Seelye and Connolly were at the forefront of this "war on Gore." As I noted in an article in early 2000, "to read the major newspapers and to watch the TV pundit shows, one can't avoid the impression that many in the national press have decided that Vice President Al Gore is unfit to be elected the next President of the United States."
The article, entitled "Al Gore v. the Media," went on to say: "Across the board -- from The Washington Post to The Washington Times, from The New York Times to the New York Post, from NBC's cable networks to the traveling campaign press corps -- journalists don't even bother to disguise their contempt for Gore anymore.
"At one early Democratic debate, a gathering of about 300 reporters in a nearby press room hissed and hooted at Gore's answers. Meanwhile, every perceived Gore misstep, including his choice of clothing, is treated as a new excuse to put him on a psychiatrist's couch and find him wanting."
A key moment in this "war on Gore" came in December 1999 when the U.S. news media generated dozens of stories about Gore's supposed claim that he discovered the Love Canal toxic waste dump.
In twin articles -- by Seelye in the Times and Connolly in the Post -- Gore was quoted as saying "I was the one that started it all." This "gaffe" then was recycled endlessly and combined with other situations in which Gore allegedly exaggerated, thus persuading many voters that Gore was an inveterate liar or clinically delusional.
The media's Love Canal stampede was allowed to continue despite the fact that the Times and the Post quickly learned that their reporters had misquoted Gore. Seelye, in particular, insisted that the inaccurate quote didn't deserve correcting because she felt she had gotten the gist of it right, though that wasn't true either.
The Love Canal quote controversy began on Nov. 30, 1999, when Gore was speaking to a group of high school students in Concord, New Hampshire. He was exhorting the students to reject cynicism and to recognize that individual citizens can effect important changes.
As an example, he cited a high school girl from Toone, Tennessee, a town that had experienced problems with toxic waste. She brought the issue to the attention of Gore's congressional office in the late 1970s, he said.
"I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing," Gore told the students. "I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue, and Toone, Tennessee -- that was the one that you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all."
After the hearings, Gore said, "we passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dump sites. And we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country. We've still got work to do. But we made a huge difference. And it all happened because one high school student got involved."
The context of Gore's comment was clear. What sparked his interest in the toxic-waste issue was the situation in Toone -- "that was the one that you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all." After learning about the Toone situation, Gore looked for other examples and "found" a similar case at Love Canal.
Gore was not claiming to have been the first one to discover Love Canal, which already had been evacuated. He simply needed other case studies for the hearings.
The next day, Seelye and Connolly altered Gore's quote, changing the word "that" to "I," so that Gore was boasting "I was the one that started it all." The context was also stripped away to make Gore's praise for the girl from Toone, Tennessee, into a supposed example of his self-aggrandizing, thus fitting the narrative of Gore the Exaggerator.
The Republican National Committee spotted Gore's alleged boast and was quick to fax around its own take. "Al Gore is simply unbelievable -- in the most literal sense of that term," declared Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson. "It's a pattern of phoniness -- and it would be funny if it weren't also a little scary."