Dirty Players: Don't Expect The Polluters and Their Paid Professorial Liars To Play Clean (excerpts), Paul Krugman
A brief segment in "An Inconvenient Truth" shows Senator Al Gore questioning James Hansen, a climatologist at NASA, during a 1989 hearing. But the movie doesn't give you much context, or tell you what happened to Dr. Hansen later. And that's a story worth telling, for two reasons. It's a good illustration of the way interest groups can create the appearance of doubt even when the facts are clear and cloud the reputations of people who should be regarded as heroes. And it's a warning for Mr. Gore and others who hope to turn global warming into a real political issue: you're going to have to get tougher, because the other side doesn't play by any known rules....
But soon after Dr. Hansen's 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990's, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.
Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry. In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen's predictions. As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.
In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud — that is, it wasn't what Dr. Hansen actually predicted....
The experts at www.realclimate.org, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen "might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become." But I think they're misreading the situation. In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years. Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak. There's a concise way to describe what happened to Dr. Hansen: he was Swift-boated. John Kerry, a genuine war hero, didn't realize that he could successfully be portrayed as a coward. And it seems to me that Dr. Hansen, whose predictions about global warming have proved remarkably accurate, didn't believe that he could successfully be portrayed as an unreliable exaggerator....
Now, Dr. Hansen isn't running for office. But Mr. Gore might be, and even if he isn't, he hopes to promote global warming as a political issue. And if he wants to do that, he and those on his side will have to learn to call liars what they are.
Nazi Slur Strategy Played Against Al Gore, Bush Visited By Player
"You don’t go see Joseph Goebbels’ films to see the truth about Nazi Germany. You don’t wanna go see Al Gore’s film to see the truth about global warming." --Sr. Fellow at ExxonMobil-backed Nat. Ct. for Policy Analysis Sterling Burnett
"Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews." --Colorado St. Professor Emeritus Meterologist Bill Gray
"During the question-and-answer period following his speech, [Novelist Michael] Crichton drew an analogy between believers in global warming and Nazi eugenicists. “Auschwitz exists because of politicized science,” Crichton asserted, to gasps from some in the crowd
"In his new book about Mr. Bush, "Rebel in Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush," Fred Barnes recalls a visit to the White House last year by Michael Crichton, whose 2004 best-selling novel, "State of Fear," suggests that global warming is an unproven theory and an overstated threat. Mr. Barnes, who describes Mr. Bush as "a dissenter on the theory of global warming," writes that the president "avidly read" the novel and met the author after Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, arranged it. He says Mr. Bush and his guest "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement."
--New York Times
Death By Hillary: Let's Hope Gore Can Save The Dems, Frank Rich
If Senator Clinton is the Antichrist, might not it be time for a resurrected messiah to inherit (and save) the earth? Enter Mr. Gore, celebrated by New York on its cover as "The Un-Hillary." There's a certain logic to this. Mrs. Clinton does look like a weak candidate — not so much because of her marriage, her gender or her liberalism, but because of her eagerness to fudge her stands on anything and everything to appeal to any and all potential voters. Where once she inspired passions pro and con, now she often induces apathy. Her most excited constituency seems to be the right-wing pundits who still hope to make a killing with books excoriating her....
Since no crowd-pleasing Democratic challenger has emerged at this early date to disrupt Mrs. Clinton's presumed coronation, the newly crowned movie star who won the popular vote in 2000 is the quick fix. Better the defeated devil the Democrats know than the losers they don't. Besides, there are at least two strong arguments in favor of Mr. Gore. He was way ahead of the Washington curve, not just on greenhouse gases but on another issue far more pressing than Mrs. Clinton's spirited crusade to stamp out flag burning: Iraq....
An anti-Hussein hawk who was among the rare Senate Democrats to vote for the first gulf war, Mr. Gore forecast the disasters lying in wait for the second when he spoke out at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 2002....At the time, the White House professed to ignore Mr. Gore's speech, but on cue in the next five days Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld and the president all stepped up the hype of what Mr. Rumsfeld falsely called "bulletproof" evidence of links between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, blew off Mr. Gore for fear that talk of Iraq might distract the electorate from all those compelling domestic issues that would guarantee victory in the midterms. (That brilliant strategy cost Democrats the Senate.)...
