Chapter 6: Coming tomorrow, Chris Matthews!


It’s hard to believe that this happened: By the time of Campaign 2000, your so-called mainstream American press corps was in full break-down mode.

In November 1998, Sally Quinn described the “outrage” Establishment Washington felt toward President Clinton. She described that outrage at great length in a very important report in the Post.

She included the press corps’ insider elite among her many complainants.

In February 1999, Clinton’s impeachment trial was held. Three weeks later, Candidate Gore began to campaign—and the “press corps” landed on his head like a ton of bricks. How might we describe what followed?

Dan Kennedy called it “a virtual wilding.” We’d have to say Dan got it right.

Twenty months of misconduct followed. Rather plainly, this sent George Bush to the White House. And from that day forward, the press corps has refused to discuss what it did those summers. (And those autumns; and that winter.) To this day, very few voters understand what occurred.

One result: Newt Gingrich parades around and about, complaining about that vile “liberal bias.” In our tribe, we keep our traps shut about the Clinton/Gore years. Joan refuses to tattle on Chris. You might call it, “Careers in the balance!”

Yesterday, we thought of this long-standing code of silence when we read the following comment to a Paul Krugman post:
COMMENTER (1/25/12): Maybe instead of conflating "truth" with "intent,” Politifact could issue a ruling on the former and provide space for commentary on the latter. The media did this in 2000. They had to say negative things about Al Gore to equal the negative things about GWB, even though there was much less to say about Gore. They had to be even-handed and thus being even-handed wasn't truthful.
That well-meaning liberal reader still doesn’t have the slightest idea what happened in Campaign 2000. He thinks the press corps made up shit about Candidate Gore just to balance the volume of shit they were dumping on Candidate Bush.

Plainly, that isn’t what happened; that isn’t what happened at all. In fact, the press corps went very easy on Bush, defending him at (almost) every juncture. (When John McCain finally rose in the polls, their ardor cooled for several months.) But how in the world would a reader know that? For the past twelve years, the liberal world has agreed not to tell the truth about what occurred.

In fact, that reader is reciting the Cokie Roberts cover story about the way this campaign was covered! That is the ludicrous cover story, almost exactly as Cokie once told it!

You can hardly blame a liberal reader for not understanding what happened. The real events were simply astounding—hard to believe—and they went on for almost two years. In Chapter 6 of How He Got There, we describe a pivotal episode in this campaign, an episode from December 1999. It was in that month that the press corps’ most punishing narrative locked into place, the claim that Al Gore was a LIAR.

To read Chapter 6, just click here.

Tomorrow, we’ll post an excerpt from that chapter. The excerpt deals with the work of Chris Matthews. Few people worked any harder to send George W. Bush to the White House. In this particular instance, Matthews played a very key role in building the narrative which pretended that Gore was a LIAR.

It’s astounding to think that the “liberal” world would accept this man in their midst for an instant. In the meantime, Chapter 6 is long and astounding.

And yes, these events did occur.


  1. Just a minute, here. Nobody who has spent 25-plus years as a working journalist, as I have, believes that mainstream news media are dominated by liberals. But to say there wasn't ample evidence for anyone paying attention that George W. would be an awful president is just not correct. For all the ribbing Gore took for his debating persona, pretty much all the news media not named Fox agreed that W. was almost comically out of his depth in the debates.

    The facts are, Democrats were complacent, independents sat the election out, and the GOP base turned out with a force unforeseen by anyone but Karl Rove. Gore himself thought he was such a shoo-in that his veep choice existed more to spite Clinton than to help him prevail in November or even to capably lead the country. Just as unwisely, Gore spurned the advice and eagerness to help of the smartest pol in the land, one William Clinton.

    The election was an upset. Its closeness was an upset, let alone W.'s "prevailing," such as it was. Yes, the media were unfair to Gore, and God help any Democrat who expects anything different. But casting Gore as a helpless victim in his political demise is too much.

    1. "Casting Gore as a helpless victim in his political demise is too much."

      ...And, of course that isn't how Somerby characterized the campaign. It's a straw person argument.

      You think Clinton would've helped Gore. You're out of your mind.

