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INVENTING A LIAR! “They hate Gore,” Mickey Kaus deftly said. So they struggled to make Gore a liar.


“THEY HATE GORE:” In June 1999, Roger Simon said the press would make Gore “jump through hoops” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/02). By New Hampshire, feelings had deepened. On January 31—the day before the Granite State voting—Mickey Kaus penned his “Kausfiles” column for Slate. In an earlier piece, Kaus had said “the press was boosting Bradley” in the campaign, and he gave a specific reason—reporters “didn’t want the primary race to end” and were therefore helping the underdog. Now, Kaus had arrived on the ground in New Hampshire, and, based on discussions with other scribes, he amended his previous statement. “What I underestimated—what, indeed, has startled me,” he wrote, “is the extent to which reporters aren’t simply boosting Bradley for their own sake (or Bradley’s). It’s also something else: They hate Gore. They really do think he’s a liar. And a phony. They dislike the controlled, canned nature of his campaign events, and hate covering them.” [Kaus’ emphasis]

By now, of course, the press had called Gore a liar for almost a year, ever since his first campaign events. (“Invented the Internet” was gimmicked up from Gore’s first campaign interview, in March 1999.) Meanwhile, Bradley had called Gore a liar for months, and the obedient press corps had kept itself busy typing the noble man’s spin. AL GORE, LIAR was the corps’ premier script. And when the corps has a script it loves, it often dissembles to promote it.

On February 17, the New York Times’ Katharine Seelye seemed to do just that, as she would do so often. “Questions of veracity have long dogged Gore,” read the headline. As scribes would do right through November, Seelye listed troubling examples of Gore’s extremely disturbing misstatements, this time drawn from New Hampshire and Iowa. “Are these exchanges part of the normal give-and-take of a political contest,” she asked, “the exaggerations and embellishments that are the ordinary vernacular of political speech? Or are they signs of a deeper problem that will continue to haunt Mr. Gore…possibly into the Oval Office?” Seelye made it fairly clear that she leaned toward the “deep problem” theory. But alas! When one examines her typically hapless piece, it is Seelye who seems to be dissembling. In the heart of her report, she offered four examples of alleged misstatements from the two recent primary races. Incredibly, three of her examples were utterly bogus. If Gore was afflicted by some sort of “deep problem,” Seelye was having a very hard time coming up with convincing examples.

Just how phony were Seelye’s charges? For simplicity, let’s start with her second example. In this passage, presented in full, she is supported by pundit Kathleen Hall Jamieson:

SEELYE: Mr. Gore has also misrepresented Mr. Bradley’s health care plan, charging in various appearances that it would provide a voucher worth only $150 a month for a family to purchase medical insurance on the private market.

In fact, the Bradley plan would grant each individual $150 a month and provides other mechanisms for poor families to receive health care.

“That was a serious misstatement,” Ms. Jamieson said.

“That was a serious misstatement,” Jamieson said—but when had Gore ever made it? All too typically, Seelye cited no example. In fact, while Gore and Bradley had routinely debated the $150 voucher, we know of no case when Gore ever said that this amount would be offered per family. Indeed, in most of the Democratic debates, it was perfectly clear that the $150 was the amount an individual would get. At the January 26 New Hampshire debate, for example, Gore said this: “Senator Bradley proposes to substitute vouchers or subsidies, as he prefers to call them, limited to $150 per month per person” (emphasis added). Later in that same debate, Gore criticized the Bradley proposal again: “I said before, there’s not a single plan here in New Hampshire where an individual can buy health insurance for $150 a month” (emphasis added). Seelye’s piece also referred to the pivotal January 9 debate in Iowa. At that forum, Gore said this: “What kind of shape would [recipients] be in if the Medicaid program was completely eliminated and replaced with a little $150-a-month HMO voucher? You know, there’s not a single plan that is offered anywhere in the state of Iowa that you can purchase for $150 for an individual” (emphasis added). According to the deeply troubled Seelye, Gore had said the voucher was offered per family. But at the Iowa debate, as in New Hampshire, he had said precisely the opposite. Indeed, Bradley himself used the $150 figure right through this final New Hampshire debate. Although both Dems repeatedly cited the figure, we know of no case where Bradley ever lodged the complaint which Seelye had now somehow contrived.

Was this the best that Seelye could do? Remarkably, her next example of Gore’s “deep problem” was even more palpably bogus:

SEELYE (continuing directly from passage above): But Mr. Gore continues to claim that Mr. Bradley’s health proposal would adversely affect blacks, Latinos and people living with H.I.V. or AIDS. This accusation infuriates Mr. Bradley because it appears specifically designed to cut into his support among minorities and gays and lesbians.

But Mr. Gore repeated the charge in the interview Tuesday night.

Seelye was right on several counts. Gore had said that the plan would harm minorities, and the charge had made his rival mad. But, in an aggressive piece which attacked “Gore’s honesty,” Seelye made no attempt to show that his statement was actually false. In her typically slipshod way, a statement by Gore which angered Bradley was made into something far worse: A LIE. Could high school students get by with such clowning? One hopes that the answer is obvious.