Let's hope Mr. Gore runs. He may not be able to pull off the Nixon-style comeback of some bloggers' fantasies, but by pounding away on his best issues, he could at the very least play the role of an Adlai Stevenson or Wendell Willkie, patriotically goading the national debate onto higher ground. "I think the war looms over everything," said Karl Rove this month in bemoaning his boss's poll numbers. It looms over the Democrats, too. But the party's leaders would rather let John Murtha take the heat on Iraq; they don't even have the guts to endorse tougher fuel economy standards in their "new" energy policy. While a Gore candidacy could not single-handedly save the Democrats from themselves ..., it might at least force the party powers that be to start facing some inconvenient but necessary truths.
President Gore: What's Wrong With Our Politics (excerpts), Paul Krugman
Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could be denied the White House? Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him a figure of ridicule misses a key part of the story. Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr. Gore? Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, many years before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbers and serious analysis.
And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything but the issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage (and about which his opponent was clearly both ill informed and dishonest).
I won't join the sudden surge of speculation about whether "An Inconvenient Truth" will make Mr. Gore a presidential contender. But the film does make a powerful case that Mr. Gore is the sort of person who ought to be running the country.
Since 2000, we've seen what happens when people who aren't interested in the facts, who believe what they want to believe, sit in the White House. Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq is a mess, New Orleans is a wreck. And, of course, we've done nothing about global warming.
But can the sort of person who would act on global warming get elected? Are we — by which I mean both the public and the press — ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk about complicated issues and call for responsible policies? That's a test of national character. I wonder whether we'll pass.
Is there anyone out there who still believes former vice president Al Gore is not
going to run for president in 2008? If so, I have a timeshare in the Sunni Triangle I'd like to sell you.
Gore unofficially kicked off his '08 campaign on Monday with a blistering attack on Bush over his secret spying program carried out by the National Security Agency since the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Gore called for an immediate special counsel investigation into the warrantless domestic eavesdropping scheme, and said the president's actions violate the law. The speech was made to The American Constitution Society and The Liberty Coalition, who jointly sponsored the event.
Make no mistake, Al Gore is running for president. Bet the farm on it. He's been running for some time now. And Monday's fire and brimstone speech, delivered on a day celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., should be a wake up call to every Democrat who's set his/her sights on the White House. Gore has more passion and more mojo than any of them, and has been front and center on a number of key issues including Iraq, the environment and executive power, aggressively taking on the president while others in the party are too afraid to go for the political jugular. And he's been exciting Democrats in ways Hillary Clinton and John kerry wish
they could. His overall presentation and message is resonating extremely well with voters. He's The Comeback Kid.
On Bush, Gore declared: "A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government."
He issued a scathing critique of Bush's illegal wiretapping scheme, questioning the national security rationale that it's based on:"Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously? It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same."
On Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Gore said: "A special counsel should be immediately appointed by the attorney general to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the president."
This is a man who looks, sounds and is
presidential. Let's not forget he won the popular vote in 2000 and, as many believe, was robbed of the presidency by Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court. He'll be back in '08 to finish the job. Take it to the bank. --posted Jan. 17, 2006
HOW GORE WON THE ELECTION BUT LOST IN THE SUPREME COURT 11/12/2001
GORE VS. BUSH, COKE VS. PEPSI ?
"Coke vs. Pepsi" was how some assessed last year's
choice between Bush and Gore. Does anyone still
Here's my selective list of Bush & Co.'s busy 10
months in office... a list of things Al Gore probably
would not have done... I'm sure you'll have your own
Of course, the September 11 attacks make the calculus
difficult. Some "attack-related items" are in the
general list; others are included as a note at the
Keep in mind these are specific actions/initiatives by
Bush & Co. In some ways it's hard to quantify how
general "outlook" differences between Gore and Bush
express themselves... for instance, Bush's pre-Sept.
11 non-engagement with the world, or his general lack
of concern with working class Americans.
So I offer the following as some documentation that
the "Florida Fiasco" didn't simply botch the outcome
of an election... it changed the world we live in.
