deciding not to fight for the office that many Americans feel was stolen
from him two years ago, Al Gore may have been surrendering to the
inevitable that the national news media and the Republican attack
machine would never let him win the White House.
While understandable on a human level who would
want to go through what Gore did in 2000? the former vice president's
decision carries both short- and long-term dangers. For one, the national
news media now can safely tuck away its responsibility for grossly mis-reporting
that pivotal campaign. If not for the media's fabrication of quotes and
distortion of Gore's personal history, George W. Bush never would have
gotten close enough to win by having five Republican Supreme Court justices
stop the counting of
votes in Florida. [For details on the slanted media coverage, see
Another danger from Gore's decision is that liberals
will now conclude that there is no need to do the hard work to challenge
the deepening conservative bias in the national news media. Instead of
investing in a media infrastructure to fight for honesty and fairness,
liberals might buy into the comfortable hope that a new fresh face wont get
muddied up like Gore did.
Indeed, one of the fringe benefits of a Gore candidacy would
have been the forcing of a long-overdue debate about the troubling state of the national news media.
That debate was beginning in recent months with leading Democrats starting
to challenge the conservative myth of
a "liberal media." Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle, former President Bill Clinton and Gore himself commented about the national press corps'
dramatic shift to the right.
With no Gore in 2004, the space for that debate has narrowed. It will
be harder for Americans to demand that
the news media admit how both conservative outlets, such as the Washington Times and Fox
mainstream ones, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, made up quotes for Gore and exaggerated stories about his supposed
exaggerations to portray him as a delusional laughingstock in Campaign
The manufactured quotes -- that Gore had said he
"invented the Internet" and had claimed that "I was the
one that started" the Love Canal clean-up -- were milestones in
the campaign, becoming excuses for the media to cite other alleged
examples of Gore puffing up his resume. Remember, too, the beloved story line of Campaign
2000, how Gore was the liar who would do or say anything to get elected,
while George W. Bush really didnt care that much whether he
won or not.
[For more details of the medias mis-reporting of Election
2000, see Consortiumnews.coms Al
Gore v. the Press or turn to Bob Somerbys DailyHowler.com.
For a look at the consequences of that reporting, see Consortiumnews.com's "So
Bush Did Steal the White House."]
This fall, the national media from TV
pundits to talk radio to op-ed pages of major newspapers was gearing
up for another assault on Gore. But simultaneously grassroots activists
operating mostly at a few under-funded Web sites were
developing their own sophisticated analysis of the American media.
These critics saw the national press corps
divided roughly into two parts: a dedicated conservative media, and
mainstream journalists who, out of fear or personal careerism, generally followed the
lead of the conservative media. Gore had become the touchstone of this
As soon as Gore stepped back onto the political stage, the conservative and mainstream pundits resumed the heckling.
In one rant, Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly
wrote that Gore's critique of Bush's
" was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of
policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts
bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious
lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault
delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be
superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was
contemptible." [Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2002] [For more
details on the conservative denunciations of Gore, see Consortiumnews.coms "Politics
Mainstream columnists also joined the assault, possibly to buy some protection from the
epithet of librul often hurled by conservative press critics at mainstream journalists who step out of line.
In an influential column, for instance, the New York Times Frank Rich
ridiculed Gore as a phony and challenged Gore's insistence that he might
not run again as just another Gore lie.
The new, post-wooden Gore is determined to be spontaneous
if it kills him, and us, Rich wrote. But it took Katie Couric all of
three minutes to uncover the old Al Gore lurking inside the latest model.
When he protested that he wouldnt really, really decide whether to run
for president until after the holidays, she spoke for many viewers by
responding, 'Why am I having a hard time believing that wholeheartedly?'
Rich judged that Gore was lying about his hesitancy
to run again.
