TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2002
THE DOCTOR WAS INAND DISSEMBLING: Fred Barnes has begun to grow in office. On Fox News Sunday, he made the following statement about al Qaeda:
BARNES: Even American officials have said al Qaeda is back in business as strong as ever. I think there is reason to doubt that, whether they are. We know that they can hit or have their affiliates hit some soft targets. Whether they can really do something worse than thatand they may try to shoot down an American planeI really doubt it. I dont think they could pull off another 9/11 or anything like that.
Does al Qaeda pose the same threat as before 9/11? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But in October, CIA head Tenet made that assessment, and Gore has cited it in his critiques. Last week, though, Fred Barnes joined the rest of the gang; like the other spinners at Fox, he pretended that Gore was just inventing his al Qaeda assessment (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/26/02 and 11/27/02). Now Barnes at least seems to acknowledge what Tenet has actually said.
Too bad his buddy just keeps on dissembling. In the current Roll Call, Morton Kondracke continues his descent to the lowest level of anti-Gore hacks. He keeps pretending he just doesnt know what Gore could mean about al Qaeda. In various statements about al Qaeda, Gore has specifically cited the assessment by Tenet. But it looks like Mort doesnt want you to know. Mort just keeps spinning you blue.
But someone else offended more grievously on last weekends Fox News Sunday. That was Charles Krauthammer, serving up a remarkable statement about Gores critique of the press. Gore had said that Fox, Rush and the Washington Times are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/02). And Gore had said this: Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranksthat is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of whats objective as stated by the news media as a whole. When Tony asked Mara what Gore could have meant, Mara got busy finessing:
LIASSON: Well, I think that what Al Gore is expressing is deep frustration on the part of Democrats who are now truly out of power in Washington, and they dont have the kind of editorial voice representing them in the media. There is no doubt that the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Times or the New York Post or the commentary on Fox is conservative. And I think that they are extremely frustrated. They cant get their events covered. They feel that they cant get their message out. Now, having a message in the first place is another question. But I think thats a real kind of cry of frustration from Al Gore, and other Democratic leaders have said the same thing.
Mara finessed the point nicely. To state the obvious, Gore hadnt claimed that the editorial page at the Times was conservative; who on earth didnt know that? He had claimed that Fox and the Times channel RNC spin, and that RNC spin increasingly becomes Conventional Wisdom in the mainstream press too. But while Mara flawlessly sidestepped Gores point, Krauthammer decided to crawl in the slime. Try to believe that he said it:
LIASSON: But I think thats a real kind of cry of frustration from Al Gore, and other Democratic leaders have said the same thing.
What a slimy man Krauthammer turns out to be! Krauthammera former and now misbehaving shrinkthinks Gores remarks on the press are loony. What a slimyand deeply dishonorableman this Great Pundit turns out to be.
KRAUTHAMMER: Crying for help, you know. (LAUGHTER) Im a psychiatrist. I dont usually practice on camera. But this is the edge of looniness, this idea that theres a vast conspiracy, it sits in a building, it emanates, it has these tentacles, is really at the edge. He could use a little help.
Readers, were Gores remarks loony? A sad cry for help? Yesterday, we linked you to a set of well-known and thoroughly bogus spin-points that came to you straight from the RNC. Today we visit The Mother of All Spins from Campaign 2000the much-flogged claim that delusional Gore said he invented the Internet. That spin anchored the press corps twenty-month War Against Goreand the corps got it straight from the RNC. The process was precisely what Gore is describing. But to one slimy man, Gore needs help.
As you will see below, when Gore made his comment about the Internet, no one in the press corps said one word about it. Two news cycles came and wentand no reporter in the country said a word about what Gore had said. The reason? Reporters knew that Gore had been the leader, within the Congress, in developing what we now call the Net. And because your news orgs all knew this fact, no one showed the slightest sign of thinking that Gore had said something unusual. But when the RNC began to peddle that claim, the press corps quickly leaped into action. They called Gore a liar for twenty monthsonce the RNC put out the line.