Things the Bush Administration has done or is doing
that a Gore Administration would NOT have:
* Engineered a cut in income tax rates that benefits
high-income Americans most, and many low income,
payroll tax-paying Americans not at all. Tax rollback
will vastly complicate effort to reduce national debt
and shore up Medicare and Social Security
* Pursuing a massive increase in military spending
focussed on an update of Reagan's "Star Wars" missile
shield; indicates he will abandon the Anti-Ballistic
* Attempting to thwart far-reaching "Patients' Bill of
* Attempting to thwart McCain-Feingold campaign
* Repealed Clinton-era workplace safety rules
* Overturned Clinton-era regulations on road building
in national forests, and on mining pollution in public
* Refuses to comply with 1978 law ordering disclosure
of presidential papers, thereby setting up years-long
legal battle to avoid untimely disclosure of
Reagan-Bush "41" details
* Restricts the pace of medical innovation by limiting
embryonic stem cell research to a handful of
commercially controlled cell specimens
* Considers restricting use of RU486 despite FDA's
finding the drug is safe and effective for inducing
* Broke campaign pledge to regulate CO2 emissions.
Denied the reality global warming... then, when
refuted by scientific consensus, denied the human
impact on global warming, and negative effects of
* Discouraged Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
from investigating claims of price manipulation in the
* Attempting to open ANWR and other wild reserves to
petroleum drilling, while discounting the advantages
of conservation and renewable energy sources
* Presided over US removal from UN Human Rights
* Issued an executive order to restrict international
Planned Parenthood support
*Advocating increased and unrestricted US military
and contract-military efforts in Columbia to fight
* Advocated law to establish unborn fetus as
equivalent to a child (for "benign" purpose of issuing
pre-natal medical coverage)
* Attempted to relax arsenic standards in drinking
water... until political opposition and scientific
argument persuaded him to accept Clinton-era
* Cut funds to programs for childcare and for helping
* Proposed loosening of testing standards for
salmonella in school lunches
* Created a Social Security task force that met in
* Fighting public disclosure of advisors on his
industry-enriching national energy plan
* Installed anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, pro-gun,
pro-Drug War John Ashcroft to Attorney General
* Elevated Ted Olson, master of Clinton-bashing attack
subterfuge, to "Tenth Justice:" US Solicitor General
* Appointed several Iran-Contra operatives to foreign
policy positions, including Elliot Abrams to National
Security Council's Office for Democracy, Human Rights
and International Operations. Abrams had intimate
dealings with Latin American death squad leaders and
assassins during the Reagan-Bush era, and was pardoned
by Bush Sr. Similar appointments of
ethically-challenged Otto Reich and John Negroponte to
sensitive foreign policy positions
* Attempted to reduce funding for Justice Department's
legal efforts against the tobacco industry. Also
rolled back Justice Department efforts against
Microsoft monopoly tactics
* Seeks to impose limits on establishing endangered
species status through lawsuits
* Resists implementation of international guidelines
for a 1972 treaty banning biological weapons, and
blocks acceptance of key provisions of an
international small arms agreement
*Meddled in the Nicaraguan elections
* Halted state-approved medical marijuana distribution
in California and assisted-suicide protocols in Oregon
* Inhibited investigation of Saudi support for
* In May, gave $10 million to Taliban as part of the
War on Drugs. (Six months later, prex-spouse Laura
Bush decried Taliban human rights violations in
national radio address.)
* REGARDING TERROR ATTACKS OF SEPT. 11 - There is little
to indicate military response under Al Gore would've
been very different from current military operations.
However, if Bush decides to expand the conflict to
Iraq, that might be a difference.
* Outside of the military theater, I would expect some
leadership differences from President Gore. In the
wake of the attacks, Bush seems obsessed with
consolidating information, widening surveillance, and
stymieing inquiry from the news media, Congress and
* Since Sept. 11, the Freedom of Information Act and
Presidential Records Act have largely been gutted,
foreigners have been stripped of access to legal due
process, law enforcement has widely expanded search
privileges on matters of terrorism, and perhaps more.
And I don't think Al Gore would have lobbied for
military tribunals to punish terrorists.