People dont change, the pundit wrote. Mr. Gore doesnt
let the chips fall where they may; you can still spot him counting each
one before doling them out. And of course he is still running for
president. [NYT, Nov. 23, 2002] [For a review of Rich's column, go to
Bob Somerby's Daily
Beyond the media sarcasm, right-wing activists
hounded Gore when he appeared in public, including demonstrating against
his book signings.
On Dec. 7, outside an Olssons book store in
Arlington, Va., demonstrators sporting photos of Rush Limbaugh and
carrying signs from the Web site FreeRepublic.com shouted at people in
line waiting to have Al and Tipper Gore sign copies of Joined
at the Heart, their book about families in America. The demonstrators
shouted slogans through a bull horn, accusing Gore of trying to steal the
election in Florida two years ago.
So Gore may well have surveyed the political
landscape and concluded that there was no feasible route for him to reach
the White House, that another run would simply leave him carrying the
blame for another Bush victory.
But Gores decision did not sit well with some
Democrats who remain outraged over Bushs hardball strategies in
Florida, including the disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American
voters. These Democrats felt that Gore owes a special debt to the country
and to history to set matters right by defeating Bush in a
rematch. There is some logic to this point.
As an experienced leader with well-defined ideas for
addressing the nations economic and foreign policy challenges, Gore
also may have stood the best chance -- however slim -- of unseating Bush.
But as we have noted in articles since 1999, the
Democrats dilemma is much deeper than Al Gores supposed weaknesses
as a campaigner. Any Democrat who presents a serious challenge to Bush can
expect the same or worse from the existing national news media, as Sen.
John Kerry is learning as he confronts silly stories about his hair cuts
and his fingernails. The Republicans have a well-oiled media machine
that can spew mud on each and every fresh face and the Democrats are still in no position to do anything
about it. [For a brief history of the Republican's media machine, see Consortiumnews.coms Democrats
Indeed, perhaps one of the most remarkable political facts
in the two years since the Florida debacle is that the nations liberals have
done next to nothing to build a counter-media that can reach
a sizable number of Americans. Grassroots Democrats have
started a few Web sites, such as smirkingchimp.com,
makethemaccountable.com and democrats.com. But liberals with
major money have stayed on
Still, even with limited financial backing, the
counter-media analysis has begun to take hold. Even some
center-left pundits, such as the Washington Posts E.J. Dionne Jr., have
come to recognize the truth.
Its time to revisit a matter on which the
conventional wisdom is, roughly, 180 degrees off, wrote Dionne. You
hear the conventional wisdom all the time from shrewd conservative
commentators who understand that political pressure, relentlessly applied,
usually achieves its purposes. They have sold the view that the media are
dominated by liberals and that the news is skewed against conservatives.
But the continuing attacks on mainstream
journalists have another effect. Because the drumbeat of conservative
press criticism has been so steady, the establishment press has
internalized it. Editors and network executives are far more likely to
hear complaints from the right than from the left.
Dionne noted that when Daschle made a legitimate
complaint that shrill attacks from Limbaugh had contributed to
physical threats against Democrats and their families, mainstream media
commentators rallied to Limbaughs defense. The media could have
examined Limbaughs use of inflammatory rhetoric that has included
portraying Daschle and other Democrats as traitors or Satans allies.
Daschle, after all, was the recipient of an envelope full of anthrax a
Instead, as Dionne noted, the establishment
commentary was mostly aimed against Daschle and picked up the conservative
cry that he was whining. Limbaugh was invited for lengthy and
respectful interviews on CNNs Reliable Sources and Tim
Russerts show on CNBC.
Dionne added, Limbaughs new respectability is
the surest sign that the conservative talk network is now bleeding into
what passes for the mainstream media, just as the unapologetic
conservatism of the Fox News Channel is now affecting the programming on
the other cable networks. This shift to the right is occurring as cable
becomes a steadily more important source of news. [Washington Post,
Dec. 6, 2002]
This new media reality, which has been evolving over the
past quarter century and gaining powerful momentum in the past decade, was
becoming an issue in the context of Gores potential candidacy. It is a debate that may be sidetracked
following Gores decision to step aside.
