18 December 1999
A Howler EXTRA: There she goes again
Synopsis: There she goes again, dear readers! Ceci Connolly is now inventing whole phrases that Vice President Gore never said.
Democrats Clash in Debate On Health Care, Education
Ceci Connolly and Mike Allen, The Washington Post, 12/18/99
Now she's dragging Mike Allen in! Our analysts were surprised
when they read the Post's page-one story on last night's Dem forum.
At one point, Ceci Connolly and Mike Allen offered this puzzling
CONNOLLY AND ALLEN: One woman, noting that the Republican contenders
recently spoke at length about Jesus Christ, asked the Democrats
how they felt about injecting faith into the presidential campaign.
Gore, noting that the number of atheists in America is rising,
reiterated his support for separation of church and state.
But he added: "I affirm my faith when I'm asked about it,
but I always try to do so in a way that communicates respect,
not only for people who worship in a different way, but just as
much respect for those who do not believe in God."
The article then went on to describe the answer given by Senator
Our analysts were surprised by this account. A minor point:
they were quite sure that Bradley had answered firstGore had
referred to Bradley's remarks when he gave his response. But they
were especially surprised by the claim that Gore had "noted
that the number of atheists in America is rising." Our incomparable
analysts remembered no such statement in the course of Gore's
remarks. Soon, we were doing what we often must doinstructing
the analysts to double-check Connolly. Sure enough, the analysts
brought us the complete text of Gore's remarks:
GORE: I strongly support the separation of church and state.
The bedrock principle on which our nation was founded was the
search for religious freedom, which clearly meant freedom from
government interference in religion. And I think that carries
with it not only an obligation to respect the Constitutionfor
example, I think that the Constitution forbids the teaching of
evolution in schools, except in religion class, but not in science
class. And I think it also means that every single person in our
public life ought to recognize an obligation to communicate tolerance
of all religious faiths and traditions, especially the religious
faiths and traditions that are held to be a minority in our country.
That's what we're all aboutreligious freedom. Now I think that,
in some times past, that principle has been wrongly interpreted
to mean that somebody who is a person of faith and in public life
should not even affirm his faith. I very much respect the way
Bill has handled this question, you know, that's great, that's
fine, that's his way of doing it. I affirm my faith when I'm asked
about it but I always try to do so in a way that communicates
absolute respect, not only for people who worship in a different
way, but just as much respect for those who do not believe in
God, who are atheists. Atheists have just as much of a right to
the public discourse as anyone, as people of any religious faith
in the country. And I think that we have got to really stand and
if necessary fight for that principle.
So there you have it. Gore didn't say a word that resembled
the statement the Post reported. Nothing was said, at any time,
about whether atheists were increasing, decreasing, or staying
the same. Two lesser notesGore's reference to atheists came late
in his comments, not right at the beginning, as Connolly's readers
might have thought. And Bradley had in fact answered first; Connolly's
account reverses the order.
Does there ever come a time when the Washington Post sees a
problem with Connolly's writing? A few weeks ago, Connolly misquoted
a remark by Gore in a high school forum; the Post built a second-day
story around the false quote, even after the error had been identified
and corrected by Chris Matthews on Hardball. When our Outreach
Task Force called the Post, it took several calls to persuade
a grumbling editor to print a half-hearted correction. Now it
seems that the Post's supple scribe has begun to invent entire
topics. And, for those among you who are soft of heart, can we
interpret the spin in this latest invention? Atheists are a substantial
minority in our country; Gore was treading on tricky ground in
explicitly defending their rights. Connolly's accountfor which
the Post no doubt has an excellent explanationgives the impression
that the interests of atheists was the first thing Gore brought
up in his remarks. And, in falsely reporting that Gore commented
on their alleged growing numbers, this account may well give readers
the impression that Gore was making a political calculation. A
Post reader would think that, as soon as this question was raised
at the forum, Gore jumped in to say atheists vote.
But at any rate, the Post again has attributed remarks to Gore
that plainly never occurred. Indeed, we're now at the point where
Connolly is reporting entire topics that never arose. Does
there ever come a time when the Post admits what we have been
reporting to you since Aprilthat it has an obvious problem among
its reporters, one it should have addressed long ago?
Coming: We have now seen three articlesby the AP, the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Concord (N.H.) Monitorabout
the bogus Love Canal "quote." We report on that next
Note: Not a typo. We assume that Gore meant to say "creationism"
when he said "evolution."