* As for the general foreign policy response to the
crisis: Hard to imagine President Gore would have
cast the struggle in such stark "Us vs. Them" terms.
Nor do I think Pres. Gore would have called current
efforts a "crusade."
* Then again, Gore probably wouldn't have pitched quite
so well before a World Series game.
For a provocative article on President Gore's reaction
to the attacks, check an Economist article at
Richard Babcock, 12.03.01
The Press vs. Al Gore
How lazy reporting, pack journalism and GOP spin cost him the election
One month after formally kicking off his presidential campaign, Vice President Al Gore paddled down the Connecticut River in New Hampshire on July 22nd, 1999, spreading his green theme of protecting the environment and pausing for a photo op. His message was quickly drowned out, though, when the Washington Times' Bill Sammon reported that local authorities had granted Gore a special favor when they released nearly 4 billion gallons of water from a nearby dam into the drought-stricken river in order to keep the vice president's boat afloat.
The price tag on the spilled water was quickly calculated at $7 million. The implication was clear: In a clumsy abuse of power, Al Gore, a supposed friend of the environment, gladly wasted precious natural resources to stage-manage a political event.
Following the lead of the Washington Times, an unabashedly conservative outlet often hostile to Democrats, the rest of the mainstream press pounced, not only upbraiding Gore for his supposed hypocrisy but also suggesting that the campaign miscue was just the latest example of a foundering presidential run. The New York Times detailed the "mishap," the Washington Post ridiculed Gore's FOUR BILLION GALLONS FOR A PHOTO OP, Newsweek dubbed it the "photo op from hell," and CNN covered the "wave of criticism after floodgates are opened on a New Hampshire river to keep Al Gore afloat."
In retrospect, the most notable thing about the whole story was just how murky the facts were. Nobody from the Gore campaign asked for the water to be released. (Concerned about security, the Secret Service did.) As for the amount of water released, it was 500 million gallons, not 4 billion - a fact that Sammon reported a week later, long after other media ran with the original story. And the local utility company that operates the dam was already dumping millions of gallons of water into the parched Connecticut River every day. The routine release had simply been moved up a couple of hours to accommodate Gore's trip. The $7 million figure turned out to be completely inaccurate, since the water was not wasted. Instead, it passed through hydroelectric turbines and generated power that the utility company sold to other utilities.
"I felt like we'd fallen through the looking glass," says Sharon Francis, executive director of the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, who coordinated Gore's visit on behalf of the region and for days fielded press queries about the derided canoe trip. She describes the media coverage as "fictional" and "nasty" and "spun to sound like something corrupt."
Two years later, Sammon defends his work, insisting that the incident makes "a point about Gore's political reflexes, [which are] to spin furiously and resort to deception."
Those are two things the D.C. press corps knows plenty about.
If the media charade surrounding Gore's Connecticut River trip had been a one-time event - nothing more than bored political reporters trying too hard to kick up some dust during a slow summer news week - this incident would be forgotten to history. Instead, it is emblematic of the way the political press operated throughout the campaign, falsely reporting trivia about Gore and challenging his character in order to score points.
The coverage was at times blatantly dishonest, and, worse, reporters seemed so determined to stick to pre-assigned scripts ("Gore is a phony") that they balked at correcting obvious errors that began to circulate. (For a complete chronicle of the press's factual missteps in covering Gore, go to dailyhowler.com, a Web site run by Bob Somerby, one of Gore's college roommates and close friends.)
Whether it was the misreported assertion that he'd invented the Internet or the ridiculously exaggerated brouhaha over his quickly corrected claim that he and his wife, Tipper, were models for the young lovers in Erich Segal's best-selling novel Love Story, Gore's close friends and admirers agree that Gore has a penchant for hyperbole. But in last year's election, the press elevated this relatively minor personality quirk into a character-defining issue.
"The coverage seemed to be much more aggressive and adversarial than I'd ever seen before," says Scott Shepard, a veteran newspaper reporter who has four presidential campaigns to his credit and who covered the Gore campaign for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"There was a fair amount of animus as time wore on with Gore," says James Warren, who was then Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, referring to the mood on the press plane. "People were overly hard toward him. He's a decent, honest fellow. He was not the greatest candidate, but he's not dishonest. And some in the press came perilously close to saying that."
