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SUMMER SPECTACULAR! BORKING GORE! Gore was borked throughout the campaign. The “good guys” in the press never noticed:


HOW BAD WAS IT? How serious was the press corps’ borking of Gore? Consider one report by the Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly, the most important—and heinous—print reporter of the 2000 campaign.

On April 13, 2000, Gore spent the day at a Charlotte, N.C. middle school, one of the “school days” he conducted throughout the campaign. Here was Connolly, in the next morning’s Post:

CONNOLLY (pgh 1): Vice President Gore likes to say he’s touring America’s schools this spring to learn, but a class of 8th graders today elicited from him a rare recounting of his days in the Vietnam War.

(2) Even though he and his parents opposed the war, Gore said he volunteered for the Army because he “thought it was the right thing to do.”

(3) Co-teaching Sandy Simpson’s history class, Gore described his months as a military journalist but said he could not recall his lottery number. (It was 30, a number that would have guaranteed being drafted had Gore not volunteered). Gore’s account was a rather sanitized, and largely impersonal, description of the war. He reminisced about friends he made in Vietnam and sights he witnessed traveling that country in planes, helicopters and jeeps in pursuit of a story. “I carried an M-16 and a pencil,” he said, referring to the standard-issue rifle.

(4) He said the war “was definitely a policy mistake.”

Speaking of “sanitized” descriptions, consider Connolly’s report. Her implication is abundantly clear; Gore says he enlisted for noble reasons, but—because of that lottery number—he would have been drafted anyway. As such, this report neatly fit Connolly’s approved Master Script, one she followed throughout the election, in which Every Word Out Of Al Gore’s Mouth Was Revealed As A Dark, Ugly Lie.

Unfortunately, it was Connolly who was dissembling here, as she did throughout the campaign. (Plainly, her editors allowed her to do so.) Did Gore’s lottery number affect his enlistment? Clearly, it didn’t, as Connolly surely knew. Gore enlisted in August 1969; the draft lottery occurred four months later, in December. Though men with Gore’s birthday drew a low number (and got drafted), Gore didn’t have a number when he enlisted, and there was no way of knowing what his number would be. For the record, Congress approved the draft lottery plan in November. There wasn’t even a plan in place at the time that Gore volunteered.

Gore didn’t have a lottery number! And yes, Ceci Connolly surely knew it. In the April 14 Los Angeles Times, James Gerstenzang also described that Charlotte school visit. Oops! Gerstenzang included a pithy exchange which Ceci knew enough to withhold:

GERSTENZANG: Simpson, the teacher, asked Gore on Thursday if he could remember his draft lottery number.

“Oh, no, I don’t—I think I went in just before that happened,” he said.

What happened here happened throughout the campaign. Gore made a perfectly accurate statement. It was deftly transformed to a self-serving lie by the Post’s queen of slander, Ceci Connolly.

In a rational world, one would assume that a howler like Connolly’s must have been done by mistake. But from Ceci Connolly, work like this was stunningly frequent. (In fact, this particular item is so run-of-the-mill that it won’t even make our 400-page book.) But Connolly’s heinous conduct throughout the campaign produced almost no comment from the Washington press corps. On two occasions, her work was slammed by the Post’s perceptive ombudsman, E. R. Shipp (3/5/00, 9/17/00), although on neither occasion was she mentioned by name (your press corps’ pampered boys and girls are treated with excessive deference). In September’s Columbia Journalism Review, a Jane Hall piece scalded Connolly’s work, along with that of some others. But it is hard to imagine another sector in which such utterly fraudulent work could produce so little comment from peers. There is no other sector which polices itself as lazily as your press corps does. There is no other sector so little concerned with its own members’ grievous misconduct.

This week, we’re going to help you understand how egregious the borking of Gore really was. And we’re going to help you recall the names of the pundits who watched while this fraud occurred—the major pundits, of great renown, who chose to stand by and say nothing.

WHERE WAS JOSH, PART THE LAST: For us, this isn’t about Josh Marshall. But let’s say it again: We’re prepared to link to Marshall’s critiques of the press corps’ work in Campaign 2000. Last week, he called the press corps’ coverage of Gore “imbecilic.” But after conducting a bit of a search, we can’t find a place where he ever said that during the actual election itself. Maybe our “blundering screed,” which Josh found to be a “stupid comment” and part of a “deeper foolishness,” wasn’t so off-the-wall after all.

Did Josh ever say a word, in real time (or since), about the borking of Gore? We’re eager to link if he did. But let’s respond to a specific riposte. “Somerby is partly just at war with writerly brevity,” Marshall said, commenting on our incomparable musings. “One can’t say that people never warmed to Gore because then one is lumped in with the anti-Gore, ass-covering media conspiracy.” Except, on April 11, Marshall wrote a much longer critique of Gore’s campaign for Salon. Here’s how the piece started out:

MARSHALL (pgh 1): When Al Gore kicked off his presidential campaign in 1999, he enjoyed near-unanimous support from his own party, including the Democrats’ chief officeholders, political operatives and the most deep-pocketed fundraisers. The only problem appeared to be the voters, who didn’t seem to have particularly strong feelings about Gore one way or another.
Really? Gore formally announced on June 16, 1999; by then, did his “only problem appear to be the voters?” Shortly after Gore announced, the Post’s Howard Kurtz wrote a lengthy piece about “the harsh coverage and punditry” Gore was receiving. Kurtz quoted Roger Simon, who made a remarkable statement:
KURTZ (6/25/99): Roger Simon, chief political writer for U.S. News & World Report, defended the focus on Lewinsky: “It’s still the story that has shaped our time. We want to hear [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record. We’re going to make him jump through the hoops. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Incredible, isn’t it? Until Gore trashed Clinton in a way which pundits approved, they were “going to make him jump through hoops,” Simon said. Jim Warren made a somewhat similar comment. “We’re sort of bored with Clinton, and many of us think Clinton’s a moral scum, and probably subconsciously, at a minimum, we taint Gore by virtue of his association,” he said. By the way, Simon’s article about Gore’s kick-off speech stressed how sweaty the veep had been. “[H]is sweat glands are positively Nixonian,” Simon wrote. When it came to putting Gore “through the hoops,” Simon was true to his word.

At any rate, it was abundantly clear, as early as March 1999, that Gore was receiving extremely strange coverage. But our point last week was very simple; the startling coverage of the Gore campaign—which extended right through November 2000—is never mentioned in press corps accounts. Careerist pundits know to avoid it. As careerists, they know that they must never mention the things that the corps really did.

Marshall calls the coverage “imbecilic.” We’re prepared to build incomparable links to the spots where he actually said that.

TOMORROW: Ceci rides again. (And again. And again.)