus quote.

A Dec. 9 editorial in the Lancaster [Pa.] New Era even
published the polished misquote that the Republican National
Committee had stuck in a press release: "I was the one who
started it all."

The New Era then went on to psychoanalyze Gore. "Maybe
the lying is a symptom of a more deeply-rooted problem: Al
Gore doesn't know who he is," the editorial stated. "The vice
president is a serial prevaricator."

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writer Michael Ruby
concluded that "the Gore of '99" was full of lies. He
"suddenly discovers elastic properties in the truth," Ruby
declared. "He invents the Internet, inspires the fictional hero
of 'Love Story,' blows the whistle on Love Canal. Except he
didn't really do any of those things." [Dec. 12, 1999]

The National Journal's Stuart Taylor Jr. cited the Love Canal
case as proof that President Clinton was a kind of political
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 the Internet,"
Taylor wrote. [National Journal, Dec. 18, 1999]

On Dec. 19, GOP chairman Nicholson was back on the
offensive. Far from apologizing for the RNC's misquotes,
Nicholson was reprising the allegations of Gore's falsehoods
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 Story and
discovered Love Canal."

More than two weeks after the Post correction, the bogus
quote was still spreading. The Providence Journal lashed out
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, untrue.
There is an audacity about Mr. Gore's howlers that is
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 Times
returned again to the theme of Gore's pathological lies.

Entitled "Liar, Liar; Gore's Pants on Fire," the column by
Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder concluded that "when Al
Gore lies, it's without any apparent reason. Mr. Gore had
already established his credits on environmental issues, for
better or worse, and had even been anointed 'Mr. Ozone.'
So why did he have to tell students in Concord, New
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 continued into
the new year. Again in The Washington Times, R. Emmett
Tyrrell Jr. put Gore's falsehoods in the context of a sinister

"Deposit so many deceits and falsehoods on the public
record that the public and the press simply lose interest in the
truth. This, the Democrats thought, was the method behind
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 month, Mr.
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 Love
Canal," since not even the false quotes had put those words
in Gore's mouth. But Tyrrell's description of what he
perceived as Gore's strategy of flooding the public debate
with "deceits and falsehoods" might fit better with what the
news media and the Republicans had been doing to Gore.

Beyond Love Canal, the other prime examples of Gore's
"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 and ridicule
rather than a fair assessment of how his comments and the
truth matched up.

The earliest of these Gore "lies," dating back to 1997, was
Gore's expressed belief that he and his wife Tipper had
served as models for the lead characters in the sentimental
bestseller and movie, Love Story.

When the author, Erich Segal, was asked about Gore's
impression, he stated that the preppy hockey-playing
male lead, Oliver Barrett IV, indeed was modeled after Gore
and Gore's Harvard roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones.
But Segal said the female lead, Jenny, was not modeled after
Tipper Gore. [NYT, Dec. 14, 1997]

Rather than treating this distinction as a minor point of
legitimate confusion, the news media concluded that Gore
had willfully lied. The media made the case an indictment
against Gore's honesty.

In doing so, however, the media repeatedly misstated the
facts, insisting that Segal had denied that Gore was the model
for the lead male character. In reality, Segal had confirmed
that Gore was, at least partly, the inspiration for the
character, Barrett, played by Ryan O'Neal.

Some journalists seemed to understand the nuance but still
could not resist denigrating Gore's honesty.

For instance, in its attack on Gore over the Love Canal
quote, the Boston Herald conceded that Gore "did provide
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 character was
one of Love Story's two principal characters

The media's treatment of the Internet comment followed a
similar course. Gore's statement may have been poorly
phrased, but its intent was clear: he was trying to say that he
worked in Congress to help develop the Internet. Gore
wasn't claiming to have "invented" the Internet or to have
been the "father of the Internet," as many journalists have

Gore's actual comment, in an interview with CNN's Wolf
Blitzer that aired on March 9, 1999, was as follows: "During
my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative
in creating the Internet."

Republicans quickly went to work on Gore's statement. In
press releases, they noted that the precursor of the Internet,
called ARPANET, existed in 1971, a half dozen years
before Gore entered Congress. But ARPANET was a tiny
networking of about 30 universities, a far cry from today's
"information superhighway," ironically a phrase widely
credited to Gore.