Recalls one network-television correspondent who spent lots of time on the presidential campaign, "There just developed among a certain group of people covering Gore, particularly the print people, a real disdain for him. Everything was negative. They had a grudge against [Gore]. I don't know how else to put it."
The hostility was evident throughout the campaign as the press, in a series of questionable endeavors, worked overtime to portray Gore as a fake. For instance, after combing through twenty years' worth of public statements, the Boston Globe last year ran a typical, and contemptuous, 3,000-word expos exploring the vice president's propensity to exaggerate. Or, as the paper tsk-tsked, "Gore has regularly promoted himself, and skewered his opponents, with embroidered, misleading and occasionally false statements." No doubt uncharted territory for a major American politician.
After all that research, what did the Globe's Walter Robinson and Michael Crowley find to be among Gore's most egregious exaggerations? "Starting in 1994, Gore has added two years to his journalistic experience, upping the figure from the five years he once claimed to seven." This may seem to be the very definition of trivial - "gotcha" journalism carried to its absurd extreme. But it's also wrong.
By biographers' accounts, Gore spent two years in the Army as a reporter, or "information specialist," and five years working for The Tennessean. That's seven years. The number has never changed. Asked about the discrepancy, Robinson now argues that Gore spent only nineteen months in the Army and that his five years at The Tennessean were interrupted by two years in law school, when he worked part-time at the paper. "It was another example of Gore sort of rounding things up to his advantage, trying to make it into something bigger," says Robinson.
Of course, the Globe article set aside space to mock Gore for his claim of having invented the Internet. Perhaps the most famous of Gore's fictional missteps, that over-the-top brag became convenient shorthand for pundits to ridicule a man so uncomfortable with his own skin, the conventional wisdom went, that he felt the need to chronically inflate his achievements. Clearly, he'd say anything to get elected. (And pundits, doubling as shrinks, even knew why: "In all likelihood, his exaggerations reflect a yearning for a kind of approval and admiration that he never got from his dad," said Gore biographer Bob Zelnick.)
The fact that Gore never said he invented the Internet didn't stop the press from telling, and retelling, a story that fit into its prepackaged narrative: Gore is a liar. But it was the journalists, trying hard to paint a damning portrait of Gore, who played it loose with the facts and perpetrated what added up to a complete fabrication.
Here's what happened. In 1999, candidate Gore was taping an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in which he said, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." He was no doubt referring to his landmark "information superhighway" speeches, as well as his well-known support of high-tech research that stretched back into the 1980s. (For the record, Vinton Cerf, often called "the father of the Internet," not to mention futurist Newt Gingrich, have both publicly vouched for Gore's role in helping to shepherd the Internet to life.)
So who coined the phrase "invented the Internet" and attached it to Gore? His Republican opponents, who faxed out a press release suggesting Gore had claimed to have done exactly that.
It's no surprise that GOP operatives would willfully misinterpret a statement from a Democratic presidential candidate. What's amazing is that the press went along with it so uncritically. Was it accurate? The press didn't care, as virtually every major media outlet in the country followed the Republican lead and reported over and over again Gore's claim to have invented the Internet.
Concerned about losing the election on traditional campaign issues such as taxes, Medicare and crime, topics that, according to polls, favored Democrats, the GOP worked to turn the election into a character contest. To do that, Republicans had to link Gore with President Bill Clinton by dismantling the vice president's long-standing image as an earnest Boy Scout and replacing it with that of a phony liar. The New York Times cheered the Republicans' Internet move as "clever" and "ingenious."
As would become its custom, the Gore camp responded timidly and slowly. Seeing the Internet story was taking on a life of its own, some aides suggested the vice president pop the balloon by quickly addressing it. Gore, though, waited more than a week before publicly cracking a joke about how the night before the CNN interview, he'd been up late "inventing the camcorder." By then, the story had legs. And by trying to finesse the issue with humor and adopting the fictitious premise that he "invented" something extraordinary, Gore simply gave the damaging story credence.