In explaining his decision not to run, Gore, like Bill
Clinton before him, said elections
must be about the future, not the past. But that political principle can prove
dangerous if a focus on the future allows past corruption to go unattended
That happened after the 1992 election when Clinton
and other Democrats cut off investigations into Iran-contra and Iraqgate
crimes so President George H.W. Bush could retreat into retirement with
his dignity intact. The result was a false rendition of history
pretending that the senior Bush was innocent in schemes for arming Iran and
Iraq. By not giving the American people the full story in 1992-93, the
Democrats inadvertently made possible the Bush political dynasty's
fierce comeback eight years later. [For more details, see Robert Parrys
Trick or Treason or his Lost
So what can be done now?
Our view for years has been that Americans concerned
about the growing right-wing dominance of the national news media must
invest in a counter-media that will not treat the Bush family like
royalty and will give American voters important information on other
Like his father, George W. Bush has gotten
the kid-gloves treatment. In part, thats because the
Bushes are protected by two powerful elements within the news media: the
red-meat conservatives and the blue-blood establishment. This double layer
of protection makes the Bushes almost unique in American politics,
shielded both by aggressive right-wing activists and by the Georgetown
The counter-media must challenge that, by
taking a hard look at Bushs mistakes while giving the American people
the context for understanding the risks of his domestic and foreign
policies. The counter-media also must counteract the kinds of media
fabrications and distortions that were directed against Gore in Campaign
2000, effectively deciding the election.
In recent weeks, there has been some stirring of interest about
creating syndicated content for radio stations that realize the
market for conservative talk radio is saturated and that there is an
untapped liberal market. The counter-media also
could take the form of a television outlet on satellite or
cable giving the American people a station they could tune in to hear
directly what Gore and other embattled liberals are saying, not just what
comes through the media filter.
Elements of a counter-media can be built through
donations to non-profit organizations, such as our own Consortium for
Independent Journalism. Other parts can be created through investments in
for-profit companies, especially in the areas of talk-radio and
television. But none of these efforts can achieve critical mass without the
investment of significant sums of money.
Lack of money for a "counter-media" has
made the billions of dollars spent by conservatives, such as Rupert
Murdoch and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, even more decisive. For instance, our Web site, which produced original investigative
journalism on a wide variety of topics including the Bush family, was
forced to curtail its work and go part-time in early 2000 when our
fund-raising ran dry.
At that time, potential donors didnt grasp the
political crisis that was looming. Some simply thought the problem of conservative bias
in the national news media would solve itself. So, money will be crucial.
To be successful, the counter-media also must
be guided by a set of principles, including:
--While learning lessons from the conservative media,
the counter-media should not be a mirror image of Rush Limbaugh's
talk radio shows, Murdoch's Fox
News or Moon's Washington Times. Rather, it should reflect the best instincts
of the American people. It should maintain a journalistic ethos of honesty
--For maximum impact, the counter-media must be
based in the Washington area or have a major presence in the nations
capital. Too often, alternative media outlets have been located in
cities off the beaten path, such as San Francisco or Boston, thus
minimizing their influence over the national debate.
--The counter-media must turn to accomplished
journalists who have proven a commitment to their profession by
experiencing career reversals rather than joining with the dominant media
pack. The temptation to turn to todays big name journalists must
be resisted because almost all of them became big names by
compromising with the corruption of today's national news media.
For a list of some journalists who could become a core of talent for the
counter-media, look at the Media in Exile list maintained at
the Web site, mediawhoresonline.com.
In short, today's crisis in American politics calls for
nothing less than a Marshall
Plan for building a strong counter-media. There must be both adequate
resources and great energy invested in this enterprise.
Though this new media infrastructure would not
come cheap, the cost of doing nothing both to the future of democracy
and to the future of the planet would certainly be far greater.