As the media clamor arose about Gore's supposed claim that
he had invented the Internet, Gore's spokesman Chris
Lehane tried to explain. He noted that Gore "was the leader
in Congress on the connections between data transmission
and computing power, what we call information technology.
And those efforts helped to create the Internet that we know
today." [AP, March 11, 1999]

There was no disputing Lehane's description of Gore's lead
congressional role in developing today's Internet. But the
media was off and running.

Routinely, the reporters lopped off the introductory clause
"during my service in the United States Congress" or simply
jumped to word substitutions, asserting that Gore claimed
that he "invented" the Internet which carried the notion of a
hands-on computer engineer.

Whatever imprecision may have existed in Gore's original
comment, it paled beside the distortions of what Gore clearly
meant. While excoriating Gore's phrasing as an exaggeration,
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 words.

Now, with the Love Canal controversy, this media pattern of
distortion has returned with a vengeance. The national news
media has put a false quote into Gore's mouth and then
extrapolated from it to the point of questioning his sanity.
Even after the quote was acknowledged to be wrong, the
words continued to be repeated, again becoming part of
Gore's record.

From the media's hostile tone, one might conclude that
reporters have reached a collective decision that Gore should
be disqualified from the campaign.

At times, the media has jettisoned any pretext of objectivity.
According to various accounts of the first Democratic debate
in Hanover, N.H., reporters openly mocked Gore as they sat
in a nearby press room and watched the debate on television.

Several journalists later described the incident, but without
overt criticism of their colleagues. As The Daily Howler
observed, Time's Eric Pooley cited the reporters' reaction
only to underscore how Gore was failing in his "frenzied
attempt to connect."

"The ache was unmistakable -- and even touching -- but the
300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth
were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed
out by it," Pooley wrote. "Whenever Gore came on too
strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of
15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd."

Hotline's Howard Mortman described the same behavior as
the reporters "groaned, laughed and howled" at Gore's

Later, during an appearance on C-SPAN's Washington
Journal, Salon's Jake Tapper cited the Hanover incident, too.
"I can tell you that the only media bias I have detected in
terms of a group media bias was, at the first debate between
Bill Bradley and Al Gore, there was hissing for Gore in the
media room up at Dartmouth College. The reporters were
hissing Gore, and that's the only time I've ever heard the
press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any
event." [See The Daily Howler, Dec. 14, 1999]

Traditionally, journalists pride themselves in maintaining
deadpan expressions in such public settings, at most
chuckling at a comment or raising an eyebrow, but never
demonstrating derision for a public figure.

Reasons for this widespread media contempt for Gore vary.
Conservative outlets, such as Rev. Moon's Washington
Times and Murdoch's media empire, clearly want to ensure
the election of a Republican conservative to the White
House. They are always eager to advance that cause.

In the mainstream press, many reporters may feel that
savaging Gore protects them from the "liberal" label that can
so damage a reporter's career. Others simply might be
venting residual anger over President Clinton's survival of the
Monica Lewinsky scandal. They might believe that Gore's
political destruction would be a fitting end to the Clinton

Reporters apparently sense, too, that there is no career
danger in showing open hostility toward Clinton's vice

Yet, the national media's prejudice against Gore -- now
including fabrication of damaging quotes and
misrepresentation of his meaning -- raises a troubling
question about this year's election and the future health of
American democracy:

How can voters have any hope of expressing an informed
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
national laughingstock?

What hope does American democracy have when the media
can misrepresent a candidate's words so thoroughly that they
become an argument for his mental instability -- and all the
candidate feels he can do about the misquotes is to

As The Daily Howler's Somerby observes, the concern
about deception and its corrosive effect on democracy dates
back to the ancient Greeks.

"Democracy won't work, the great Socrates cried, because
sophists will create mass confusion," Somerby recalled at his
Web site. "Here in our exciting, much-hyped new millennium,
the Great Greek's vision remains crystal clear."
[The Daily Howler, Jan. 13, 2000]

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