"The Republicans did a very good job pushing that stuff, and the press reveled in it," says Tony Coelho, who served as Gore's campaign chairman until June 2000, when he stepped down for health reasons. "They wanted to bring down 'Prince Albert.' "
Often, the GOP didn't even have to prompt the press to create Gore exaggerations - reporters did it all on their own. During a September campaign stop, Gore recalled to a crowd of union workers that his mother used to sing him to sleep at night using "Look for the Union Label" as a lullaby. The press started digging and discovered the story was a fraud and "must be labeled untrue," as USA Today's political columnist Walter Shapiro reported. The TV jingle was written in 1975, when Gore was twenty-seven years old. The story was quickly picked up by cable TV's talkers and print columnists as another "bizarre fabrication."
The only problem was that Gore told the tale as a joke, confirmed by the video of the event, which showed the audience of Teamsters laughing at the mention of the so-called "lullaby." A week later, an editorial in USA Today addressed the issue and actually sided with Gore: "A review of the videotape gives plausibility to that explanation." But Shapiro stands by the column: "I was in the room [when Gore spoke], and I didn't feel it was a joke, and my tape recorder didn't feel it was a joke. I didn't hear people laughing. But if they were laughing, it was at Gore's awkwardness."
On October 6th, 2000, New York Times reporter Richard Berke referenced the union song prominently in a lengthy piece about Gore's "tendency to embellish," stressing "how Mr. Gore recalled a childhood lullaby that did not exist." Not once did the paper inform readers that both Gore and the members of the audience considered the line to be a throwaway joke.
Like most reporters quizzed about their Gore coverage, Berke agrees that the vice president was the victim of some shoddy press but that he himself did not contribute to it. And more important, says Berke, Gore did exaggerate, so even if some careless journalists made mistakes documenting the alleged embellishments, the story itself was legitimate.
But lots of well-known embellishment stories were not legitimate, such as the infamous Love Canal incident. When Gore spoke at Concord High School in New Hampshire on November 30th, 1999, and urged students to take an active role in politics, he recalled that it was a letter years before from a student in Toone, Tennessee, that got then-Rep. Gore interested in the topic of toxic waste. "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. I 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."
The next day, both the Washington Post and the New York Time botched the quote, erroneously reporting Gore had bragged, "I was the one that started it all."
The Post's Ceci Connolly, who covered Gore campaign for eighteen months and made the error, today insists that her miscue "did not change the context" of Gore's original statement. She contends that the key quote, the one that catches Gore embellishing, was the quote "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal." Yet clearly from his response, Gore used the term "found" in reference to "looking around the country for other sites like" Toone, and in no way suggested he uncovered the Love Canal toxic-waste disaster.
Thanks to the high-profile misquote, though, the media's echo chamber erupted, with MSNBC's Chris Matthews mocking Gore for being delusional, while ABC's George Stephanopoulos lamented that the vice president had "revealed his Pinocchio problem." (In a press release, the ever-helpful Republican National Committee cleaned up the mangled quote, changing "that" to "who" in order to make the misquote grammatically correct: "I was the one who started it all.") This time Gore responded quickly but was again too humble, calling a reporter the morning after the Concord visit to say he was sorry if his Love Canal comments had not been clear enough.
It was actually local students, enrolled in a media-literacy course, who had to set the record straight by taking the unusual step of issuing their own press release under the headline TOP TEN REASONS WHY MANY CONCORD HIGH STUDENTS FEEL BETRAYED BY SOME OF THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF AL GORE'S VISIT TO THE THEIR SCHOOL.
It took the Post and the Times a week to run Love Canal corrections. Yet one month before Election Day, the usually reliable Associated Press reported confidently, "Gore's exaggerations have placed him more centrally than warranted at the creation of . . . the Love Canal toxic-waste investigation." The episode fit a distinct pattern: Journalists just refused to drop unflattering Gore stories, no matter what the facts revealed.
For instance, the candidate was ridiculed endlessly after the infamous Love Story flap. Actually, what Gore mentioned to two reporters in an offhand comment was that, according to an old Tennessean article,Love Story author Segal had made that claim. After Gore's quip, Segal corrected the record by saying that The Tennessean had gotten it wrong, and that both Gore and his Harvard roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones, had served as models for Love Story's male protagonist, but that Segal did not base any character on Tipper.
