Sunday, March 25, 2007

The War On Gore: A Special Report From Robert Parry

Robert Parry has written a thorough case study of one of the sorriest tales in the history of American "journalism", called "U.S. News Media's 'War on Gore'". Like all Parry's best work, there's a lot to it.

It starts like this:
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.
Or maybe it won't be a mystery at all. Maybe it will be transparently obvious why the corporate press ganged up on a well-qualified candidate who just happened to be not only Democratic but also environmentalist.

You just never know, do you?
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?
These all amount to different ways of wording the same question: Why does the media favor Bush over Gore?
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.
In my opinion it is not arguable in any way, shape or form. The media gave George W. Bush a free ride with all the trappings, and took potshots at Al Gore at every possible opportunity. It was obvious, it was malicious, it was deliberate, and at least part of it was very carefully orchestrated!

The evidence Parry recounts is stronger than the conclusions he draws. For instance,
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."
One of these lies involved "Love Story"; another concerned the Internet. Parry documents the development of these and some others. The stories were widely circulated.
But behind these examples of Gore's "lies" was some very sloppy journalism.
That's a very generous way to describe it, in my opinion. Some would say Al Gore was ambushed.
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.
It really is remarkable. The Love Canal is a toxic waste nightmare in Niagara Falls, NY, where the Army and private chemical producers buried countless drums of the world's most deadly chemistry. The underground time-bomb ticked for about 30 years before it went off; shortly thereafter, Love Canal became the first such nightmare to receive national (and even global) attention. I could do an entire post on its history, and maybe some day I will.
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."
As Parry points out, the context is clear. Love Canal was well-known -- even outside the US -- but Toone was not. At all. And yet,
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."
Where did the false quote come from? Did these two huge newspapers simply print this preposterous statement without even checking to see whether this was what the man said? Apparently so. And it gets worse.
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."
Au contraire! This example of so-called journalism would be funny if it weren't absolutely terrifying!
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."
In just one day...
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]
I'm here to tell you Lois Gibbs is absolutely credible about Love Canal. I could tell you stories. But not now. Maybe later.
While the national media was excoriating Gore, the Concord students [who knew first-hand that Gore had been misquoted] 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]

The Web site, The Daily Howler, also was hectoring what it termed a "grumbling editor" at the Post to correct the error.
So The Washington Post and the New York Times were forced to print corrections, but they still didn't get the story right!
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.
On and on it goes. Read all about it. Read more about the Love Canal lie, the Internet lie, the "Love Story" lie, and more. Read about how all these lies were woven together into an entirely fictional narrative, one that some in the "news" media felt "obliged" to tell.
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]
Meanwhile they were packaging a mean-spirited dry-drunk half-witted warmonger -- who had already admitted in public that he would attack Iraq if he could -- as a "compassionate conservative" who wanted to conduct a "humble foreign policy".

Bob Parry can use the word "arguable" if he wants, but that doesn't mean I have to.

If the media had told the truth about the two candidates, the 2000 election would never have been close enough to steal. Period.

Thus was our birthright stolen from us.

What are we gonna do about it?

We've got plenty of guillotines.

We've got plenty of buckets.

What are we waiting for?