A slimy fellow thinks Gore needs help. But its the American people who really need help, held hostage by spinner/dissemblers like Krauthammer. Do RNC spin-points script the press? Lets take a walk down memory lane. Who invented invented the Internet? It was, of course, the RNC, handing its scripts to the press.
Where does spin come from? Inventing the Internet
CHAPTER IGORE IGNORED: The press corps twenty-month War against Gore began on March 11, 1999. Two days earlier, Gore had given an interview to Wolf Blitzer for a special, weeknight broadcast of CNNs Late Edition. Gore was the sitting vice president of the United States, and the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. As such, the taped session was previewed and promoted by the network. It was Gores first on-camera interview since filing as a candidate, one CNN promo said.
A year of impeachment had come to an end; Gores informal campaigning was about to begin. And a spin campaign from the Washington press corps would follow in extremely short order. This campaign would be built on a nasty chargethe charge that Candidate Gore was a liar. The theme would dominate campaign coverage for the entire twenty months of the race.
In the Late Edition interview, Blitzer asked Gore to explain what set him apart from Bill Bradley, his opponent for the Dem nomination. Somewhat clumsily, Gore offered a list of career accomplishments. One part of his answer drew more attention than any remark by any candidate in the entire 2000 campaign.
During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet, Gore said. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our countrys economic growth, environmental protection, improvements in our educational system. On the whole, this was the kind of chest-thumping statement which candidates routinely make on the stump. But as anyone who followed this election will know, Gores initial, sixteen-word comment was widely dissected for the next twenty months. Almost surely, Gores brief remark about the Net was the most widely-discussed statement of Campaign 2000. The spinning of this one remark drove a nasty War Against Gorea spin campaign which almost surely decided the 2000 race.
Gores remark would be widely attacked. But surprise! At the time Gore made his statement, it received no attention whatever. Blitzer didnt ask Gore to explain his remark; he showed no surprise at what Gore had said. And in its on-air promotions for the taped interview, CNN showed no sign of thinking that Gore had made news with his comment. Meanwhile, major papers which covered Gores interview completely ignored the comment. On March 10, for example, the Washington Post ran a full report about the Gore-Blitzer session. But the paper only discussed Gores remarks on U.S. relations with China. On March 11, the Washington Times Greg Pierce reviewed the interview in his Inside Politics column. But Pierce only mentioned what Gore had said about early campaign polling. Similarly, the APs dispatches about Gores interview completely ignored his Internet comment. And another major organ passed over Gores statement. On March 10, the Hotlinethe widely-read, on-line digest of the days political newsran extensive excerpts from the Late Edition Q-and-As, but omitted the Internet remark altogether. In fact, in the first two days after Gores appearance, no press entity remarked, in any way, on what Gore said about the Net. Gores comment would be critiqued, attacked, burlesqued and spun over the course of the next twenty months. But it evoked no reaction from the pressnone at allat the time Gore made it. Repeat: No one in the press said even one word about Gores statement at the time it was made. No one showed the slightest sign of thinking Gores comment was notable.
Why did Gores comment provoke no reaction? Perhaps because Blitzer and others knew that Gore had taken the leadership, within the Congress, in developing what we now call the Internet. Gore was explicitly discussing his achievements in Congress, and if I took the initiative meant I took the leadership, his statement was perfectly accurate. (Extemporaneous speech doesnt always parse perfectly. Everyone in Washington knows this.) Indeed, as Gores remark began attracting wide scrutiny, some journalists reviewed his congressional recordand a wide array of Internet pioneers described his key role, within the Congress, in creating what we now call the Net. In the March 21 Washington Post, for example, Jason Schwartz quoted several Internet pioneers, including Vinton Cerf, the man often called the father of the Internet. Cerf praised Gores role in the Nets development. I think it is very fair to say that the Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the vice president, he said. Meanwhile, Katie Hafner, author of a book on the Internets origins, penned a short piece in the New York Times, quoting experts who said that Gore helped lift the Internet from relative obscurity and turn it into a widely accessible, commercial network. On March 18, Gore tried to clarify his remark in an interview with USA Today. I did take the lead in the Congress, he told Chuck Raasch; he described his Internet work in detail. Raasch quoted Gores explanationbut it was mentioned in no other paper.