Simple, right? Three years later, Newsweek still could not figure it out. Busy documenting embellishments weeks before Election Day, the magazine's Bill Turque wrote that the vice president "was not the basis for the Oliver Barrett character in Love Story." That sentence continues, ". . . author Erich Segal says Barrett was a combination of Gore and his Harvard pal Tommy Lee Jones." So why, then, was Gore belittled for his association with Love Story? Turque concedes the sentence "could have been more artfully worded" but insists "it is not fundamentally contradictory."
Regardless, Gore's team should have "stuck a knife in those exaggeration stories early on," concedes Mark Fabiani, communication director for the campaign. Instead, the tales lived on in the press and ultimately "came back to haunt the campaign."
The consensus among the press corps, according to Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, was that there were enough instances of Gore playing loose with the facts that the legitimate issue was raised as to whether he "could apprehend reality." Says Woodward, "It set off alarm bells in reporters' heads, and it should."
Perhaps nowhere were those bells going off more loudly or more often than in the head of Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly. Her dispatches, frequently heavy on spin and regularly filled with biting jibes, were often the talk of campaign journalists, not to mention Gore officials.
Connolly was one of the reporters who botched Gore's Love Canal quote more than once. In her first dispatch on the matter, she used the twisted quote to mock Gore for dissembling about his record, a theme she had been hammering for months. In her follow-up story the next day, she printed it again, jeering, "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."
Incredibly, none of the three examples Connolly offered to highlight Gore's compulsion for exaggerating were based on fact. Eleven months later, and just three weeks before Election Day, the Post returned to the topic of Love Canal, reporting how Gore's "clumsy" statements "suggesting he discovered the Love Canal disaster" had made him an easy target for ridicule.
At the same time that the paper was busy propping up the Love Canal story, it suddenly decided that the Love Story hoax was no longer based in fact, pointing out on October 15th, 2000, "Gore never claimed he and his wife were the models for the book Love Story but instead referred to an article in which author Erich Segal was misquoted as saying so." It just proved, the Post emphasized, "how closely Gore's anecdotes and statements are being watched" and that his every utterance will be "fact-checked."
Connolly dismisses the criticism. "I was very tough on Al Gore," she says, "the same way I was tough on George W. Bush when I covered him briefly" during the campaign. Tough? Traveling for just a few days with the Bush campaign, Connolly wrote that the candidate "evoked memories of another governor-turned-president: Ronald Reagan." The young Republican candidate, with "just a bit of swagger for the party faithful," was a "cheerful patriot" with a "sunny disposition" who "jauntily plays to the cameras and crowds." Compare that to a single dispatch from the Gore trail, in which Connolly derided the vice president as "boring" and "programmed to the point of seeming robotic" and mocked his "rarely seen human side."
Nineteen months after putting words in his mouth and then disdaining him for his supposed Internet claims, and fifteen months after spinning pure fiction about his canoe trip down the Connecticut River, the press erupted over another trivial pursuit. During the first presidential debate, Gore told the tale of Kailey Ellis, a student at Florida's Sarasota High School, and how, due to severe overcrowding, "she has to stand" during her science class.
Forget that affluent Sarasota voters last year voted down a school-budget referendum, which left the district with a $17 million shortfall or that 100 of its teachers had been laid off or that high school classes in the fall of 2000 had nine more students per classroom than the year before. The fact that the acclaimed Sarasota school system was grappling with severe budget cuts and real overcrowding was of no interest to the pundit press corps. They only wanted to know one thing: whether Kailey "has to stand during class." The answer was no, but at one point, she did have to.
That was the extent of Gore's "exaggeration": He used the wrong verb tense, saying "has" instead of "had." Looking back, Randy Ellis, Kailey's father and a registered Republican, says the national coverage of the Sarasota incident was "bizarre" and "unbelievable." "They just wanted to get a story saying that Gore was an exaggerator," he says. "Two weeks later, they were still going over and rehashing it. We couldn't believe it. It was a trip."
