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Caveat lector

14 January 2000

A Howler EXTRA: The quiet voices

Synopsis: Once again, the Post’s Ceci Connolly simply makes up a statement by Gore.

The Similarity Is Merely Rhetorical
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 1/14/00

Why are we peeved with the Washington press corps? Because there are things of value to do in the world, and our grumbling analysts have to waste their time cleaning up after Ceci Connolly. But again today, in the Washington Post, Connolly makes up a statement by Gore. Connolly's article argues that Gore is sounding more and more like his opponent, Bill Bradley. "The similarity is merely rhetorical," the headline says. Sub-headline? "Gore's speeches in Iowa take on a philosophical tone close to challenger Bradley's." And Ceci Connolly—you know her—is willing to work hard to "prove" it.

Connolly wants you to think that Gore is mimicking things Bradley says. Here is one passage that "proves" that:

CONNOLLY: Although Gore did promote campaign finance reform in Congress, it is Bradley and GOP Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) who have most aggressively pushed the issue in the presidential contest. The two staged a joint appearance in New Hampshire last month vowing that if they won their respective nominations they would reject all unregulated "soft money" from the political parties. That didn't stop Gore from announcing in an Iowa debate last weekend that if he and McCain are the nominees, they will turn down the party contributions.

The last statement showcases two of Connolly's skills—illogic and outright fabrication. Bradley and McCain did hold a meeting in which they pledged to eschew soft money. But that fact provides no reason why Gore shouldn't make the statement Connolly describes. There is no reason on earth why Gore shouldn't say that he would also reject soft money. In fact, Gore has said that he would do so if he faces McCain in the fall.

But Gore made no such statement in last weekend's Iowa debate. Gore didn't utter a word at that debate that resembles what Connolly says. Two different questions in the debate dealt with matters of campaign reform. Here is the only statement Gore made that concerns the topic in question:

GORE: Well, we basically agree on campaign finance reform. We support the same proposals. I feel like we could make the immediate progress I talked about earlier by getting rid of the majority of campaign finance that goes into these 30-second TV ads. But you know I support the McCain-Feingold measure, I support full public financing of federal elections, I refuse to accept any PAC contributions, I have the smallest average contributor in the Democratic race. I called 2_ years ago for both political parties to give up the so-called soft money and I honestly believe that we ought to try to revolutionize the way we go about our democracy by doing, in the rest of the country, what we see happening in Iowa and in New Hampshire, where people rely on going into living rooms more frequently. That's been a great experience for me...

This is the only reference to McCain in the entire forum. Gore said nothing that even dimly resembles the statement placed in his mouth. Gore did not "announce in the forum" that "if he and McCain were the nominees, they will turn down [soft money] contributions." Nothing dimly resembling that statement was uttered in the course of this event.

Again, why did Connolly make this claim? She wants to claim that Gore is mimicking everything Bradley says. Her story got better when she told her readers that Gore made the statement in question. But Gore said nothing like the statement she describes. Connolly's statement, highlighted above, is her latest outright fabrication.

No, nothing will change because Ceci Connolly has again invented a comment. But we thought you should know the kinds of practices that are apparently OK at the Post. We aren't going to bother poor Maralee Schwartz—we don't like it when people hang up on polite queries. Maralee Schwartz has a rather short fuse—and an apparent soft spot for creative reporting.

But Maralee, let us ask you something. Is it true? Did Al Gore "announce in an Iowa debate last weekend that if he and McCain are the nominees, they will turn down [soft money] contributions?" Where exactly did Gore "announce" that? We'll be glad to report what you tell us.


Hearing quiet voices: Ceci Connolly hears the quiet voices other people don't hear. On December 1, she misheard a quote about Love Canal, and turned it into a pair of provocative stories. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/99 and 12/7/99. On December 17, she accidentally thought she heard Gore say something about how many atheists there are in the country. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/18/99. As we explained yesterday, we called editor Schwartz at the Post asking for an explanation of that second "error." Schwartz abruptly hung up the phone. But that seems to be how the big smart people conduct the world's work at the Post.