      You state "pretty much all the news media not named Fox agreed that W. was almost comically out of his depth in the debates" which is just false. You need cites, baby. Show us the money.

      The facts are that "pretty much all the news media," naturally including Fox but also all of the mainstream press, insisted on constantly portraying Al Gore as a liar.

      With regard to the debates, Gore was pilloried in the press. Read the book, it's a click away. The cites are there.

      Clinton would've helped??? The press were killing Gore BECAUSE of their loathing for Clinton and his penis. Supposedly not having sufficient distance from Clinton was one of his great failings, in the view of the media. Gore should've attached himself MORE to Clinton? You're cuckoo!

    2. I do agree completely.

    3. A decent Vice President choice and Gore wins easily, no matter what else happens. Lieberman was a disaster, and Gore should have known. Also, Gore was really utterly charmless. I voted for Gore, but good grief what a terribly unattractive candidate.

    4. "good grief what a terribly unattractive candidate."

      Spoken like someone who truly absorbed what the media wanted him/her to absorb about Gore.

      As for the original post - only a journalist could believe silly nonsense like "Gore himself thought he was such a shoo-in that his veep choice existed more to spite Clinton than to help him prevail in November". As Bob often says, only a non-human lifeform could believe such a thing. Yes, I think the Lieberman pick was awful - and it may have cost him the election, but even a five year old child would know better than to say it was to spite Clinton. Geez.

      There is just so much garbage in the original post. "Democrats were complacent". What the heck does that mean? They didn't try because they thought the election was in the bag? I gotta say I have never heard that one before. "[I]ndependents sat the election out". Not sure that is backed by facts, but if it is, could it be related to the prevailing media theme that "both candidates are the same."

    5. I'm amazed that someone claiming to have 25 years of experience in journalism could be so wrong on fundamental facts.

      The Democrats complacent? Gore thinking he was a shoo-in? Oh good grief! Gore was always fighting from behind in the polls and even trailed Bush head-to-head by 20 points right after the December 1999 wilding.

      Gore briefly enjoyed a lead right after the Democratic Convention bump, but he was quickly brought down by a whole new round of "script" reporting --- the first debate sighs, the second debate agreements, the third debate macho man "act", the dog pills, the union lullaby, all sorts of inconsequential trivial stuffs designed to keep the mind of America off analyzing the issues, which the media found boring (see: Carlson, Margaret; Koppel, Ted).

      Even into the last week of October 2000, Bush held leads 3 to 5 percentage points depending on the polls. So how was the closeness of that election and upset? It could only be in the regard that Gore actually WON the popular vote.

  2. Much of what The Daily Howler writes about is “Scripted News”, i.e. whereby one slant on a story is presented, frequently without facts to support it, and is repeated over and over by “reporters” who do no research of their own and thus immortalize falsehoods.
    This is what happened with the first Gore-Bush debate. The members of fourth estate were in general agreement that Al Gore was much more poised and better informed on virtually every issue, prior to the debate, and that he didn’t get caught in any new lies during the debate. (How would they know, anyway?) Bush, on the other hand, held up better than was predicted.
    The very next day, they remembered that many of them had predicted that Al Gore would be the confident wonk and defeat Bush on facts and figures, while Bush would commit his usual gaffes.
    This was interpreted to mean that Gore was stiff, pedantic, and boring, while Bush exceeded their expectations, and therefore “won” the debate.
    From then on, Gore was a boring liar that no one wanted to be in the same room with, and Bush was a guy you’d want to sit down and drink beer with.
    Gore did sigh on camera on at least two occasions. I saw it. He did it when Bush misquoted Gore. However it was not a few sighs that cost Gore the election, it was the ruthless piling on by almost the entire mass media that did him in. (That and election fraud in Florida). Like Bob Somerby, I watched it happen.
    The issue here is that after two days, virtually the entire press corps started attacking Gore and praising Bush. They all followed the same script, repeating the same falsehoods about Gore that still linger today. And they did it on every occasion, not just on the debates. The script demanded it. The Howler spotted the trend, so did Robert Parry, and others.
    Here is a microcosm. There are many, many more examples out there.