The press also went into a tizzy over Gore's casual comment during that first debate that he had traveled with James Lee Witt, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to Texas during a spate of wildfires. As vice president, Gore had traveled with Witt seventeen different times, but not on the date in question. Gore corrected the record the next morning, but the press treated his slip of the tongue as wildly important.
According to Fabiani, the Gore camp failed to perform a fundamental task: "The challenge of a campaign is to give people something to think about instead of the pre-existing story line. If you let people's pre-existing notions prevail, you deserve what you get."
"Gore felt like he won the debate," says Tony Coelho, "but what he did do was lose the spin." Gore's former campaign manager offers only praise for the senior Bush advisers, who, during that crucial period last October, deftly handled the press. "Karl Rove and Karen Hughes outmaneuvered and out-strategized us," he says. "We weren't in the same league with them at that point."
During the debates, though, Bush made a handful of blunders regarding military operations in the Balkans and Haiti, about the facts surrounding Texas' most celebrated hate-crime trial and about his own tax plan. Bush was free to botch facts about central policy issues and the press wouldn't question his intelligence. But if Gore were to misstate nonessential details, such as how long a student had to stand in a crowded Sarasota classroom, he was tagged a liar who couldn't be trusted.
Few journalists saw anything wrong with this double standard. In fact, some found it amusing. "You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator, or you look at his record in Texas," Time magazine columnist Margaret Carlson told radio morning man Don Imus at the height of the campaign. "But it's really easy, and it's fun, to disprove Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us."
Who decided that covering presidential politics was supposed to be "entertaining" and "fun" for journalists?
The press responds to critics on the right by bending over backward not to look liberal," says Geneva Overholser, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and former ombudsman for the Washington Post, referring to the common conservative criticism of the so-called liberal media. "The cumulative effect is the opposite: They're tougher on Democrats." She, too, is convinced there was "something fundamentally wrong" with the 2000 election press coverage.
Last year, a review conducted by two nonpartisan groups, Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Research Center, found that a stunning seventy-six percent of the Gore campaign coverage in early 2000 centered around two negative themes: that he lies and exaggerates, and that he's tarred by scandal. "We call it the metanarrative," says Tom Rosenstiel, director of Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Journalists are looking for a story line, a narrative device, that plays out over weeks and months, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is if they let the narrative overwhelm the facts, then it becomes a distorting lens. It can lead journalists to ignore and mischaracterize facts as they try to fit them into the story."
Still, Beltway journalists defend their work. "I followed our coverage closely, and I thought it was excellent," says the Washington Post's Woodward. "It really was balanced." The former Watergate sleuth notes the challenge for reporters covering a fast-moving national election on a daily basis: "All these threads hang down - 'What about Bush's intelligence and Gore's truthfulness?' As a reporter, you don't know which one to pull. So you end up pulling on them all and ask, 'What is this?' If on balance you're pulling one set of strings too hard, then you have a problem." The truth is, while the press occasionally tugged a George Bush thread and ridiculed his garbled syntax, pundits were yanking on the Gore threads until they snapped.
What explains the press performance? All politics is personal, and as one theory suggests, Bush was simply friendlier and more open with the press, which translated into kinder, gentler coverage. Bush, the New York Times said last year, "not only slaps reporters' backs but also rubs the tops of their heads and, in a few instances, pinches their cheeks."
"There was a certain sort of hubris and arrogance how the Gore people handled the campaign," reports the Chicago Tribune's Warren. One senior Gore campaign aide agrees: "We clearly made some mistakes. Especially in the beginning, we were very guarded about access to him. It played into the idea that Gore was not at ease with the press." Journalists did little to hide their contempt. During a primary debate against former Sen. Bill Bradley in New Hampshire, Gore was openly booed - not by Bradley supporters but by reporters. "The 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out," said a 1999 Time report. "Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of fifteen-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd."
Did bad press cost Al Gore the election last year? It's naive to think Gore's chronically caustic coverage didn't cause him to lose votes during a historically close election. Looking back, Gore's handlers accept responsibility for mistakes they made during the campaign.
When will journalists do the same?
ERIC BOEHLERT, Rolling Stone- Dec. 6-13, 2001
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