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Daily Howler: Kurtz and Blitzer debunk a non-event. More than nine years later
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MORE THAN NINE YEARS LATER! Kurtz and Blitzer debunk a non-event. More than nine years later: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 7, 2008

FRANKLY, THAT’S STILL RICH: Frankly, he had a decent column going. And then, once again, this was Rich:

RICH (7/6/08): For connoisseurs of McCainian cluelessness, the high point was his Wednesday morning appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The anchor, Robin Roberts, asked the only important question: Why in heaven’s name was Mr. McCain in Latin America when “the U.S. economy is really at the forefront of voters’ minds”?

“I know Americans are hurting very badly right now,” he explained, channeling the first George Bush’s “Message: I care.” As he spoke, those hurting Americans could feast on the gorgeous flora and fauna of the Cartagena, Colombia, tourist vista serving as his backdrop. “It’s really lovely here,” Mr. McCain said. Since he can’t drop us an e-mail, a video postcard will have to do.

Frank Rich never quits.

So you’ll know, the question Rich quotes was the second question Roberts posed to McCain. McCain gave a full answer to that question—but Rich didn’t say what it was. Instead, he gave you fragments of McCain’s answers to Roberts’ third and sixth questions. Back in 2002, he did something similar to Gore (slightly worse), back when Gore was warning against going to war in Iraq. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/25/02. This guy never quits.

If Rich doesn’t like you, he makes sh*t up. Frankly, he’s played it this way for a very long time. He’s done massive damage in the process, going back to the Love Story crap (December 1997, in tandem with Dowd). But he just keeps making sh*t up.

Meanwhile, has Dowd completely lost her mind? Or was Sunday’s column some kind of job action? Readers, must we state the obvious? Clark Hoyt just keeps getting results!

MORE THAN NINE YEARS LATER: We disagree slightly with a few parts of Paul Krugman’s Friday column. But in his opening paragraphs, Krugman described a remarkable state of affairs. In large measure, we discussed this same situation in Thursday’s post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/3/08). People who want to discuss modern politics must learn how to describe this remarkable state of affairs:

KRUGMAN (7/4/08): Al Gore never claimed that he invented the Internet. Howard Dean didn’t scream. Hillary Clinton didn’t say she was staying in the race because Barack Obama might be assassinated. And Wesley Clark didn’t impugn John McCain’s military service.

Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, titled his tell-all memoir “What Happened.” But a true account of modern American politics should be titled “What Didn’t Happen.” Again and again we’ve had media firestorms over supposedly revealing incidents that never actually took place.

The latest fake scandal fit the usual pattern as an awkwardly phrased remark, lifted out of context and willfully misinterpreted, exploded across the airwaves.

We’ll disagree slightly about the Clark matter; if Clark didn’t “impugn” McCain’s service, he took an odd, slightly snide approach to his discussion of same. But it’s true: Our politics in the past sixteen years had been driven by an array of fake scandals—by firestorms ginned up about incidents that simply didn’t happen. Routinely, these firestorms have been driven by the mainstream press corps. Yesterday, one of the most consequential of those storms was discussed on CNN.

“Al Gore never claimed that he invented the Internet,” Krugman said at the start of his piece. But so what? The firestorm that grew from Gore’s non-statement statement drove press coverage of Campaign 2000; almost surely, it sent George Bush to the White House. By happenstance, this week marked the tenth anniversary of Wolf’s Blitzer’s CNN show, Late Edition. And uh-oh! In March 1999, it was on a special week-night broadcast of Late Edition that the non-event in question non-occurred.

That’s right! Al Gore made his famous non-statement statement in a week-night broadcast of Late Edition. Almost surely, it remains the most consequential event in the program’s ten-year history. That’s why we were surprised by yesterday’s Reliable Sources, in which Howard Kurtz reviewed Late Edition’s history with Blitzer. Here’s how Kurtz started the discussion of Gore’s remark. Can this really be true?

KURTZ (7/6/08, Reliable Sources): Now, I had not realized until recently that when you interviewed Al Gore back in the 2000 campaign, that the famous phrase that has always been affixed to him about inventing the Internet came in an interview with you. Was there some sort of trick question that you drew this out of him?

Can that be true? According to Kurtz, he “had not realized until recently” that Gore’s history-changing non-remark remark occurred on Late Edition. Kurtz is the highest-profile media reporter in our upper-end press corps. Is it really possible that he has paid so little attention to this issue “until recently?” We’ll assume he was posturing—taking dramatic license. But we were also struck by what Blitzer said:

BLITZER (continuing directly): No, it was a simple question: What makes you different than his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey? And I wanted him to give me some examples why he thought he'd be better to be the Democratic nominee than Senator Bradley.

And then at some point he started talking about, "I took the initiative to create"—I don't remember the exact phrase—"to create the Internet." But it never dawned on me that that would be exploded and to certain degree misreported on what he said.

He never said, "I invented the Internet," although that headline was so damaging to him as a result of that interview.

