Accuracy in Media

Since the presidential debates on October 3 and 11, Vice President Gore has suffered a loss of credibility that has been reflected in the polls. On Oct. 3, he told two stories that were soon exposed in the media as false, and Gore apologized on Oct. 11 for having gotten “some of the details wrong.” This was a lot easier to understand than the disagreements over numbers.

Responding to a question from Jim Lehrer about his experience in handling crises, Bush mentioned the fires that swept Parker County, Texas in 1996 and also his having gone to an area where he saw heart-breaking damage caused by floods. He gave credit to James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for having “done a real good job of working with governors in time of crisis.”

Gore, who had responded to the same question, chimed in, complimenting Bush on his response “to those fires and floods.” He said, “I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out. And FEMA has been a major flagship of our reinventing government efforts.” This implied that he and Witt had gone to Texas for the purpose of surveying the damage.

The Bush campaign pounced on this. The Washington Times lead story on Oct. 5, reported, “The Bush campaign said Mr. Gore visited Houston on June 25, 1998, not during the 1996 fires to which Mr. Bush was referring. They said Mr. Gore attended a hastily arranged airport briefing on the fires before he drove off to a political fundraiser. Mr. Witt was not with Mr. Gore during the briefing.”

Gore acknowledged that he was wrong about traveling with Witt and admitted having gone to Houston, “possibly for a fundraiser.” The Washington Times quoted his spokesman as saying that Gore had “traveled down to Texas in June of ’98, flew over the fires and then did an event with Buddy Young.” Buddy Young is the director of FEMA’s Region VI, headquartered in Denton, Texas. He headed Bill Clinton’s state trooper security detail when he was governor of Arkansas. His FEMA appointment was one of the first of Clinton’s “efforts to reinvent government.” His one qualification was that he knew a lot of Clinton’s dark secrets, kept his mouth shut and tried to get others to do the same, illegally dangling promises of federal jobs like his. Gore could rely on Buddy Young to back him up.

Another Gore story involved a student at Sarasota High in Florida. He said he had just received a letter from Randy Ellis, whose daughter Kaylie was in a science class that was so overcrowded that “she has to stand during class.” Ellis sent a newspaper clipping showing Kaylie standing in class. Gore said he wanted the federal government to make school improvement its number one priority so she could sit at a desk.

The problem arose on the first day of school because the class-room was being refurbished and a lot of unpacked new equipment was taking up space. Kaylie had to stand for one 50-minute period. Subsequently the Sarasota paper reported that Kaylie and some other students had to stand at times during the first few weeks of school, but the problem was solved without federal intervention. Gore could have learned that very easily with a phone call, but the story was too good to check out. Telling it was not a lie, but it was a close relative. Sarasota High’s facilities rival those of any high school in the nation.

Gore also told about a school in Dade County, Florida that was so overcrowded that the first lunch period started at 9:30 a.m. Albert Carvalho, the public information officer of Dade County, says that the first lunch period at the school Gore visited begins at 10:30 a.m. so Gore exaggerated by an hour. But Dade County schools are seriously overcrowded. Carvalho says that at 30 of the 318 schools in the county the first lunch period does begin at 9:30, vindicating Gore’s claim.

But Gore went on to say, “Look, this is a funding crisis all around the country.” He wants the federal government to solve it, but Albert Carvalho says that the only way to solve the overcrowding in Dade County is to have buildings that can be dropped into place at the beginning of each school year. The problem, he says, is that their school system has to absorb 19,000 new foreign-born students each year. They don’t know how many of them are illegal, and they are not allowed to consider them in planning new schools. If Gore doesn’t know this it is because he hasn’t asked. It suits him better to cite a situation unique to communities with heavy immigration as an example of what is happening everywhere. To tell the truth about it would raise the issue of immigration control and enforcement, an area that neither he nor Bush has been eager to discuss.


Senator Joseph Lieberman denies that he has changed his position on any issue since he became Gore’s running mate. A number of positions that he has taken in the past are clearly at odds with those of the vice president. They include school vouchers, the partial privatization of social security, affirmative action and tort reform. Lieberman’s spokesman insists that he has not changed his views on any of these, that he is just not disagreeing publicly with Gore. Bill Bennett has dissolved his alliance with Lieberman to shame Hollywood into removing the filth and violence from its products. He says that Lieberman has sold out. That is what Gore did in 1987.

