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Caveat lector

16 June 1999

Our current howler: Gaffe track

Synopsis: Gore misspoke about teens and guns. But then, so did Brokaw and Rather.

Commentary by Tom Brokaw
NBC Nightly News, NBC, 6/14/99

Commentary by Dan Rather
CBS Evening News, CBS, 6/14/99

Commentary by Brian Williams
MSNBC, 6/14/99

Yep. Al Gore was wrong in what he said about teens and guns, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors:

GORE (6/14): Right now, [18-to-20-year-olds] can walk into any gun shop, any pawn shop, any gun show, anywhere in America and buy a handgun.

Incorrect. As the Gore office later made clear, federal law prohibits under-21s from buying handguns in federally licensed gun shops and pawnshops.

Meanwhile, our political discourse is obsessed with mistakes. So the network anchors swung into action, correcting the horrid misstatement. The only problem: when Brokaw and Rather corrected Gore, they managed to get the facts wrong too! Here’s what Brokaw broadcast:

BROKAW: [Gore’s statement is] simply wrong. The gun control act of 1968 made it illegal to sell a handgun to anyone under the age of 21. And other laws make it illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a handgun.

The second part of what Brokaw said has nothing to do with Gore’s statement. And the first part of what he said is “simply wrong,” like Gore’s remark. People aged 18-20 can legally buy handguns: at gun shows, from private dealers, or from friends.

Dan Rather, also correcting Gore, was wrong in what he said:

RATHER: You may want to note that critics say Gore misspoke himself today. Handgun sales to those under 21 are forbidden by federal law, though other firearms are available.

But handgun sales are not “forbidden.” Gun shows can sell handguns to a 19-year-old. So can you, any time that you want.

Gore’s office issued a statement of correction. We’re waiting to see if the nets do the same.

Meanwhile, we’re a little curious how it is that two networks had the same wrong info. Is the press corps up to its naughty old tricks--broadcasting faxes from RNC spinners, without checking the info out first?

Anchors-awaiting: Anchor-in-waiting Brian Williams also rattled off the wrong info. But, in keeping with his status as part of the new breed, he hammed it up more than Tom did.

“Al Gore got a big one wrong today,” he intoned. “Advisers are hoping this isn’t part of a continuing pattern.” After playing the tape of Gore’s remarks, Williams read the wrong info too:

WILLIAMS: Not--quite--right. As one network anchor put it tonight: “Wrong.” The gun control act of 1968 made it illegal to sell a handgun to anyone under the age of 21. Other laws make it illegal for anybody under 18 to possess a handgun.

Williams directly quoted Brokaw in saying, “Wrong,” but put his own stamp on the rest of the news bite, changing Brokaw’s “anyone” to his own “anybody,” and dropping the “and” to save time.

Meanwhile, we’re not quite sure which Gore “advisers” are “hoping this isn’t part of a continuing pattern.” Any chance they’re the same advisers who presumably wrote the Gore speech?