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6 August 1999

Our current howler: Letting him lie

Synopsis: Does it matter if party chairmen lie? Jim Nicholson keeps testing CelebCorps.

Gore’s ride not water over dam
Bill Sammon, The Washington Times, 8/6/99

N.H. dam worked overtime, papers say
Bill Sammon, The Washington Times, 8/2/99

Does it matter if party chairmen lie? Jim Nicholson is testing CelebCorps. In Bill Sammon's latest page-one story, Nicholson continues making statements that fly in the face of what is known about the recent Gore canoe trip, and New Hampshire GOP chairman Steve Duprey is even more flagrant than Nicholson. Duprey has asked the FEC to investigate the water release during Gore's July 22 outing, and here's how Sammon quotes Duprey in paragraph two of today's dispatch:

SAMMON: (paragraph 2) "It would have cost drought-stricken New Englanders up to $7 million to use the same amount of water that was released to float Vice President Gore's boat," said committee chairman Stephen M. Duprey.

Duprey's statement is so patently bogus that even Sammon felt forced to comment. Here he is, inside his article, critiquing the quote which appeared on page one:

SAMMON: (12) The $7 million cited by Mr. Duprey is based on PG&E's initial assertion that it had released nearly 4 billion gallons of water. The company later lowered its estimate to more than half a billion gallons which would reduce the value of the water to less than $1 million.

In other words, Duprey is still using a phony gallon figure to get his dollar estimate up. And Sammon doesn't say, but does of course know, that the released water had no dollar value as drinking water at all, since it would never have been put to that use. The RNC's original $7 million figure—based on the per-gallon cost of drinking water—was gimmicked up to give the impression that water for home use had been wasted. They might as well report the dollar value of 4 billion gallons of wine, since that wasn't wasted here either.

But life on the first page for the slippery Sammon means passing on spin and deception. And soon he gets to the RNC's Nicholson, offering his latest prime cant. Sammon gives Nicholson a three-paragraph platform. We reprint it in full:

SAMMON: (21) Mr. Nicholson said the scandal, which has become known as "Floodgate," is undermining the vice president's credentials as "the environmental candidate" for president.

(22) "It's extremely bad judgment on the part of the vice president and it also points out the typical liberal hypocrisy of these people," he said. "It's the way they have always tried to operate. They like to make a lot of rules for the rest of us, but don't like to abide by them themselves."

(23) Mr. Nicholson added that the vice president is "a big advocate of limiting the number of times you should flush your toilet and how much water should be flushed in each flush. Yet he does something like this, where they release all this water right in the midst of a drought, where farmers are suffering dearly for lack of water. And so are a lot of fish and marine life in the inland streams."

Nicholson's statement clearly implies that Gore had a hand in the water release. But this is Sammon's fifth page-one article on the event, and he has never so much as presented an allegation that the Gore camp was involved in the event. Indeed, Sammon himself, in his initial reporting, described the campaign's surprise at the high water levels, and Sammon stated in his own voice that they didn't know the release would occur (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/99).

In other words, Nicholson's statements fly in the face of the facts as Sammon has reported them. Nicholson is clearly saying that Gore was involved, when Sammon has reported no evidence or claim to that effect. Yet Sammon never asks Nicholson to explain his remarks, or to explain why he suggests that Gore was involved. Sammon gives Nicholson an open soapbox to imply what Sammon knows to be false

Does it matter if party chairmen say things that aren't true? Clearly not to Sammon. But what about the rest of the press corps, sitting regally by? Is it news when officials like Nicholson and Duprey engage in obvious counterfactual presentations? Is it news, when a party chairman plays fast and loose with the facts?

Some background: starting in the middle of March, Nicholson engaged in a stream of deceptions concerning the Gore "farm chores" flap. The mainstream press didn't ignore him then; instead, it jumped into the fray, passing on RNC spin—and misleading millions of voters.

So now, Slick Jim is back at work, and it's time for the press corps to make a decision. Is it news when a party chairman lies? Jim Nicholson keeps moving the question.


Sammon says: More groaning spin from Sammon himself, who never tires of presenting facts the way that he'd like them to be:

SAMMON: (17) Normally, the floodgates are open only four to six hours a day, and that usually occurs in the afternoon to meet peak demands for electricity, company officials said. This suggests the morning session was for the benefit of Mr. Gore and the afternoon session was to meet electrical demands.

None of this has any relevance to Gore, unless his campaign was involved in the decision. But for the record, Sammon's account is hard to square with data he published on Monday. According to Sammon's reporting, the dam operated for eleven hours on the day after Gore's trip, and for ten hours on the day after that. On only two of the six days on which Sammon reported was the dam in operation for less than seven hours. The average time of operation for the six days was 8 hours and forty minutes.