Hero of Love Canal gets a great job!


Who is Margaret Sullivan: Margaret Sullivan has just taken over as the New York Times’ new public editor.

We'll admit it! We were unfavorably struck by one part of her first column:
SULLIVAN (9/9/12): I see my job largely as one of reporting and writing. After 13 fulfilling years as the editor of The Buffalo News, where I earlier was a reporter and columnist, it’s wonderful to be earning my living as a writer again.
Say what? Yes, it seems to be true. According to several published sources, Sullivan became editor of the Buffalo News in September 1999, just as the press corps’ war against Candidate Gore was taking its final form.

In December of that year, the Buffalo News played a key role when the press corps invented the history-changing debacle involving Love Canal.

This disgraceful episode revived a dying theme—AL GORE, LIAR!—and turned the theme to stone. From that point on, the notion that Gore was the world’s biggest liar drove the coverage of that fateful campaign.

Because Love Canal was near Buffalo, the News became a paper of record during this rank episode.

The paper’s performance was a disgrace. Washington Bureau chief Douglas Turner shoveled the shit with reckless abandon. And good God! As the first week of the lunacy neared its end, this editorial appeared:

As the first daily newspaper in the United States and the inventor of journalism, The Buffalo News would like to congratulate Vice President Gore for his many contributions to American life.

Never mind that he didn't invent the Internet, serve as the model for "Love Story" or blow the whistle on Love Canal. We're sure that he uses the Internet, saw the movie and hates dioxin.

In Washington, that's close enough to the truth. Such achievements also put Gore well within the ranks of millions of Americans, proving that he is indeed a man of the people.

Of course, some will think that since Gore moved his campaign headquarters to Tennessee—where Love Canal was discovered—a higher standard should be demanded. But we think Gore's record of "firsts" speaks for itself and is the stuff of which legends are made:

First candidate to put his foot in his mouth, by virtue of his "Love Story" claim two years ago.

First candidate to put his other foot in his mouth by virtue of his Internet claim last spring.

And now first candidate to be caught impersonating a woman, claiming credit for exposing the Love Canal debacle that is synonymous with Lois Gibbs.

Of course, all of this would be funny if it weren't so disturbing. Some will see an emerging picture of a major candidate so desperate and reckless as to play fast and loose with the truth. Or just plain so out of it as to actually not know that such blatant fibs are beyond the bounds of accepted hyperbole, even for politicians.

Such traits are hardly evidence of presidential timber.

However, we're confident that Gore's inventive mind is just coming up with a new style of campaigning, claiming credit for all sorts of fantasy achievements to appeal to the Walter Mitty in every voter.

Still, we must admit, we plan to hold all new Gore press releases for 24 hours, just as a precaution. That includes the one, just in, that says the vice president invented chicken wings.
Presumably, that was the wonderful, witty work of Margaret Sullivan. For the record, it’s hard to miss the way this editorial was cut-and-pasted from RNC chairman Jim Nicholson:
RNC PRESS RELEASE (12/1/99): "Al Gore is simply unbelievable—in the most literal sense of that term," said Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson. “He just keeps doing it—he keeps inflating and embellishing his resume. He keeps reinventing himself. It’s a pattern of phoniness—and it would be funny if it weren't also a little scary."

BUFFALO NEWS EDITORIAL (12/6/99): Of course, all of this would be funny if it weren't so disturbing.
Of course! It would be funny if it weren’t so disturbing! Around the country, various hacks took this dictation straight from the RNC chair.

That editorial was a work of pure journalistic porn. “First candidate to be caught impersonating a woman!” Assuming this was Sullivan’s work, she had a bit of Maureen Dowd in her, even way back then.

We Irish!

You can read the full story of this remarkable episode in Chapter 6 of our companion site, How He Got There. It began with a flat misquotation of Gore. The press corps’ “errors” piled up from there.

The episode set the GORE LIAR theme in stone. The notion that Gore was the world’s biggest liar drove the coverage of Campaign 2000 from that time forward.

George Bush ended up in the White House. People are dead all over the world because of what the press corps did. But now, the tale has a happy ending at last:

Yes, people are dead all over the world. But Margaret Sullivan got a great job at our greatest newspaper!

We strongly suggest you read the full story of this episode at our companion site. The episode was an astounding disgrace.

The Buffalo News was right there.


  1. lowercaseguys casemanagerSeptember 11, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    "We Irish!"

    Paging lowercaseguy! lowecaseguy to the white courtesy phone, please!

  2. A question for Mr Somerby: What were the responsibilities of the "editor" of the Buffalo News?

    For example, Bill Keller was the "executive editor" of The New York Times and he was responsible for the news pages. The editorial pages were under the control of Andrew Rosenthal.

    You quoted a editorial of the Buffalo News and attributed the editorial to Ms. Sullivan.

    1. That's a good point--it might not be her fault. Bob should try and find out if possible what exactly her duties were. Maybe he already knows, but it's not clear just from the title of "editor" what she really did.

      Still, if she were the head of the news division rather than the editorial writing division then she would still have a duty to object to an editorial that was based on falsehoods. Or so I'd guess.



    2. Or maybe not.

      "As for Sullivan, she says she will emphasize local enterprise during her regime [as editor]. 'That's what I think regional papers have to excel at to survive in this new media world', she said."
      -American Journalism Review, October 1999.

      One could stretch logic to argue that the December 6 article emphasized local enterprise since it collaterally referred to a notorious Superfund site near Buffalo, but to "presume" and assume" Sullivan wrote the editorial is more of a "do as I say and not as I do" on Somerby's part.

    3. The Buffalo News does not have an "executive editor."

      Only a fool would think a quote that says the editor plans to "emphasize" something during her tenure could even remotely imply that other topics were therefor nothing to do with the editor.

      No one would stretch logic to try to say this editorial was on the topic of local enterprise.

      An idiot would imply that since it isn't about local enterprise that might indicate the editor had nothing to do with it.

      Because, you know, what she planned to emphasize must imply that EVERYTHING she would do would be about local enterprise.

      At this small paper, yes, it's a very good assumption, unless otherwise indicated, that "the" editor wrote or approved the unsigned contents of the editorial opinion page.

    4. Thanks, Bob, for the corrections, and taking the high ground in doing so.

  3. I thought that the first bit of mendacity attributed to Al Gore was typical republican dishonesty. With the second piece of dishonesty, I wondered why Al Gore would make such outlandish claims, which lead me back to the first presumed story by Al Gore. Then the third story broke about another episode of egotism coupled with delusional thinking and I knew that it was not Al Gore.

    It was not the Al Gore that former President Clinton trusted to make the federal government more efficient, modernize it and provide better service to the public. It was not the Al Gore who advised Clinton and others that the federal government needed to become more knowledgeable about the expanding Internet and Clinton tasked Al Gore with that expansion.

  4. The New York Times has become all the craptastic wannabes and non-journalists (save Krugman, Risen and a few others) fit to be fired, er, hired!

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