How well-known was Gores leadership role? The press corps was full of experienced scribes who knew all about his work in this area. Well let the Nexis archives guide us as we review this familiar old tale. According to Nexis, the Washington Posts first reference to the Internet occurred in November 1988; a virus had attacked the little-known network, which connected some 50,000 computers, the Post said. But as journalists began to report on the Net, Gores key role in its development was clear. One month later, for example, Martin Walker wrote this in The Guardian:
WALKER (12/30/88): American computing scientists are campaigning for the creation of a superhighway which would revolutionise data transmission.
Nine months later, the Post reported that the Bush administration plans to unveil tomorrow an ambitious plan to spend nearly $2 billion enhancing the nations technological know-how, including the creation of a high-speed data superhighway that would link more than 1,000 research sites around the country. This network was comparable to an interstate highway system for electronic data, the paper saidand it noted that a similar plan has been proposed by Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), whose legislation also proposes creating a vast electronic library that could be accessed by users seeking federally gathered information. Simply put, Gores leadership role had been widely reportedand was thoroughly understood in the press. How well known was Gores work in this area? Five years later, the Internet was becoming well known, and the Washingtonians Alison Schneider looked back on its years of development:
Legislation has already been laid before Congress by Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, calling for government funds to help establish the new network, which scientists say they can have working within five years, at a cost of Dollars 400 million.
SCHNEIDER (12/94): Internet. Theres no escaping it. It seems like only yesterday that Al Gore was preaching the merits of the I-way to a nation that still thought the Net was something used only for catching butterflies.
Duh! Within the press corps, everyone knew that Gore was the leader, within the Congress, in creating what we now call the Net. Indeed, by the time of the 2000 election, even one of Gores long-standing foes was praising his work in this area. On September 1, 2000, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addressed the American Political Science Association. His remarks were broadcast on C-SPAN:
GINGRICH: In all fairness, its something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth isand I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got [to Congress], we were both part of a futures groupthe fact is, in the Clinton administration, the world we had talked about in the 80s began to actually happen.
Gingrich knew what Gore had done. Indeed, Gore and Gingrich had almost been friendly rivals in these technological areas. Their leadership roles had long been clear. In 1995, for example, the New York Times Peter Lewis attended a national cyberspace conference, where he interviewed a group of Gingrich supporters. A number of participants said Mr. Gingrich had effectively seized the mantel of top Government cyberspace visionary from Vice President Al Gore, who is credited with creating the phrase information superhighway, Lewis wrote. Long before the press corps ginned up the Internet flap, Lewis statement reflected what everyone knewthat Gore had enjoyed a long-standing reign as the governments King of the Net.
Had Gore misstated his role to Blitzer? This notion would be aggressively bruited throughout Campaign 2000, but you had to work very hard to tease a lie out of Gores statement. Gore had said this: During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. Gingrich said this: Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet. Its hard to torture a difference from that pair of statements, and a Gore biographer, the Posts David Maraniss, seemed to complete the Rule of Three. In August 2000, Maraniss said this on CNNs Reliable Sources: Gore really was instrumental in developing the Internet. He was the one congressman who understood the whole thing in the 70s, when no other congressman gave a darn about it. Had Gore misrepresented his leadership role? Only those determined to make him a liar would have drawn that tendentious conclusion. Unfortunately, many journalists were eager to do thata fact which would become crystal clear.