In 1985, Tipper Gore was a founder of the Parents Music Re-source Center (PMRC), together with the wives of three other senators. Their goal was to combat the vile rock lyrics that were sweeping the country. The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on this in Sept. 1985, angering the music industry.

When Gore decided in 1987 to run for president, he and his wife met with top officials of the industry in Los Angeles. He said that the hearings had been a mistake, sending the wrong message. He blamed the Republicans. He lied, claiming he had not been in favor of holding them. The truth is that when the hearings began, he commended the chairman for holding them and said that because of his wife’s involvement in the issue, “I have really gained an education in what is involved.”

Gore’s political ambition won out over his desire to get Holly-wood to clean up its act, and Tipper promptly resigned from the PMRC. This has paid off in campaign contributions. Hollywood has helped bankroll the Clinton-Gore campaigns. At a Holly-wood fundraiser in September that raised a record $4.2 million, Lieberman personally reinforced the messages sent by Tipper Gore and others when the senator was selected as the running mate that they had nothing to fear. He assured them that he and Al admired the industry and that they would never try telling them by law what to make.

On Aug. 13, on Meet the Press, Tim Russert played a videotape from April 25, 1999, on which Lieberman said, “We’re coming dangerously close in the entertainment industry…to the point where they’re going to invite legal restrictions on their freedom…and they’re going to be held accountable.” Lieberman’s response was that this was a warning that if they didn’t take voluntary action there would be others “who will look for legal restrictions.” As Bill Bennett said, his “powerful, direct criticisms mutated into lavish praise.”

Big Bucks For A Veto

Before Lieberman signed on as Gore’s running mate, he was a strong advocate of tort reform. He supported the Common Sense Liability Reform Act, a bill that passed the House 259-158 and the Senate 61-37. This bill was an anathema to trial lawyers who have grown fabulously rich on fees they have been awarded in suits against the tobacco industry and others. It provided protection to defendants against damages for harm caused by the plaintiff’s use of tobacco or alcohol, reduced manufacturers’ liability, limited punitive damages and required plaintiffs to prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

On Sept.14, 2000, it was reported in the New York Times, the Washington Times and the Washington Post that there was evidence that in 1995 Vice President Gore had solicited contributions of $100,000 each from several wealthy Texas trial lawyers who were given reason to believe that Clinton would veto the Common Sense Liability Reform Act.

The Washington Times published portions of “Call Sheets,” memos prepared for Gore and Donald Fowler, national chairman of the Democratic National Committee. One prepared for Gore dated Nov. 30, 1995, asked him to call Walter Umphrey, a Texas trial lawyer, and ask for a contribution of $100,000 to the DNC’s media fund. It said, “He is closely following tort reform.” That meant that he had keen interest in seeing the tort reform bill vetoed. The call sheet prepared for Fowler on Dec. 13, 1995, asked him to call Umprhey and say, “Sorry you missed the Vice President. I know will give $100K when the President vetoes Tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP, if possible.” The New York Times reported that five Texas lawyers and their firms gave the DNC $909,000 in 1995-96, $1,006,420 in 1997-98 and $2,565,000 in 1999-2000.

As promised, the bill was vetoed by President Clinton on May 2, 1996. A deeply disappointed Senator Lieberman told The Wall Street Journal that the trial lawyers were “a small group of people who are deeply invested in the status quo, who have worked the system very effectively and have had a disproportionate effect.” They worked the system by making very large contributions to Democratic politicians and the Democratic National Committee.

Dan Gerstein, Sen. Lieberman’s spokesman, is sure that the senator has not changed his views on tort reform, but he was unaware of any statement he has made on the issue recently. He didn’t know how Lieberman reacted to the stories about Gore seeking contributions from trial lawyers using the veto of the tort reform bill as bait. This is the kind of misconduct that Sen. Lieberman might have condemned publicly, as he did Bill Clinton’s lying about the Lewinsky matter, if he had known of it at the time. Deferring to Gore’s views on tort reform and other issues is a sacrifice of principle, but remaining silent about Gore peddling a veto to a wealthy special interest group shows that Lieberman is becoming Gorified.

Joe Defends Al’s Lies

Appearing on CNN’s “Late Edition” on Sunday, October 8, Sen. Lieberman defended Gore’s story about his mother-in-law, Mrs. Aitcheson, having to pay nearly three times as much for her arthritis medicine as the cost of the same medicine for his dog. He may have seen the vice president’s senior strategist, Tad Devine, grilled on this subject that morning on Fox News Sunday. Devine did not acquit himself very well. He said that when Gore told that story he was trying to show that prescription drug costs in this country are out of control. He said, “It’s a perfect example of the fact that millions of seniors across this country are paying more for prescription drugs than animals are paying for drugs.”