Nine years later, Blitzer can say it: Al Gore never said he invented the Internet. “It never dawned on me,” Blitzer said, that Gore’s remark—which was “to a certain degree misreported”—would be “exploded” into such a “damaging” story. Indeed, we’ve noted this point for years: In real time, Blitzer showed no sign of thinking that Gore had made an unusual comment. Quite literally, no one in the press corps showed any such sign—until the RNC began to clown about Gore’s remark, two days later. Indeed, even the Gore-hating Washington Times offered no reaction to Gore’s remark! In two different forums (an editorial and a column), the Times discussed Gore’s session with Blitzer. But even they didn’t mention Gore’s non-comment comment—until the RNC began clowning at mid-day on March 11, two days after the broadcast.

Kurtz and Blitzer discussed the point a bit further. For what it’s worth, we think Blitzer is clearly wrong is the framework he presents here:

KURTZ (continuing directly): So you think the media kind of twisted the meaning of his words?

BLITZER: Yes. Yes. Because if you look precisely at what he said, he was very precise. And as you know, Al Gore is a very precise guy. When he was a member of Congress he did take the initiative in passing legislation that eventually resulted—

KURTZ: Yes, but all that got lost.

BLITZER: —in a lot of other people creating the Internet, not necessarily him. But all of it, as you correctly point out, was lost, because the headline was, "I Invented the Internet." And that really hurt him a lot.

Huh! The media “kind of twisted the meaning of [Gore’s] words,” the scribes seemed to agree. The media created a phony headline—and that headline “really hurt him a lot.”

Nine years later, Kurtz and Blitzer feel free to discuss it.

For the record, we think Blitzer is wrong when he says that Gore, “a very precise guy,” was “very precise” in his comment. In fact, Gore’s answer to Blitzer was far from precise; it was rambling, imprecise and unstructured. For what it’s worth, here is the full Q-and-A which produced a twenty-month media firestorm. For two days, the press corps said nothing about these remarks. After that, the RNC said jump—and the press corps said, how high:

BLITZER (3/9/99): I want to get to some of those substantive, domestic and international issues in a minute, but let's just wrap up a little bit of the politics right now. Why should Democrats looking at the Democratic nomination—the process, support you instead of Bill Bradley, a friend of yours, a former colleague in the Senate? What do you have to bring to this that he doesn't necessarily bring to this process?

GORE: Well, I will be—I'll be offering my vision when my campaign begins, and it'll be comprehensive and sweeping, and I hope that it'll be compelling enough to draw people toward it. I feel that it will be.

But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I've traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth, environmental protection, improvements in our educational system. During a quarter century of public service, including most of it long before I came into my current job, I have worked to try to improve the quality of life in our country and in our world. And what I've seen during that experience is an emerging future that's very exciting about which I'm very optimistic and toward which I'm—I want to lead.

BLITZER: On this political front, the polls currently see Governor George Bush of Texas and even Elizabeth Dole ahead of you in a hypothetical race nearly two years away from today. Why do you think that's the situation?

That was not a “very precise” answer. In the rambling, highlighted part of his answer, Gore said the word “initiative” three times in just two sentences, as he described his achievements while serving in the congress. He had “t[aken] the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives,” Gore clumsily told Blitzer that day. But of course, everyone knew that Gore had been the leader, within the Congress, in developing what we now call the Internet. This was a basic part of Gore’s political bio; it had been part of the Standard Gore Bio for years. As a result, Bitzer showed no sign of thinking that Gore had said something odd. In fact, no one in the press corps commented on Gore’s remark for two days. Then, the RNC struck. The rest is American—and world—history.

Did Al Gore says he invented the Internet? No one thought so in real time—and the utterly foolish non-story story was never worth discussing. After the firestorm belatedly hit, Gore was asked to explain what he’d meant by his statement to Blitzer—and he gave an obvious answer, the answer everyone had assumed in real time. “I did take the lead in the Congress,” he said, stating what was blatantly obvious. (Translation: Instead of saying “I took the initiative,” he should have said, “I took the leadership.”) Under normal rules of the road, that would have been the end of this pointless matter; politicians make slightly unclear comments in extemporaneous speech all the time. But the press corps was looking for ways to wage war—they had been angered by Bill Clinton’s bl*w jobs—and this slightly clumsy remark gave the gang their chance. (Once the RNC primed them, of course.)

Yesterday, we were struck by the sad performance of both Kurtz and Blitzer. If we are to believe his own words, Kurtz has given this matter so little thought that he didn’t know, “until recently,” where this monumental story began. And he failed to ask Blitzer an obvious question: If you thought Gore’s meaning was being twisted, what did you do when it actually mattered? What did you say in real time? Today, more than nine years later, Blitzer thoughtfully parades about, saying Gore’s statement was “misreported” and “twisted.” But Daddy, what did you do when it mattered? And the same question goes to Kurtz! As our most high-profile “media reporter,” what did you do or say, in real time, about this “misreported” remark?