Relentlessly, Seelye spun on, through November. But was she ever scolded by other scribes—by those pious colleagues who were so quick to declare their hatred of all embellishment? Please. Eventually, you could read the truth about Seelye’s strange work, but you had to go off-shore to do it. On August 17, the Financial Times reported from London, correctly noting that Seelye and the Post’s Ceci Connolly were “hostile to the [Gore] campaign, doing little to hide their contempt for the candidate.” But you weren’t likely to hear a whiff of that from your self-serving press corps. How hard did the press corps work to excuse Seelye’s clowning? In October, Seth Mnookin scoped out the matter for Brill’s Content. Why were Seelye and Connolly getting some criticism? No, we’re not making this up:

MNOOKIN: Could it be because the reporters covering the vice-president for three of the most influential news outlets in the country are women? Jane Mayer, who often writes about politics for The New Yorker magazine, speculates that the answer could be yes: “If Bob Woodward and Jeff Gerth wore high heels, they’d be called bitches, too,” she says, referring to two of the country’s most highly respected investigative reporters.
The Code of Silence is strong in your press corps. Its tribunes are skilled at finding ways to airbrush away their colleagues’ misconduct. And those same tribunes are now telling stories about how Election 2K was decided. Of one thing you can be quite sure—the press corps’ repeated, egregious misconduct will play no role in these fine tales.

IN A WORD, ASTONISHING: Yesterday, we saw that Gore was trashed for lying about Bradley’s health plan although it was clear that his charges had merit (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/6/02). Indeed, by the time of the January 26 debate, AL GORE, LIAR was the corps’ favorite script. Major pundits were pushing it hard. Here is the remarkable “question” with which Judy Woodruff kicked off that debate:

WOODRUFF: The first question goes to Mr. Gore. Most people believe that you are an honorable man, but when it comes to electoral politics your critics, including some Democrats, say that you will do almost anything to win, including reinventing yourself, using consultants no matter what their reputation, and running not just a tough, but a mean-spirited campaign. Newspaper editorials here in New Hampshire and around the country accuse you of distorting Mr. Bradley’s record. Is this really necessary to win your party’s nomination?
Woodruff’s “question” was simply astounding. Gore stood accused of a long list of sins—“reinventing himself,” using naughty consultants, being mean-spirited, and “distorting Bradley’s record” in some unnamed way. Along with that, of course, came the ur-charge; Gore would “do almost anything to win.” When Woodruff finally stopped making her speech and got around to asking a question, she didn’t ask if the charges were true—her question simply assumed that they were. How absurdly unfair was this ludicrous “question?” By the forum’s rules, Gore was given sixty seconds to respond to the six-pronged attack. Meanwhile, Woodruff’s prep wasn’t all that hot either. Gore said that he hadn’t distorted Bradley’s plan. She set out to prove him bad wrong:
WOODRUFF: Well, Mr. Vice President, there have been, evidently, several distortions of Mr. Bradley’s record. And I’m going to cite just two of them. You charged, for example, that his health care plan would eliminate federal standards for nursing homes. It would not…Now was this a matter of misinformation, or were you just being political?
“It would not,” Woodruff confidently said. But Gore gave an effortless answer:
GORE: Well, Judy, I disagree again with your characterization. Federal nursing home standards are enforced by the providing of money, under the Medicaid program, to more than two-thirds of all the nursing home patients who get as much as half of their money from Medicaid. When the federal government says, “Look, you have got to abide by standards,” the only threat they have to enforce those standards is withdrawing money.
Gore made an obvious point. The feds enforce their nursing home standards by threatening to withhold federal money. Bradley’s plan gave control to the states, whose lax enforcement of nursing home standards led to federal control in the first place. Did that mean that standards would be “put at risk,” the language the Gore camp had actually used? There was literally no way for a layman to judge; this was a minor part of Gore’s critique, and no journalist had ever explored it. (Why was Woodruff off on this minor tangent? By this time, a number of scribes had begun to acknowledge that Gore had been right on the big points.) But in the wake of this debate, one scribe did examine the topic. James Brosnan, Washington bureau chief of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, penned a caustic review of Woodruff’s performance. “Bradley’s health care plan does leave nursing home standards vulnerable,” Brosnan wrote, “because, as Gore explained to a surprisingly ignorant Judy Woodruff…the federal government cannot force states to maintain those standards unless it provides federal aid to nursing home patients, which Bradley’s plan would not do.” Meanwhile, a “fact-check” in the Washington Post briefly explored the same issue. “[Gore’s] aides also said the vice president had solid grounds for suggesting that Bradley would abandon federal nursing home regulation,” Thomas Edsall wrote on January 29. “They said Bradley had yet to explain how Washington would assert its authority, since his plan gives states responsibility for long-term care.” Indeed, the Gore camp had raised this point months earlier; Edsall recorded no response from the Bradley campaign. Could this possibly mean that they had no response? Not in the Washington press corps it couldn’t. In the Washington press corps, any criticism of Bradley’s health plan meant one thing—Al Gore was lying. Woodruff may have been “surprisingly ignorant” about nursing home standards, but she did know the corps’ favorite script.

Readers, your press corps struggled to make Gore a liar. It may be hard to believe that such ham-handed borking controlled your 2000 White House race. But for twenty solid months, it did just that—except, of course, in the sanitized stories your press corps’s tribunes now are churning. In those stories, the voters “just” didn’t warm to Gore. Only God knows why that happened.

DISSEMBLING THOMAS: The Reverend Dimmesdale is now a top pundit. We’ll walk you through his points on Friday, but you know what to do. Just click here.