U.S. News Media's 'War on Gore'
When historians sort out what happened to the United States at the start of the 21st Century, one of the mysteries may be why the national press corps ganged up like school-yard bullies against a well-qualified Democratic presidential candidate while giving his dimwitted Republican opponent virtually a free pass.
How could major news organizations, like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have behaved so irresponsibly as to spread falsehoods and exaggerations to tear down then-Vice President Al Gore – ironically while the newspapers were berating him for supposedly lying and exaggerating?
In a modern information age, these historians might ask, how could an apocryphal quote like Gore claiming to have “invented the Internet” been allowed to define a leading political figure much as the made-up quote “let them eat cake” was exploited by French propagandists to undermine Marie Antoinette two centuries earlier?
Why did the U.S. news media continue ridiculing Gore in 2002 when he was one of the most prominent Americans to warn that George W. Bush’s radical policy of preemptive war was leading the nation into a disaster in Iraq?
Arguably, those violations of journalistic principles at leading U.S. news organizations, in applying double standards to Gore and Bush, altered the course of American history and put the nation on a very dangerous road.
Now, Gore has reemerged in Washington appealing to his former colleagues in the House and Senate to act urgently on the threat from global warming.
In the initial press coverage of Gore’s return to Capitol Hill, there remains a touch of the old mocking tone, such as The New York Times’ front-page article describing Gore as “a heartbreak loser turned Oscar boasting Nobel hopeful globe-trotting multimillionaire pop culture eminence,” but not nearly the level of open disdain shown in Campaign 2000.
In early 2000, we published a story about that hostility and how it changed the dynamic of that crucial presidential race. We noted that “to read the major newspapers and to watch the TV pundit shows, one can’t avoid the impression that many in the national press have decided that Vice President Al Gore is unfit to be elected the next President of the United States.”
The article, entitled “Al Gore v. the Media,” went on to say:
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 1999, 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.
The Love Canal quote controversy began on Nov. 30, 1999, 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." [Washington Post, 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 all."
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."
Instead 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." [Washington Post, 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."
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?"
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 confabulations."
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 America.
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, 1999]
he 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]
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.'" [Washington Times, 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 strategy:
"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.'" [Washington Times, 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 mentioning a press report that indicated 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 this, he stated that the preppy hockey-playing male lead, Oliver Barrett IV, indeed was modeled after Gore as well as after 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 in the movie.
Some journalists seemed to understand the nuance but still could not resist disparaging 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 modern Internet. Gore wasn’t claiming to have "invented" the Internet, which carried the notion of a hands-on computer engineer.
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," 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.
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.”
At times, the media 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 comments.
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 displaying overt contempt. The anti-Gore bias of the major news media continued on through Campaign 2000.
In 2001, after Bush claimed the White House with the help of five Republican allies on the U.S. Supreme Court, Gore withdrew from the public spotlight. After the 9/11 attacks, he offered support to President Bush, but Gore grew uneasy as Bush promulgated a global strategy of preemptive war, reserving the right to attack any country that might somehow threaten the United States sometime in the future.
On Sept. 23, 2002, Gore delivered a comprehensive critique of Bush’s radical departure from decades of American support for international law. In his speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Gore laid out a series of concerns and differences that he had with Bush’s preemption policy and specifically Bush’s decision to refashion the “war on terror” into an immediate war with Iraq.
Gore, who had supported the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, criticized Bush’s failure to enlist the international community as his father did. Gore also warned about the negative impact that alienating other nations was having on the broader war against terrorists.
“I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century,” Gore said. “To put first things first, I believe that we ought to be focusing our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on Sept. 11. … Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another. We should remain focused on the war against terrorism.”
Instead of keeping after al-Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan, Bush had chosen to jump to a new war against Iraq as the first example of his policy of preemption, Gore said.
“He is telling us that our most urgent task right now is to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein,” Gore said. “And the President is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat.”
Gore also objected to the timing of the vote on war with Iraq. “President Bush is demanding, in this high political season, that Congress speedily affirm that he has the necessary authority to proceed immediately against Iraq and, for that matter, under the language of his resolution, against any other nation in the region regardless of subsequent developments or emerging circumstances,” Gore said.
The former Vice President staked out a position with subtle but important differences from Bush’s broad assertion that the United States has the right to override international law on the President’s command. Gore argued that U.S. unilateral power should be used sparingly, only in extreme situations.
“There’s no international law that can prevent the United States from taking action to protect our vital interests when it is manifestly clear that there’s a choice to be made between law and our survival,” Gore said. “Indeed, international law itself recognizes that such choices stay within the purview of all nations. I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq.”