    Will Al Gore claim he invented sliced bread? Will George W. Bush forget the name of the British queen?
    Admit it. You want to see one of them mess up tonight.
    October 03, 2000|By MICHAEL GRIFFIN Orlando Sentinel

    First, I couldn't really identify a clear winner. I think Gore did as well as expected, and Bush held up better than expected - so from that standpoint he's a winner just for not screwing the whole thing up. PBS Viewer Oct 4 2000

    Though the instant overnight polls after their first debate last week showed him doing better than Bush, subsequent surveys found that what the public remembered most were Bush's digs at Gore's increasingly shaky credibility. Hartford Courant OCT 11, 2000 David Lightman.

    In his first joust last week with George W. Bush, Gore thought he was in a medieval court where he could dispatch bad jesters and other insufferable minds by looking askance and snapping his fingers to call for the hangman. This explains the now famous sighs and smirks while Bush was talking. Like most people drunk on themselves, King Cranium could not stop even though Bush was saving the kingdom security costs by walking voluntarily to the gallows of foreign policy and abortion. - Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe, 10/11/2000

    When, during the first 2000 debate, Al Gore could not stifle the sighs that expressed his disdain for George W. Bush, Gore was being spontaneously honest. And the country recoiled, rightly. - George Will. - Jewish Word Review May 15, 2006

  3. Exactly, Gravymeister. But I always remember how in that immediate post-debate poll, voters strongly affirmed Gore's debate performance. They liked what they saw, thought the Vice President had "won" the debate, and found him credible in terms of his performance and command of the facts and issues.

    The media, however, were not happy at all, and as we know, they behaved like petulant little children. Jim Lehrer still loves bringing up, over and over, that Gore "sigh."

  4. From the first Anonymous:

    I repeat: No Democrat should expect fair treatment from the mass media, which can't exist without vast financial support from conservative institutions. Most liberals and many independents know how to take this into account. But the point isn't that the media didn't, or was fair to, pick on Gore's minor flaws, or interpret them in a craven way. The point is there's nothing unusual about such coverage, and that smart candidates (Clinton, Obama) learn how to minimize its impact.

    Nobody consuming the mainstream media with any kind of closeness in 2000 could have overlooked W.'s gaping lack of presidential skills. People hadn't heard of his bullshit National Guard stint? His silver-spoon political rise? HIs mediocre record in Texas? His nonexistent grasp of foreign policy? His spectacularly awful vice presidential choice? Look, those who voted for Bush did so despite vast stores of evidence, available in the mainstream media, of his unsuitability.

    Y'all want citations? Here's one: me. I sorted through hundreds of AP, NYT and LAT-WP stories as a wire editor during that time. Only an occasional outlier and unvaryingly conservative pundits contended that W. was making a superior argument for his election. Now you don't have to believe me, but the evidence is there if you want to go sort through thousands of wire stories. But I would say this: I was and remain an enthusiastic Gore supporter. Why would I argue that he didn't get as fair a shake from the media as could be expected?

    Gravymeister: Look at your citations. You could have chosen from a vast number, and you went with three columnists nobody has heard of, none of whom actually proclaimed a W. "victory" in the debates, and George Will, who wouldn't proclaim a Democratic win if his father was on the Democratic ticket.

    Phaeron, how did you find out voters strongly affirmed Gore's debate performance? Somewhere other than "the media"? If not, then why don't you think millions of voters weren't capable of finding this same information?

    Earth: You bet your life Clinton could've helped Gore. Despite his scandal, he remained a very popular president, a brilliant campaign strategist, a great speechifyer, and possessed a once-in-a-generation gift for connecting personally with voters -- exactly the area where Gore was weakest. Nobody but people disposed against Democrats to start with held the Lewinsky scandal against Gore. Certainly, Gore suffered from Clinton's lack of overt support than he ever gained from it.

    Why do I care? Because if Democrats want to succeed, they're not going to do so basking in a self-indulgent whine about unfair treatment by the media. Clinton and Obama privately have seethed over media coverage that elevates crackpot criticism. But they find ways to minimize its impact. Is it simple to do? No. If it was, Gore would have figured it out. Is it essential to do so to survive politically? More than ever.