Al Gore Discusses Treatment by Media in Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair examines the manner in which the media covered Al Gore in 2000 and discussed the effects of this with Gore. They provide examples of how innocuous statements from Gore were twisted to create the illusion that Gore was an exaggerator or worse. One story concerned a comment on Erich Segal’s Love Story which was twisted by the media:

The seeds of Gore’s caricature had been planted in 1997 when he, the presumptive candidate for 2000, made a passing comment about Erich Segal’s Love Story, over the course of a two-hour interview with Time’s Karen Tumulty and The New York Times’s Richard Berke, for profiles they were writing. Tumulty recounts today that, while casually reminiscing about his days at Harvard and his roommate, the future actor Tommy Lee Jones, Gore said, It’s funny—he and Tipper had been models for the couple in his friend Erich Segal’s Love Story, which was Jones’s first film. Tumulty followed up, “Love Story was based on you and Tipper?” Gore responded, “Well, that’s what Erich Segal told reporters down in Tennessee.”

As it turned out, The Nashville Tennessean, the paper Gore was referring to, had said Gore was the model for the character of Oliver Barrett. But the paper made a small mistake. There was some Tommy Lee Jones thrown in, too. “The Tennessean reporter just exaggerated,” Segal has said. And Tipper was not the model for Jenny.

In her story, Tumulty and co-author Eric Pooley treated the anecdote as an offhand comment. But political opinion writers at The New York Times, it seems, interpreted the remark as a calculated political move on Gore’s part. “It’s somewhat suspicious that Mr. Gore has chosen this moment to drop the news—unknown even to many close friends and aides,” wrote Times columnist Maureen Dowd. “Does he think, going into 2000, that this will give him a romantic glow, or a romantic afterglow?” Times columnist Frank Rich followed it up. “What’s bizarre,” he wrote, “if all too revealing … is not that he inflated his past but that he would think that being likened to the insufferable preppy Harvard hockey player Oliver Barrett 4th was something to brag about in the first place.”

The twisting of Gore’s statements on his role in the development of the internet has been even more common:

The Love Story distortion set the stage for the “I Invented the Internet” distortion, a devastating piece of propaganda that damaged Gore at the starting gate of his run. On March 9, 1999, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer conducted an interview with Gore shortly before he officially announced his candidacy. In answer to a question about why Democrats should support him, Gore spoke about his record. “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative”—politico-speak for leadership—”in creating the Internet,” he said, before going on to describe other accomplishments. It was true. In the 1970s, the Internet was a limited tool used by the Pentagon and universities for research. As a senator in the 80s, Gore sponsored two bills that turned this government program into an “information superhighway,” a term Gore popularized, and made it accessible to all. Vinton Cerf, often called the father of the Internet, has claimed that the Internet would not be where it was without Gore’s leadership on the issue. Even former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich has said that “Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet.”

The press didn’t object to Gore’s statement until Texas Republican congressman Dick Armey led the charge, saying, “If the vice president created the Internet, then I created the interstate highway system.” Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner released a statement with the headline, delusions of grandeur: vice president gore takes credit for creating the internet. CNN’s Lou Dobbs was soon calling Gore’s remark “a case study … in delusions of grandeur.” A few days later the word “invented” entered the narrative. On March 15, a USA Today headline about Gore read, inventing the internet; March 16 on Hardball, Chris Matthews derided Gore for his claim that he “invented the Internet.” Soon the distorted assertion was in the pages of the Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe, and on the A.P. wire service. By early June, the word “invented” was actually being put in quotation marks, as though that were Gore’s word of choice. Here’s how Mimi Hall put it in USA Today: “A couple of Gore gaffes, including his assertion that he ‘invented’ the Internet, didn’t help.” And Newsday’s Elaine Povich ridiculed “Gore’s widely mocked assertion that he ‘invented’ the Internet.” (Thanks to the Web site the Daily Howler, the creation of Bob
Somerby, a college roommate of Gore’s, we have a chronicle of how the Internet story spiraled out of control.)

Further examples are discussed in the article. Gore does realize that he had some difficulties communicating his views, but the manner in which statements had been twisted greatly complicated Gore’s relationship with reporters:

Indeed, Gore accepts responsibility for not being able to communicate more clearly with the public. He admits, however, that the tendency of the press to twist his words encumbered his ability to speak freely. “I tried not to let it [affect my behavior],” Gore says. “But if you know that day after day the filter is going to be so distorted, inevitably that has an impact on the kinds of messages that you try and force through the filter. Anything that involves subtlety or involves trusting the reporters in their good sense and sense of fairness in interpretation, you’re just not going to take a risk with something that could be easily distorted and used against you.… You’re reduced to saying, ‘Today, here’s the message: reduce pollution,’ and not necessarily by XYZ out of fear that it will be, well, ‘Today he talked about belching cows!'”

According to Gore, bringing up the Internet again in public was like stepping on a verbal land mine. “If I had tried in the wake of that to put expressions about the Internet in campaign speeches, it would have been difficult,” he says. “I did, of course, from time to time. But I remember many occasions where I would say something about the Internet, and as soon as the word ‘Internet’ came from my lips, the press would be snickering and relishing the mention. Not everybody in the press, but the Zeitgeist was polluted, and it never dissipated, because the stream of pollution coming into it was constant, constant.”

Gore’s career following the 2000 election is discussed, which inevitably leads to speculation on whether he will still jump into the 2008 race. There’s a brief comment that Tipper would back him if he decided to run:

Thanks to his newfound status, speculation about Gore’s entering the presidential race has refused to die down. Alas, he’s not going to announce his candidacy in the last paragraphs of a Vanity Fair article. “Modern politics seems to require and reward some capacities that I don’t think I have in abundance,” says Gore, “such as a tolerance for … spin rather than an honest discussion of substance.… Apparently, it comes easily for some people, but not for me.”

Tipper says he has made zero moves that would suggest a run for the presidency, but adds that if he turned to her one night and said he had to run, she’d get on board, and they’d discuss how to approach it this time around, given what they’ve learned.

The reporters and opinion-makers have eagerly chewed over the possibility. After all, he’s now a star. In step with the new enthusiasm for Gore, Dowd, in a February 2007 column, described him as “a man who was prescient on climate change, the Internet, terrorism, and Iraq,” a sentiment echoed by many.

With an article which is dominated by examples of poor media coverage of Gore, there is irony in seeing that Drudge is concentrating on this rather minor comment from Tipper. Drudge’s headline is “Tipper Gore Would Support Gore ’08.” While true, that is hardly the major point of this multi-page article.

Update: Just after posting this I found this example of the media taking what was probably a joke on the stump and turning it into a story.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    New York Times Bestseller List says:

    Who would even want to be the model for Love Story? It’s the most unromantic tale ever.

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