Yet, while the national media was excoriating Gore over the bogus quote, the Concord students were learning more than they had expected about how media and politics work in modern America. For days, the students pressed for a correction from The Washington Post and The New York Times. But the prestige papers balked, insisting that the error was insignificant.
"The part that bugs me is the way they nit-pick," said Tara Baker, a Concord High junior. "[But] they should at least get it right." [AP, Dec. 14, 1999]
When the David Letterman show made Love Canal the jumping off point for a joke list: "Top 10 Achievements Claimed by Al Gore," the students responded with a press release entitled "Top 10 Reasons Why Many Concord High Students Feel Betrayed by Some of the Media Coverage of Al Gore's Visit to Their School." [Boston Globe, Dec. 26, 1999]
The Daily Howler Web site, run by stand-up comic Bob Somerby, also was hectoring what it termed a "grumbling editor" at the Post to correct the error. Finally, on Dec. 7, a week after Gore's comment, the Post published a partial correction, tucked away as the last item in a corrections box. But the Post still misled readers about what Gore actually said.
The Post correction read: "In fact, Gore said, 'That was the one that started it all,' referring to the congressional hearings on the subject that he called." The revision fit with the Post's insistence that the two quotes meant pretty much the same thing, but again, the newspaper was distorting Gore's clear intent by attaching "that" to the wrong antecedent. From the full quote, it's obvious the "that" refers to the Toone toxic waste case, not to Gore's hearings.
Three days later, The New York Times followed suit with a correction of its own, but again without fully explaining Gore's position. ...They fixed how they misquoted him, but they didn't tell the whole story," commented Lindsey Roy, another Concord High junior.
While the students voiced disillusionment, the two reporters involved showed no remorse for their mistake. "I really do think that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion," said Seelye . "It was one word."
Connolly even defended her inaccurate rendition of Gore's quote as something of a journalistic duty. "We have an obligation to our readers to alert them [that] this [Gore's false boasting] continues to be something of a habit," she said. [AP, Dec. 14, 1999]
The half-hearted half-corrections also did not stop newspapers around the country from continuing to use the bogus quote. A Dec. 9 editorial in the Lancaster [Pa.] New Era even published the polished misquote that the Republican National Committee had stuck in a press release: "I was the one who started it all."
The New Era then went on to psychoanalyze Gore. "Maybe the lying is a symptom of a more deeply-rooted problem: Al Gore doesn't know who he is," the editorial stated. "The Vice President is a serial prevaricator."
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writer Michael Ruby concluded that "the Gore of '99" was full of lies. He "suddenly discovers elastic properties in the truth," Ruby declared. "He invents the Internet, inspires the fictional hero of 'Love Story,' blows the whistle on Love Canal. Except he didn't really do any of those things." [Dec. 12, 1999]
Actually, all of those elements of the "Lyin' Al" narrative were distortions by the U.S. press corps. It was as if the journalists had become school-yard bullies pummeling some unpopular nerd.
The earliest of these Gore "lies," dating back to 1997, was Gore mentioning a press report that indicated that he and his wife Tipper had served as models for the lead characters in the sentimental bestseller and movie, Love Story.
When the author, Erich Segal, was asked about this, he stated that the preppy hockey-playing male lead, Oliver Barrett IV, indeed was modeled after Gore as well as after Gore's Harvard roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones. But Segal said the female lead, Jenny, was not modeled after Tipper Gore. [NYT, Dec. 14, 1997]