The answer is simple, of course. The pair did nothing about this matter in real time. (In fairness, Kurtz questioned the “harsh coverage and punditry” directed at Gore all through 1999.) Yesterday, on Late Edition, Blitzer waxed a bit more about his brush with fakeness. In this statement from that program, we see the germ of the crushing history of the seven-plus Bush years:

BLITZER (7/6/08, Late Edition): Honestly, at the time, when he said it, it didn't dawn on me that this was going to have the impact that it wound up having, because it was distorted to a certain degree and people said they took what he said, which was a carefully phrased comment about taking the initiative and creating the Internet to “I invented the Internet.” And that was the sort of shorthand, the way his enemies projected it, and it wound up being a devastating setback to him and it hurt him, as I'm sure he acknowledges to this very day.

“I invented the Internet!” That was the way “his enemies” projected it, Blitzer slickly said—failing to note that it was really his own mainstream colleagues who rode this mocking, “distorted” paraphrase for the next two years. And sure enough! Right to this day, more than nine years later, Blitzer and Kurtz refuse to describe the actual history of this monumental event. They forget to say who really drove this history-changing “distortion.”

Within the press corps, everyone knows he can say it now: Al Gore never said he invented the Internet. But Daddy, what did you say in real time? What did you say when it actually mattered? Isn’t it true that you cowered and quaked? That you didn’t say sh*t at the time?

NAMING A FEW OF THOSE ENEMIES: “I invented the Internet!” Gore never said it, Blitzer now says; that’s just the way “his enemies” phrased it!

We thought you might be amused to see the names of a few of those “enemies.”

Gore’s remark about the Net was made in March 1999. Nine months later, in December 1999, a new firestorm was being concocted, about Love Canal and the Superfund. And Gore’s enemies, channeling RNC press releases (two on December 1 alone), linked it to that famous old mockery: Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Below, you see just a few of those “enemies.” Admittedly, some of these “enemies” have rather well-known names.

Just for fun, note the way the New York Post put a single word inside quotes—the one word Gore had never said! This was actually done fairly often—and Howard Kurtz didn’t say squat:

Hadley Pawlak, The Associated Press, 12/1/99: Gore's comments in New Hampshire rang of earlier exaggerations dropped along the campaign to his subsequent humiliation: that he invented the Internet and was the inspiration for the movie "Love Story."

Chris Matthews, Hardball, 12/1/99: First he claimed to have invented the Internet. Now Al Gore says he was the person who drew national attention to the infamous Love Canal toxic waste site.

Chris Matthews, Hardball, 12/1/99: Let's go to New Orleans for another little aspect of New York politics. That's the amazing assertion by the vice president of the United States, Al Gore, that he was the one—just as he was the one who invented the Internet and was the character upon which "Love Story," the movie, was based.

Chris Matthews, Hardball, 12/1/99: Coming up: He claimed he invented the Internet. Now Al Gore says he was the person who first drew national attention to the Love Canal toxic waste site.

Chris Matthews, Hardball, 12/1/99: He was Ryan O'Neal's character, that had an affair with Jenny Cavilleri, who dies of cancer, played by Ali MacGraw. You begin to say, “Wait a minute. What's the story on this guy?” And then he says, “I invented the Internet!” People say, “Wait a minute. What's the story on this guy?”

Chris Matthews, Hardball, 12/2/99: What is this, the Zelig guy who keeps saying, I was the main character in Love Story, I invented the Internet, I invented Love Canal?

Chris Matthews, Hardball, 12/2/99: Now you've seen Al Gore in action. I know you didn't know that he was the prototype for Ryan O'Neal's character in Love Story or that he invented the Internet. He now is the guy who discovered Love Canal!

New York Post editorial, 12/3/99: Yep. Another Al Gore bold-faced lie. Remember when he proclaimed that the 1970 tearjerker, Love Story, was based on him and Tipper?...Later we learned that Gore—who arrived in Congress in the mid 1970s—“invented” the Internet.

Bob Schieffer, Face the Nation, 12/12/99: This year's Republican debates have been polite as a sixth-grade spelling bee. So if the Democrats want higher TV ratings for theirs, maybe Bill Bradley should start by calling Al Gore an “Internet-inventing, Love Canal-discovering, earth tone-wearing tree hugger.”

Gloria Borger, U.S. News, 12/13/99: If you did not invent the Internet, discover Love Canal, or author the earned income tax credit, don't say you did. (Headline: “Liar, liar, Dems on fire.”)

The Associated Press, 12/16/99: Hyperbole has gotten Gore into trouble recently. He has had to backtrack away from his claims that he invented the Internet, discovered Love Canal and that his romance with wife Tipper was the inspiration for the book "Love Story."

Trust us—those are just a few highlights, from a single two-week period. Al Gore said he invented the Internet! The mocking claim was recited by many other scribes during that period—and all through Campaign 2000. The Washington Post began to clean up the mess—in July 2006. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/06.

Today, Blitzer says this was done by Gore’s “enemies.” In that way, he still carries water for famous colleagues—colleagues who peddled this crap for two years. Right to this day, the actual names on that “enemies list” can’t be named in a public forum. And of course, Blitzer didn’t say a word about this in real time.