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From the March 1999 MediaWatch


Al the Inventor?

For four years every sentence or idea that then-Vice President Dan Quayle fumbled was highlighted by nearly every media outlet and news program. Quayleís successor, Al Gore, has filled the former VPís shoes and occasionally stuck one in his mouth, but Gore gaffes have never been popular with the press.

On March 9, Gore appeared on CNNís Late Edition/Prime Time for an interview with Wolf Blitzer. At one point Gore proclaimed: "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Unfazed by the claim, Blitzer moved on to an unrelated question. Days later, Republicans drew attention to the quote with jokes about creating the paper clip, but none of the network morning or evening shows covered Goreís Internet gaffe.

Five days later on Sundayís Late Edition, Blitzer defended Gore: "He was involved in supporting legislation that promoted the Internet. I think thatís probably what he meant to say." Panelists on several weekend talk shows discussed Goreís boast without Blitzeresque rationalizations. On CNNís Capital Gang, Timeís Margaret Carlson made it her Outrage of the Week, wondering:"Is being a heartbeat away from the Whopper-in-Chief rubbing off on Gore?"


Pot Promoters?
Hemp beer served on Air Force One? Matt Drudge first reported the incident on his Web site on February 16: "Late Monday evening aboard Air Force One [as President Clinton was returning from his trip to Mexico], stewards passed out ĎHemp Golden Beerí to the President, members of Congress and the press!"

Could that be true? No one in the press touched the story until the March 15 issue of U.S. News & World Report. In her article about U.S. farmers fighting the ban on growing hemp, Elise Ackerman noted hemp is on the Drug Enforcement Administrationís controlled-substance list, then made a passing mention of the episode: "President Clinton has yet to state his official position on the plant, but Hempen Gold, a cream ale brewed from hemp seeds, was recently served on Air Force One."

Not only did the entire media ignore Drudgeís embarrassing scoop, but ABCís Connie Chung passed up an ideal opportunity to bring it up. On the March 8 Good Morning America, Chung talked to Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, allowing him plenty of air time to promote the latest technological advances in the War on Drugs. Not once did she press him on the topic, even though he traveled to Kentucky three days later to denounce hemp advocates for "a thinly disguised attempt to legalize the production of pot." Instead, Chung asked press-release questions such as: "I wanted to ask you about an announcement youíre making today concerning an artificial enzyme that will help fight cocaine addiction. What can you tell us about it?"


Auditing the IRS.
Three and a half weeks after the IRS cleared Newt Gingrich and the Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) of any violations in accepting tax-deductible donations to fund his college course, the Los Angeles Times got around to informing its readers.

But the thrust of the February 27 Times story was not the vindication of the former Speaker. Instead, reporters Art Pine and Alan Miller warned: "Critics fear that the decision could break down the barriers that have prohibited tax-exempt charitable organizations from getting involved in politics, paving the way for politicians to set up such groups to finance their political activities."

Not until the tenth paragraph, after quotes from two liberals, did the Times get to a Gingrich ally, Jeff Eisenach of PFF. But then the paper tried to counter any idea of exoneration by focusing on how the IRS reached its February 3 conclusion without seeing transcripts of testimony before the House ethics committee, though the Times did allow Eisenach to argue that if there had been anything incriminating, the House would have provided it to the IRS.

But then Pine and Miller suggested the IRS went soft: "There also have been debates over whether IRS supervisors really examined the evidence fully or simply took a bow in hopes of heading off a clash with a powerful figure."



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