Something about Al Gore brings out the worst in people, and nowhere is this truer than in the so-called “liberal media.” Journalists’ “default” position on Gore, Joe Klein notes, is “ridicule. He opens his mouth and is immediately assumed cynical, tactical, self-serving, self-pitying, awkward, embarrassing, unintentionally hilarious, or all of the above.” That Klein is himself a serial offender only strengthens the power of his unadmitted mea culpa.
The intensity of the media’s anti-Gore obsession is a bit bizarre, but even more so, given the strictures of journalistic objectivity, is the lack of compunction they feel about openly demonstrating it. At an early New Hampshire debate between Gore and Bill Bradley, reporters openly booed him, “objectivity” be damned. “The 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out,” Time reported. “Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of fifteen-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd.”
Washington Post White House reporter Dana Milbank offers this reasoned, mature explanation: “Gore is sanctimonious, and that’s sort of the worst thing you can be in the eyes of the press. And he has been disliked all along, and it was because he gives a sense that he’s better than us–he’s better than everybody, for that matter, but the sense that he’s better than us as reporters. Whereas President Bush probably is sure that he’s better than us–he’s probably right, but he does not convey that sense. He does not seem to be dripping with contempt when he looks at us, and I think that has something to do with the coverage.”
Bill Keller, who almost became executive editor of the New York Times, was no less scholarly than Milbank, but like any good pundit, multiplied his own resentments by 50 million. “One big reason 50 million voters went instead for an apparent lightweight they didn’t entirely trust was that they didn’t want to have Al Gore in their living rooms for four years,” Keller wrote on the paper’s Op-Ed page. Included in his argument was the behavior of his 3-year-old, who, during the 2000 campaign, “went around chanting the refrain: ‘Al Gore is a snore.'” Imagine where she might have learned to do that!
During the 2000 election, both the Times and the Post assigned reporters to Gore who hated his guts and so repeatedly misled their readers. Katharine Seelye’s and Ceci Connolly’s coverage turned out to be so egregious that the two were singled out by the conservative Financial Times of London as “hostile to the [Gore] campaign,” unable to hide their “contempt for the candidate.” (And don’t get me started on the topic of “Panchito” Bruni’s daily valentines to George W. during this period, carried on page one of the Paper of Record.)
The savvy, nonpartisan authors of ABC’s The Note chalk the Bush/Gore dichotomy up to “another day of Goofus and Gallant” in the insider media. Reporting as if on their high school’s unofficial website, they describe their classmate George W. Bush as “cool and popular, which means he can get away with some pretty amazing things.” For instance, accusing the Senate of being “more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people.” Meanwhile, on the same day, the “(sorry) annoying and unpopular” Al Gore “gives what was on some levels a serious, substantive speech in San Francisco…and gets chastised by the White House and the Republican National Committee for playing politics, a storyline followed to some extent by the TV and newspaper coverage.”
It’s hard to know how much of the coverage of Gore’s delineation of the many fallacies of pre-emptive war against Iraq was driven by the pundits disliking his message and how much was driven by Gore-hatred per se. The pro-war pundits–almost none of whom have ever seen the inside of a mess hall, much less an Abrams tank (unlike, say, Al Gore)–do not appreciate anyone getting in the way of Bush’s Excellent Adventure. Just ask New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, who stands accused of reporting on the genuine unhappiness with Bush’s plans on the part of high-ranking members of the uniformed military, both active and retired, the top members of the Republican foreign-policy establishment and even some of its far-right Congressional leadership. The nexus of the punditocracy’s twin “love war/hate Gore” obsessions helps to explain the astonishing explosion of invective unleashed by Gore’s calm and soberly delivered warning in San Francisco–one that echoed the underreported testimony of three four-star generals given to Congress the same day.
The New York Post headlined its editorial, “Al Gore, Wimp.” Sean Hannity observed, “He’s sweating profusely…. He didn’t look presidential. I didn’t see any gravitas, any leadership,” and added, “Are we watching something similar to appeasement before our eyes?” ABC’s George Will called the speech “moral infantilism.” His Washington Post sidekick, Charles Krauthammer, called it “a disgrace.” Their colleague Michael Kelly penned a column that makes Ann Coulter sound like Isaiah Berlin. Kelly termed the speech “dishonest, cheap, low,” “hollow,” “wretched,” “vile,” “contemptible,” “a lie,” “a disgrace,” “equal parts mendacity, viciousness and smarm” before running out of adjectives. (If the Post really wants this kind of thing, they should consider replacing the barking-mad Kelly with our prodigal son, Christopher, who at least bashes liberals with a bit of style and panache.)
Personally, I never really liked Gore, and he’s not my choice for 2004. But he sure galvanized Tom Daschle and other Democrats to face up to a frightening juggernaut for war they would have preferred to duck for the sake of re-election. Naderites take note. It was not “smart” in the Washington sense. It was not strategic. But damn it, it was brave. The victim of a stolen presidency demonstrated why democracy matters. The more media chicken hawks sink their tiny beaks into his ass, the more–just this once–I admire his courage.