Tony Snow and Brit Hume wanted to know if Mrs. Aitcheson paid for the medicine herself. Devine replied, “I’m not sure whether she pays for it, he pays for it, who in the family pays for it.” Hume asked, “Does she, by any chance, get those drugs free through him?” Devine said he didn’t know, but he promised to inquire and get back to them. He has not done so.

As his interview on CNN’s “Late Edition” was nearing its end, Sen. Lieberman steered the discussion to this subject. He said, “We ought to be talking about those kinds of issues, not this nonsense about…the famous story about Al Gore’s mother-in-law and the dog and the prescription drug benefits. That was a real story. And the point is one that is not exaggeration to tens of millions of senior citizens in America who know that they are paying more for the same prescription drugs than most of the rest of us are for ourselves and, indeed, for our pets.” This shows that Lieberman is succumbing to Gore’s affliction-reckless exaggeration. The largest drugstore chain in the Washington area says they have never heard of seniors being required to pay more than anyone else for the same prescription drugs. Actually, seniors get a 10 percent discount.

Lieberman’s assertion that seniors pay more than others was not just a careless slip of the tongue. Three days later, Gore, in the second presidential debate, said: “There are seniors who pay more for their prescriptions than a lot of other people, more than their pets sometimes….” In the Oct. 17 debate he referred to those “who are tired of having their parents and grandparents pay more for their prescription drugs than anybody else.”

The Gore-Lieberman claim that seniors pay more for their drugs than people pay for the same drugs for their pets is also false. Lodine, the drug that Gore claimed his mother-in-law takes for arthritis, is one of the very few drugs that is also sold for animals. The brand name for the animal drug is Etogesis. The the price per milligram of Etogesis is on average about 8 percent higher than the price for Lodine. Gore and Lieberman overlooked the fact that the dose for humans is much larger than the dose for pets. They also overlooked the 45 percent savings Mrs. Aitcheson could make by buying the generic version of Lodine.

This assumes that she is actually taking the drug, which may not be true. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter said flatly that Gore made this story up to make a point. Gore relied on a comparison of drug prices done by Democratic House staffers for use in congressional campaigns. It would be very much in character for Gore to try to make the numbers more interesting by attaching them to his mother-in-law and his dog. He has not provided any evidence that proves that either one of them takes the drug.

In any case, the point of the story is clearly false. The Lodine tablets for humans cost more than the tablets for pets because they contain more of the active ingredients that relieve arthritis. Dan Gerstein, Lieberman’s spokesman, didn’t know that. Nor did he know of any basis for the claim that seniors pay more for prescription drugs than others do. Lieberman should acknowledge the falsity of those statements. He should also try to find out if Mrs. Aitcheson really takes Lodine. If she doesn’t, he should demand that Gore admit it and apologize. The old Joe Lieberman might have done that, but the new Joe Lieberman probably won’t. The media should be pressing him and Gore to correct the false information they have spread on this subject, but they aren’t doing so. And Lieberman has become too Gorified to prove that he hasn’t abandoned all his principles.

By Cliff Kincaid

Governor George W. Bush has been under relentless attack by anti-death penalty groups because of his record on capital punishment. Texas leads the nation in executions, accounting for one-third of the nation’s total. The attacks have taken their toll. A visit to the Bush for President Web site shows that on the crime issue capital punishment isn’t even mentioned.

If his advisers thought this approach would fend off the attacks, they were sadly mistaken. A Sept. 22 front-page article in the New York Times by Raymond Bonner and Ford Fessenden tried to show that the death penalty does not reduce homicides. Acknowledging that homicide rates have been falling in Texas and the other 38 states that have the death penalty, it said that homicide rates were also falling in the 12 states that have no death penalty. The story was a strong pitch for abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The graph that accompanied the article actually undermined its thesis. It showed that the homicide rate in Texas, which was 15.8 per 100,000 in 1991 compared to 12 per 100,000 for Michigan, declined at a faster rate than Michigan’s through 1998, the latest year for which data are available. Michigan has never had the death penalty. The homicide rate in Texas fell to 6.8 per 100,000 in 1998, a decline of 57 percent. The Michigan rate fell to 7.3 per 100,000, a decline of 39 percent.