Indeed, Gores remark about the Net would become a cause celebre. Completely ignored at the time it was made, it became an iconic example of an alleged character problemGores widely-flogged problem with the truth. For two years, Gore would be savaged as a liarmany pundits would call him delusionaland his Internet comment would be Exhibit A in their endless assault on his character and integrity. But look again at what three men said, and convince yourself that it really did happen. Convince yourself that, for two solid years, Gore was denounced by the press as a liar; denounced for a comment which created no interestnone at allin the press at the time it was made:
Al Gore, 3/9/99: During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.
Two of these men remained major pundits. One of these men stood condemned as a liar. But so it went throughout Campaign 2000 as the press corps conducted its War Against Gore. So it went as a deeply dysfunctional press corps made a joke of your White House election.
Newt Gingrich, 9/1/00: Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet.
David Maraniss, 8/26/00: Gore really was instrumental in developing the Internet. He was the one congressman who understood the whole thing in the 70s.
CHAPTER IITHE RNC SPEAKS: How was Gore made into a liar? Gore made his comment on March 9; after two days of silence from the press corps, the RNC swung into action. At mid-day on Thursday, March 11, a story written by Michelle Mittelstadt appeared on the AP wire. Republicans pounce on Gores claim that he created the Internet, the headline said. But had Gore really said he created the Internet? A new GOP press release said that he hadand so did the new AP headline. Indeed, showing off her writerly skills, Mittelstadt began her crucial report with a second tendentious paraphrase:
MITTELSTADT: Vice President Al Gores claim that he is the father of the Internet drew amused protests Thursday from congressional Republicans.
But had Gore really said he was father of the Internet? The language was entertainingand highly tendentiousbut it wasnt drawn from Gores actual statement. No matteron the morning of March 11, GOP leaders had released statements in which theyd attacked Gores remark. Mittelstadt began with Dick Armey:
MITTELSTADT: House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said that even under the time-honored tradition of politicians taking credit for everything, Gores statement is an outrageous claim.
As weve seen, that last statement by Mittelstadt was wildly misleading. Gores pronouncement hadnt raised any eyebrows with Blitzer, for example; Blitzer said nothing when Gore made his statement. Nor had it raised any eyebrows at the AP itself; on March 9 and 10, the service had filed several reports on the interview, none of which mentioned Gores comment. No, Gores pronouncement had only raised eyebrows among his Republican political rivals, several of whom Mittelstadt now quoted. For example, she quoted Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who said, Gore taking credit for creating the Internet certainly gives new meaning to the term March madness. The next day, the AP quoted a press release from RNC chairman Jim Nicholson. Al Gore the father of the Internet? he asked. Gore was claim[ing] credit for other peoples successes, according to the RNC chief. (Nicholson, of course, would play the press corps for fools throughout the election. Revisit his tour of the fancy hotel. Links are provided below.)
Gore, who is widely credited for coining the term information superhighway, raised eyebrows with a pronouncement he made Tuesday during a CNN interview.
In her influential report, Mittelstadt committed one of the press corps most common sins; she took an unremarkable statement by Gore and paraphrased it in the most tendentious way possiblewhich also happened to be the way Gores political rivals were spinning it. Had Gore ever claimed to be father of the Internet? The language didnt appear in his statement, but it now led Mittelstadts AP report. And now, the press corpshaving ignored Gores remark for two solid daysbegan to file excited reports uncritically adopting the GOPs spin-points. Indeed, some of the GOPs most tendentious language was simply adopted, word-for-word, by major members of the press. On March 11, for example, Sensenbrenners press release carried this headline: DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR: VICE PRESIDENT GORE TAKES CREDIT FOR CREATING THE INTERNET. On March 12, Lou Dobbs cribbed from the statement on Moneyline, his nightly CNN program. Dobbs called Gores remarks a case study tonight in delusions of grandeur, just as Sensenbrenner had done. And Gore apparently thinks hes the Father of the Internet, Dobbs said, using a key phrase from Nicholsons statement! Thats right, kids! Dobbs took delusions of grandeur straight from Sensenbrenner, and father of the Internet straight from Nicholson; like Mittelstadt, he directly adopted the GOPs tendentious accounts of what Gore supposedly said. But there were a few things Lou Dobbs didnt do in his report, in which he trashed Gore for his delusions. He didnt describe Gores important work in the Congressand he never quoted Gores actual statement. But so it would go throughout this election, as RNC-scripted spinners like Dobbs ginned up nasty campaigns against Gore, confounding ideas about who runs the media. On March 11, the GOP said that Gore had delusions of grandeur. The next day, CNNwhich said nothing about Gores remark in real timewent ahead and used the nasty phrase too.