Loss of Goodwill
Gore bemoaned, too, that Bush’s actions have dissipated the international good will that surrounded the United States after the 9/11 attacks.
“That has been squandered in a year’s time and replaced with great anxiety all around the world, not primarily about what the terrorist networks are going to do, but about what we’re going to do,” Gore said. “Now, my point is not that they’re right to feel that way, but that they do feel that way.”
Gore also took aim at Bush’s unilateral assertion of his right to imprison American citizens without trial or legal representation simply by labeling them “enemy combatants.”
“The very idea that an American citizen can be imprisoned without recourse to judicial process or remedy, and that this can be done on the sole say-so of the President of the United States or those acting in his name, is beyond the pale and un-American, and ought to be stopped,” Gore said.
Gore raised, too, practical concerns about the dangers that might follow the overthrow of Hussein, if chaos in Iraq followed. Gore cited the deteriorating political condition in Afghanistan where the new central government exerted real control only in parts of Kabul while ceding effective power to warlords in the countryside.
“What if, in the aftermath of a war against Iraq, we faced a situation like that, because we’ve washed our hands of it?” Gore asked. “What if the al-Qaeda members infiltrated across the borders of Iraq the way they are in Afghanistan? … Now, I just think that if we end the war in Iraq the way we ended the war in Afghanistan, we could very well be much worse off than we are today.”
While it may have been understandable why Bush’s supporters would be upset over Gore’s address – radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said he was unable to get to sleep after listening to it – their subsequent reaction was more attuned to obscuring Gore’s arguments than addressing what he actually said.
Rather than welcome a vigorous debate on the merits and shortcomings of the so-called “Bush Doctrine,” right-wing and mainstream commentators treated Gore as dishonest, unpatriotic and even unhinged.
Gore was slapped around by Beltway political analysts, hit from all angles, variously portrayed as seeking cheap political gain and committing political suicide.
Helped by the fact that Gore’s speech received spotty television coverage – MSNBC carried excerpts live and C-SPAN replayed the speech later that night – pro-Bush commentators were free to distort Gore’s words and then dismiss his arguments as “lies” largely because few Americans actually heard what he had said.
Some epithets came directly from Bush partisans. Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke called Gore a “political hack.” An administration source told The Washington Post that Gore was simply “irrelevant,” a theme that would be repeated often in the days after Gore’s speech. [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2002]
Other barrages were fired off by artillery battalions of right-wing opinion-makers from the strategic high ground of leading editorial pages, on talk radio and on television chat shows.
“Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered,” wrote Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly. “It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts – bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible.” [Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2002]
“A pudding with no theme but much poison,” declared another Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer. “It was a disgrace – a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence.” [Washington Post, Sept. 27, 2002]
At Salon.com, Andrew Sullivan entitled his piece about Gore’s speech “The Opportunist” and characterized Gore as “bitter.”
While some depicted Gore’s motivation as political “opportunism,” columnist William Bennett mocked Gore for sealing his political doom and banishing himself “from the mainstream of public opinion.”
In an Op-Ed piece for The Wall Street Journal, entitled “Al Gore’s Political Suicide,” Bennett said Gore had “made himself irrelevant by his inconsistency” and had engaged in “an act of self-immolation” by daring to criticize Bush’s policy. “Now we have reason to be grateful once again that Al Gore is not the man in the White House, and never will be,” Bennett wrote. [Wall Street Journal, Sept. 26, 2002]
When the conservative pundits addressed Gore’s actual speech, his words were bizarrely parsed or selectively edited to allow reprising of the news media’s favorite “Lyin’ Al” canard from the presidential campaign.
Kelly, for instance, resumed his editorial harangue with the argument that Gore was lying when the former Vice President said “the vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized.”
To Kelly, this comment was “reprehensible” and “a lie.” Kelly continued, “The men who ‘implemented’ the ‘cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans’ are dead; they died in the act of murder on Sept. 11. Gore can look this up.” Kelly added that most of the rest were in prison or on the run.
Yet, Kelly’s remarks were obtuse even by his standards. Gore clearly was talking about the likes of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, who indeed had not been located. [Kelly later died in a vehicle accident in Iraq.]
Still, the underlying theme running through the attacks against Gore and other critics of Bush’s “preemptive war” policy was that a thorough debate would not be tolerated. Rather than confront arguments on their merits, Bush’s supporters simply drummed Gore and fellow skeptics out of Washington’s respectable political society.
More than four years later, with more than 3,200 U.S. soldiers dead and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead too, the consequence of the news media’s hostility toward Gore is more apparent.
The question remains, however, whether the major U.S. news media has learned its lesson about the importance of journalistic professionalism and about the harm that can befall even a great nation if the public acts on “facts” that are not facts.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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