There are other factors involved in this decline. There has been a general crackdown on crime in Texas that is reflected in the effective abolition of parole for violent offenders, tougher punishments for juvenile offenders, and a right-to-carry law that allows law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon to protect themselves. But the vigorous application of the death penalty is believed to be a factor as well.

Expert Advice Ignored

This is the view of Professor Isaac Ehrlich of the economics department at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who has developed sophisticated ways of measuring the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Ford Fessenden consulted Prof. Ehrlich, seeking his evaluation of what Fessenden described as his own “minor bit of fact gathering” for a New York Times story “on the experience in states that have never passed a death penalty.” He asked Ehrlich if he would agree that “there’s no evidence here that the death penalty lowers murder rates in states that use it, compared to states that don’t.”

Unwelcome Advice

Ehrlich replied that the “minor bit of fact gathering” was “a throwback to the vintage 1960s statistical analyses done by criminologists who compared murder rates in neighboring states where capital punishment was either legal or illegal.” He said, “The statistics involved in such comparisons have long been recognized as devoid of scientific merit.”

He told Fessenden that what he needed was “an analysis that can isolate a variety of factors that influence the murder rate, including not just the legal status or even the actual enforcement of the death penalty, but also the probability of apprehension, the probability of conviction or punishment by imprisonment, the rate of unemployment, the degree of inequality in income distribution, and related economic factors that vary across the states being compared.” Ehrlich has done several such studies.

He also told him about another study that was soon to be submitted to an economics journal by a team from Emory University, headed by Hashem Dezhbakhsh, the head of Emory’s economics department. Ehrlich said that this study, using the proper statistical methodology, had found that states that enforced the death penalty had experienced a statistically significant reduction in the homicide rate.

Fessenden contacted Prof. Dezhbakhsh, who told him that the study, which used data from over 3000 U.S. counties for 1977 through 1996, suggested that capital punishment has a very strong deterrent effect. That was not what the Times was looking for. Fessenden did not mention this study in his story. Ehrlich sent a letter to the Times denouncing Fessenden’s analysis as devoid of merit and criticizing the article as one-sided.

Is 9 To 1 One-Sided?

One-sided it certainly was. In the main story, there were quotes from ten people about the death penalty. Nine were opposed to it and their reasons were given. One, a former prosecutor in Hawaii, said he knew of no proven studies that said the death penalty was a deterrent, but he favored it for some crimes, including contract killings and the murder of police officers.

In a side bar, Fessenden said his analysis showed that homicide rates had not declined any more in states with the death penalty than in others. At the very end, he quoted what Prof. Ehrlich had told him about the evidence that the death penalty shows “a significant deterring effect” when a number of different factors are taken into account. He then added, “Most criminologists, however, discount Professor Ehrlich’s work.”

The article said, “In most states with the death penalty, life without parole is not an option for jurors. In Texas, prosecutors have successfully lobbied against legislation that would give juries the option of life without parole instead of the death penalty.” A prosecutor in Michigan was quoted as saying that the attitude in Texas reflects a desire “to extract a pound of flesh.” The article ended with this statement by a Detroit prosecutor, “If you’re after retribution, vengeance, life in prison without parole is about as punitive as you can get.” Polls show that 60 percent of Michigan residents disagree.

12 Lives That Could Have Been Saved

Texas used to have life sentences without parole, but it didn’t mean life without parole. Back in the 1960s, Kenneth McDuff was sentenced to death in Texas for killing three teenagers. His sentence was changed to life without parole when the Supreme Court overturned the death penalty. Then a liberal judge ruled that Texas prisons were overcrowded, and McDuff was freed from prison and proceeded to murder 12 women. He was captured and sentenced to death again after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. McDuff was finally executed last year. Had he been executed for killing the three teenagers, the lives of twelve women would have been spared.

The Supreme Court is under both domestic and international pressure to abolish the death penalty. Judge Robert Bork, the target of a vicious liberal smear campaign when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, points out that Justice Steven Breyer recently wrote an opinion suggesting that the death penalty may be unfair because prisoners suffer by being kept on death row too long.

Breyer, a Clinton appointee, said the issue ought to be decided by examining the views of foreign courts, such as the Privy Council of Jamaica, the Supreme Court of India, and the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. Judge Bork commented, “This is a judicial version of black helicopters.” He added, “I am not sure why the Constitution of the United States, which has its own history and understood meaning, should be affected in any way by what foreign courts have to say about their constitutions.”

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