But then, Dobbs cutting-and-pasting about the Net pointed to what was to come. In three easy steps, Gores completely unremarkable comment was turned into something delusional. First, his explicit reference to the congressional context was dropped from standard press accounts. If Gore was quoted at all, his sixteen words were pared down to eight: I took the initiative in creating the Internet. Then, eight words were whittled to threeGore said he created the Internet (this, of course, was the formulation which led Sensenbrenners release). Finally, the word invented, which Gore never used, became the press corps verb of choice. All over the press corpsall over TVcitizens were told a remarkable story: Al Gore said he invented the Internet!!! The absurd presentation was in place almost instantly, with worried pundits wracking their brains about why Gore had made such a puzzling statement. Here, for example, are early passages from just one paperthat very same paper, the Washington Times, to which Gore referred last week:
John McCaslin, 3/16/99: [T]he Gore 2000 campaign
office has already gotten a taste of what its in for after Mr. Gore recently took credit for inventing the Internet.
A powerful propaganda campaign had begun. [E]veryone now knows, the Times said sarcastically, that Al Gore invented the Internet. Strangely, the paper had said no such thing on March 10 and 11, when it first reviewed the Gore-Blitzer session. Amazing, isnt it? Al Gore said he invented the Internetand the aggressively anti-Gore Times failed to notice! But then, no one in the press corps noticed this statement by Goreuntil the RNC gimmicked it up.
Ralph Z. Hallow, 3/16/99: Relaxed and ready to enjoy his second and better-prepared go at the GOP nomination, [Steve Forbes] joked in an interview yesterday about Vice President Al Gores claim of having invented the Internet.
Rowan Scarborough, 3/16/99: This one is going to stick, said William Kristol, editor and publisher of the conservative Weekly Standard. Al Gore. Inventor of the Internet.
Editorial, 3/18/99: Mr. Gore has some explaining to do to parents. As everyone now knows, Mr. Gore invented the Internet, which means the vice president is responsible for making hard-core pornography available to elementary schoolchildren at the local library.
Robert Tyrell, 3/19/99: Did you hear Trent Lott is claiming to have invented the paper clip? Some think he is making a joke at the expense of Al Gores megalomaniacal claims about inventing the Internet.
The Times, of course, is a conservative paper; it battered Gore for the next twenty months over matters large, small and invented. But with startling speed, the notion that Al Gore said he invented the Internet became mainstream press dogma too. Pundits ran to recite the new storypundits who hadnt said a word until the RNC spoke. How quickly was Gore chided for saying he invented the Internet? USA Today used the phrase on March 15 (editorial headline: Inventing the Internet). That same day, Al Kamen used the phrase in his Washington Post column (he quoted a joke by a GOP spokesman). On March 16, Hardballs Chris Matthews mocked Gore for saying he invented the Internet. On March 17, Judy Woodruff, hosting CNNs Inside Politics, chided Gore as inventor of the Internet. The embellished phrase reached the Los Angeles Times on March 18; the Boston Globe on March 20; the Associated Press on March 22. With blinding speed, the corps had invented a thrilling new story: Al Gore said he invented the Internet! And none of these news orgs had mentioned this factuntil the RNC scripted the spin.
