Assessing the character of Presidential candidates is among the most subjective (and most often bungled) tasks that the political press self-righteously assigns itself every four years. In the case of Al Gore, the media’s collective failure has been virtually complete. A mythology of compulsive lying has been fabricated by sloppy reporters at such august institutions as The New York Times and the Washington Post , then embellished by parrot-like pundits everywhere.
Nearly all of the examples of supposed prevarication by Mr. Gore-from Love Story to Love Canal-have been effectively discredited. Still the slanders on Mr. Gore persist, thanks to the Republican National Committee and certain eager media accomplices, whose fidelity to facts is far less reliable than a Firestone tire.
The latest frenzy involved two statements by Mr. Gore during his first debate with George W. Bush in Boston. The Vice President said that a Florida girl “has to stand” in her classroom because there weren’t enough desks for all the students. The school principal, a Republican, disputed this remark and the press dutifully branded it as another Gore “lie.”
Actually, Mr. Gore was simply repeating what the girl’s father-also a registered Republican- had said in a letter he wrote to Mr. Gore, along with a Sept. 10 clipping from a local newspaper that included a photograph of Kailey Ellis standing during her science class.
Kailey eventually did get a desk when a fellow student politely gave up his seat, so Mr. Gore’s use of the present tense was technically wrong. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune , however, he was essentially right about Kailey’s plight. The newspaper reported on Oct. 5 that scores of students have been left without desks in terribly overcrowded classes due to recent budget cutbacks. Even with the ease of Internet access, none of the brilliant analysts in the national political press could be bothered with a glance at the local daily to learn the truth.
Then there was Mr. Gore’s assertion that he traveled to Texas in 1996 with James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to visit a fire-ravaged area. Not so, apparently; instead, the Vice President had made that particular trip with the agency’s deputy director, confusing it with one of the 18 other disaster inspections on which he did accompany Mr. Witt over the past several years. That was hardly an intentional falsehood by any reasonable standard, and yet the media blew up the tiny blooper to discredit the Democratic nominee.
It does seem strange that nearly every word spoken by Mr. Gore is pulled from context and parsed beyond recognition to prove his unworthiness, while Mr. Bush rarely suffers even nominal scrutiny of a murky corner of his background: his military service and his business career.
Back when he was being compared with John McCain, Mr. Bush was asked about his 1968 induction into the Texas Air Guard at a time when he was vulnerable to the Vietnam draft. Despite testimony under oath indicating that he received special consideration as the son of a prominent Texas politician, both he and his father denied any misuse of Bush influence. There the matter has rested, except for a few articles in Newsweek and the Boston Globe. But research by Marty Heldt, an Iowa farmer and former railroad brakeman, and Robert A. Rogers, a retired pilot with 11 years service in an Air National Guard unit, has unearthed disturbing new facts about Mr. Bush’s service.
Air Force documents unearthed by Mr. Heldt (and posted on TomPaine.com) appear to show that after receiving costly training to fly the F-102 jet fighter in Texas, Mr. Bush blew off the final two years of his sworn six-year commitment to the Guard. He cleared out of his Houston airbase and went to Alabama in 1972 to work in a Republican Senatorial campaign. Mr. Bush claims he returned to duty, but there is no evidence to support that contention. There are documents indicating that he ignored two orders to report for duty-and that he “failed to accomplish” the annual physical examination required by the Texas Air Guard, resulting in his suspension from flight status in August 1972. Somehow, though, Mr. Bush’s poor attendance record and suspension didn’t prevent him from being honorably discharged months before he had fulfilled his commitment.
The documents provided to Mr. Heldt and Mr. Rogers under the Freedom of Information Act are incomplete because of privacy restrictions. They don’t show, for example, whether a Flight Inquiry Board was convened to investigate Lieutenant Bush’s suspension, as would have been normal procedure, according to Mr. Rogers.
Is Mr. Bush telling the truth when he says he “did the duty necessary” to his country? Maybe some of Mr. Gore’s tiresome tormentors should try to find out.