Gore was an enthusiastic recreational user, smoking sometimes as often as three or four times a week

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Gore was an enthusiastic recreational user, smoking sometimes as often as three or four times a week

B) 2000

11/03/00 4:30 p.m. Another Late Hit The media at work.

By Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center They are not judicious. They are not moderate. By their very pattern of time allocation, devoting an entire Nightline and much of today's morning shows to this wisp of an old story, they are serving the Democratic party, casting the campaign picture pack to the Dubya-drubbing soap opera When I Was Young and Irresponsible, I Was Young and Irresponsible.

Make no mistake about it: the media have been handed solid evidence of Bush's drunk-driving arrest, and Bush has admitted the offense. But the media have not required solid evidence in the past to justify last-minute attack segments on surging Republican candidates.

Eight years ago, at this very stage in the campaign, the Friday before Election Day, as tracking polls suggested as small as a two-point lead for Bill Clinton, Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh re-indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and asserted then-Vice President George Bush was "in the loop" on Iran-Contra essentials. In the interest of supposedly staying above the partisan fray, ABC, CBS, and NBC did not mention Mr. Walsh by name, obscuring the extremely political tactic as the unsuspicious emergence of "new material" or "new grand jury evidence." In the days to come, the media had next to zero interest in examining whether Walsh acted appropriately, and why the Clinton campaign released a multi-page analysis of the indictment dated October 29 B the day before the indictment was disclosed.

But Walsh was not alone in trying to sandbag President Bush. Six days before the election, there was the alleged judicious moderator Ted Koppel. He declared that 18 months of ABC's searching had revealed a series of "legal and illegal technology transfers" to Iraq. He cited network poll numbers citing the politically crippling issue for Bush: "Indeed, last week a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 68 percent of the American public has major doubts about George Bush's explanation of his administration's role in providing aid to Saddam Hussein before the Persian Gulf war." Koppel had aired at least eight shows in 1991 and 1992 exploring the intricacies of the Iraqgate conspiracy theory, and while he interviewed five Democrats and Iraqgate promoter and reporter Alan Friedman on these programs, Sen. Arlen Specter was the only Republican guest, on the earliest Iraqgate show. (He also fit in an hour-long special on the "October Surprise" conspiracy theory during that time.)

Koppel concluded his late-hit scandal program with senators David Boren and Patrick Leahy charging a Bush cover-up. Koppel emphasized this issue could not be dismissed as political: "It is easy enough, given the political season, to dismiss charges of a cover-up coming as they do from two Democratic senators as purely partisan. As I told you at the beginning of the broadcast, though, a number of serious news organizations have been pursuing [the Italian bank] BNL and the Iraqgate story for almost two years. And in a campaign where trust has been made into such a central theme, this story is no trivial issue."

Then there was 60 Minutes. On October 25, 1992, nine days before the election, CBS's Lesley Stahl devoted an entire segment to chasing Ross Perot's bizarre charges of Republican dirty tricks: "Several of us who did know what he was talking about had already looked into his charges and found nothing to report, until we heard that Perot was claiming he got out of the race last July because of a bizarre story he said he'd heard from a high-placed Republican he won't name B and a shadowy character he does name.

The story? That the Bush campaign was planning to sabotage his daughter's wedding." Stahl conceded later in the story: "Even as he's making this charge, Perot acknowledges he can't prove it. And we haven't found any proof either."

The obvious question for any journalist: "Then why in blazes are you putting this segment on the air?"

On Sunday, November 1, two days before the 1992 election, 60 Minutes star Mike Wallace promoted the charges of goofball liberal Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D., Texas) B who regularly called for Ronald Reagan and George Bush to be impeached B that Bush and his aides were guilty of obstruction of justice and were "principally responsible for arming Saddam Hussein." Wallace began: "If you have trouble understanding exactly what it is that people mean when they say Iraqgate, perhaps you'll understand it better after you hear from the man who has probed into it longer than anyone else in Washington, the chairman. He has never talked about it as fully and freely as he does tonight." Wallace's first question to Gonzalez: "Who are the main players who have tried to stop your investigation?"

It did not matter that the Iraqgate allegations crumbled after the election, in addition to the 1980 "October Surprise" allegations. There were no apologies or retractions from the Koppels and Wallaces, just the continued pretense that they were the objective referees of the election process.

It bears repeating that there were many unproven stories circulating around Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992 that could have been the subject of a 20-minute report, or an 18-month investigation. Whitewater died in April. Al Gore's mysterious service in Vietnam went completely untouched, unlike Dan Quayle's record four years before. The Juanita Broaddrick story was circulating at that time. When President Bush suggested on CNN that Clinton ought to level with the public on his record as an anti-war protester in England who took a trip to Moscow, the media were inflamed. On the October 8, 1992 Nightline, Koppel took the night off, but substitute Chris Wallace complained: "In the end, we always knew it would come to this. For all the talk about how this campaign would be different, about how this time the politicians would stick to the issues, there was always the suspicion it wouldn't last. And the fact is, it hasn't."

The Nightline philosophy in a nutshell: spend months trying to prove Bush armed Saddam Hussein and conspired to leave American hostages in Iranian hellholes for electoral gain, no foul. Suggest Clinton explain his Vietnam War activities, since no network reporter would spend months on that, big foul.

In this election cycle, Koppel and his associates have been long exposed as ridiculous hypocrites on the issue of youthful indiscretions. Koppel's Nightline devoted an entire show in August 1999 to the rumors of Bush cocaine use, with no evidence and no accusers. Koppel lectured: "Why not accept his one-size-fits-all declaration that when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible? Perhaps, we might say, because he has never accepted youth and irresponsibility as legitimate excuses for illegal behavior." In January, Newsweek reporter Bill Turque reported in his book Inventing Al Gore that Gore friend John Warnecke said Gore smoked marijuana with him regularly in Tennessee in the 1970s, right up to running for Congress in 1976. Gore responded to the Warnecke allegations with a very similar-sounding dodge: "When I was young, I did things young people do; when I grew up I put away childish things." Koppel suggested Bush was applying for Hypocrite-in-Chief. But the Gore allegations have never been touched by Honest Broker Ted.

In the February 14, 2000 Newsweek, Turque added: "Warnecke and two other close friends from Gore's Nashville days say Gore was an enthusiastic recreational user, smoking sometimes as often as three or four times a week: afterhours at Warnecke's house, on weekends at the Gore farm or canoeing on the Caney Fork River. Andy Schlesinger, a former Tennessean reporter who remains close to the Gores (he celebrated with them last week in New Hampshire), says that in the first few months after Gore returned from South Vietnam in 1971, he smoked with him 'at least a dozen times' at the Warneckes'. The partying continued, according to Warnecke and a Gore friend who declined to be named, until Gore ran his first House race in 1976."

Bill Turque wasn't handed this information from stealthy Republican sources. He interviewed Gore friends and published the story in a major national newsmagazine. But the television networks treated this story, much more corroborated than anything about Bush's alleged use of hard drugs, as if it never existed.

Every feeding frenzy of the fall campaign has originated from the Gore fans: the RATS fracas, the completely spontaneous Can Lady follies of Winifred Skinner, the last-minute four-Democrat report from the Rand Corporation, and now the DUI dustup. Every one of these stories underlines what everyone who follows politics knows: The major media is never more in bed with the Democrats than in the last few weeks of a tough campaign.

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), November 06, 2000

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