With remarkable speed, the tendentious claim became Standard Issue. All over the press corps, pundits accused Gore of having said he invented the Net. The high (or low) point in this growing burlesque came in a June 2 USA Today story. In a report about problems with Gores early campaign, Mimi Hall penned this laughablebut completely inexcusableaccount of what Gore had said:
HALL: A couple of Gore gaffes, including his assertion that he invented the Internet, didnt help.
And yes, incredibly, thats the way Hall wrote it; the one word Hall put inside quotes was the one word which Gore never said! Its hard to know how scribes can be so inept, but Hall was hardly alone in her blunder. On June 16, as Gore formally launched his campaign, Elaine Povichalso deriding Gores alleged gaffes matched Hall in the pages of Newsday:
POVICH: It was another gaffe in a series of missteps so far in Gores campaignincluding
his widely mocked assertion that he invented the Internet.
Incredible, isnt it? But in Campaign 2000, it happened routinely: Tendentious paraphrase was transformed into a quote as the press corps embellished the news to push spin-lines. For the next two years, the press corps embellished account would be the statement of record, passed on, inside quotes, as if Gore really said it. Millions of voters would come to believe that Gore really had made the odd claim.
Povich was actually right on one point. By the weekend of March 14, Gore was, in fact, being widely mocked for saying he invented the Internet. From this point on, Gores congressional achievements would rarely be mentioned; his unremarkable statement would be deftly transformed. The Washington press hadnt said a word when Gore made his actual statement. Now, the corps was off and running on a two-year attack on Gores character. But so it went as the Washington press corps made a joke of your White House election. Such spin campaigns would be ginned up all through the 2000 race. For the record, the farm chores hoax began on March 16, five days after the Internet nonsense. It also began with an RNC press release. See below for links.
Invented the Internet? Gores recent statement to the New York Observer referred to precisely this kind of press coverage. Invented the Internet is an obvious case in which Republican talking points were deftly injected into the work of the mainstream press. No oneno one!said a word about Gores remark at the time it was made. But when the RNC sent out its points, pundits simply ran to recite them. And so it went, throughout the campaign, as the RNC scripted your hapless press corps. Indeed, theres long been a phrase for such work of this type. As the RNC sent out its points, the press corps became useful idiots.
And readers, the spinning aint over. The people who took part in this effort during Campaign 2000 will now pretend they have no idea what Gore could be talking about. Do RNC spin-points rule the press? Pundits will swear that no such thing occurs. And on the fringes of their current dissembling, a deeply repulsive little man will even say that Gores comments are loonyso loony, he says, that Gore needs help.
In fact, its the American people who really need helpprotection from their press corps misconduct. But dont expect that help to come from within the press corps itself. All our pundits played some role in the twenty-month War Against Gore. We keep waiting for some brave soul to speak. But right now, their money is still spending good, and the press corps relentless dissembling moves forward. Joe Scarborough can tell you the truthMara cant. Just check out the latest remarks by Charles K if you expect their misconduct to stop.
TOMORROW: The pundits all knew how to play the pop quiz. And guess where their spin-points had come from?
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Many familiar spin-points in Campaign 2000 came straight from the RNC. The points were then bruited all over the press. This conduct is especially strange, of course, when the spin-points are totally bogus.
The fancy hotel? It came to you came straight from the RNC. To revisit the press corps gong-show performance, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/02 and 8/9/02.
Gore really brought us Willie Horton? Utterly, grindingly, howlingly falseand brought to you straight from the RNC. The point was recited all over the press. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02 and 11/4/02.
First Love Story, now Love Canal? Bonus points for a Lou Dobbs moment!! Ceci Connolly seems to have cut-and-pasted this bit of spin straight from an RNC press release. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/2/02.
And how about that farm chores hoax? That began at the RNC, too. Gore was trashed as a liar for monthsalthough the Washington press corps was full of reporters who knew that his statement was perfectly accurate. For some strange reason, nobody spoke. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/99, 6/30/99, and 8/30/99. By the way, the RNC even faxed out a doctored quote in order to sell its farm chores twaddle. No one in the press corps tattled. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/26/00.