Accuracy in Media

In our last commentary we discussed Newsweek?s killing a story that was slated to run in its January 24th issue about allegations by an old friend of Gore?s named John Warnecke that Gore had been a heavy user of marijuana up until 1976 when he declared his candidacy for Congress. Warnecke said he had supplied Gore with pot, free of charge, and had smoked it with him hundreds of times over a six-year period and that Gore loved it. Gore had told reporters in 1987 that his use of pot was infrequent.

Warnecke says that under pressure from Gore, he supported this claim when reporters asked him about it in 1988. He told them Gore smoked pot a couple of times but he didn?t like it. He said his conscience has bothered him ever since. He confessed his lie to Bill Turque, a Newsweek reporter, who claims he verified Warnecke?s story. He put it in his as yet unpublished biography of Gore. When Newsweek canceled its plan to publish Warnecke?s story, he put it on the Internet, where it was picked up by Matt Drudge and Salon magazine. Questioned about it, Gore told reporters that his use of marijuana was old news, and that he had not used it to the extent Warnecke claimed.

Al Gore has demonstrated over the past seven years that he not only tolerates lying by Bill Clinton, but he?s not above lying himself. Now, in the middle of a campaign, a friend who says he plans to vote for Gore is charging that Gore lied in 1987 about the extent of his marijuana use and is lying today. Increasingly, voters are more willing to support candidates who smoked pot when they were young, but lying should be and is an important issue in a presidential campaign, and one would expect the media to pay attention to a story about the vice president lying about his use of marijuana.

But this Internet story was not reported on any of the network evening news shows. The Associated Press put out a puny 144-word story giving Gore?s denial that he had smoked pot “on a daily basis.” It quoted his statement, “This is something I dealt with a long time ago. It?s old news.” USA Today boiled the AP story down to 85 words. The New York Times treated it as a media story. In six paragraphs at the bottom of page C-11, it said that Newsweek had killed a story about “new allegations of marijuana use by Mr. Gore two and a half decades ago.” It did not describe the allegations and quoted Gore?s claim that it was “old news.”

The Washington Post ran a 450-word story at the bottom of page A-9 under the headline, “Gore Denies Book?s Claim of Daily Pot Use.” It said, “The incident is the latest example of how media coverage of an accusation can intrude on presidential politics.” It implied that Warnecke?s veracity was questionable, not mentioning that a Newsweek reporter had verified his charges. This would have been a big story if it had involved a Republican candidate. The liberal media essentially buried it. In the immortal words of Newsweek?s Eleanor Clift, they cut Gore some slack.

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