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During a discussion on the July 15 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources of the news that Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) phone number was among those in the records of alleged "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey, host Howard Kurtz failed to challenge Townhall.com managing editor Mary Katherine Ham's claim that former Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) "uses 300 times" the amount of energy that "the rest of us use." While Ham did not indicate the source of her claim, she was apparently exaggerating unsubstantiated assertions made by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) about Gore's home energy bills, including a claim that his home energy usage was "more than 20 times the national average."
After contrasting Vitter's alleged use of an escort service with his political emphasis on promoting "morality," guest Arianna Huffington, founder and editor of Huffingtonpost.com, asserted that a politician's personal life would be "fair game" if it contradicted issues that he or she had made "the cornerstone of who you are as a political leader." Ham replied: "Well, in that case, we're free to go after the environmentalists who -- like Al Gore, who uses 300 times what the rest of us use."
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, TCPR claimed to have reviewed Gore's home energy bills and found that "[i]n 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh -- more than 20 times the national average. ... As a result of his energy consumption, Gore's average monthly electric bill topped $1,359." But in making their unsubstantiated claims, TCPR omitted some or all of the steps that Gore has reportedly taken to reduce the effect of his home energy usage, and that these steps apparently increased the cost of Gore's energy bills, which were also reported by CNN financial correspondent Ali Velshi and in a February 27 article in The Tennessean of Nashville.
On the February 27 edition of CNN's American Morning, Velshi reported that in response to TCPR's claims, "Gore produced bills that showed he purchased 108 blocks of green power for each of the past 3 months," which cost "about 432 bucks a month extra ... to use solar or other energy sources coming into his house." Velshi reported that "[o]ne group says that's about the equivalent of recycling 2.5 million aluminum cans, or more than a quarter million pounds of newspapers."
The Tennessean article also reported: "Gore purchased 108 blocks of 'green power' for each of the past three months, according to a summary of the bills. That's a total of $432 a month Gore paid extra for solar or other renewable energy sources."
The weblog Think Progress also reported that Gore's office said "Gore's family ... sign[ed] up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch" and "purchas[ed] carbon offsets to offset the family's carbon footprint."
Also, a February 27 Associated Press article questioned TCPR's assertion that the Gores used more than 220,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2006. The AP reported that "according to bills [it] reviewed," "[t]he Gores used about 191,000 kilowatt hours in 2006," while TCPR "said that Gore used nearly 221,000 kilowatt hours." The AP reported that TCPR president Jason "Drew" Johnson "said his group got its figures from Nashville Electric Service. But company spokeswoman Laurie Parker said the utility never received a request from the policy center and never gave it any information."
In addition, the Gores reportedly purchase carbon offsets to allow them to lead "carbon neutral" lives. The Tennessean reported that involved with such "carbon emissions offset[s]" is "figuring out how much carbon is emitted from home power use, and vehicle and plane travel, then paying for projects that will offset that with use of renewable energy, such as solar power." The article further noted that the Gores drive a hybrid SUV and "Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe." According to a Wired magazine profile of Generation Investment Management, "Gore says he and Tipper regularly calculate their home and business energy use -- including the carbon cost of his prodigious global travel. Then he purchases offsets equal to the amount of carbon emissions they generate." From Wired:
The Gores and all the employees of Generation lead a "carbon-neutral" lifestyle, reducing their energy consumption when possible and purchasing so-called offsets available on newly emerging carbon markets. Gore says he and Tipper regularly calculate their home and business energy use - including the carbon cost of his prodigious global travel. Then he purchases offsets equal to the amount of carbon emissions they generate. Last year, for example, Gore and Tipper atoned for their estimated 1 million miles in global air travel by giving money to an Indian solar electric company and a Bulgarian hydroelectric project.
From the July 15 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
KURTZ: So if you talk about morality and you don't live up to those high standards, you're fair game. But if you don't talk about morality --
HUFFINGTON: You're not fair game.
KURTZ: -- you can do whatever you want? Really?
HUFFINGTON: That's what I think. I mean, yes, it's between you and your partner. It's not about your constituents. It's not about the press.
HAM: It's a bit convenient that if you don't happen to subscribe to any particular morals in that area, that you can just run around and do whatever you want to. You still have to answer to the voters. And I think Democrats should be held to a standard as well.
HUFFINGTON: It's not whether you subscribe to it. It's whether you make it the cornerstone of who you are as a political leader.
HAM: Well, in that case, we're free to go after the environmentalists who -- like Al Gore, who uses 300 times what the rest of us use --
KURTZ: Let's keep the focus on personal conduct. And since Larry Flynt, who publishes a magazine filled with naked women, is leading this crusade again, does the press roll over for Flynt in portraying him as a First Amendment champion?
HAM: Well, you know, Larry Flynt is sort of a sideshow. I mean, he -- he's obviously going to go after Republicans for the reason that Arianna mentioned. And I believe he was on Cavuto on Fox a month ago, and Cavuto asked him specifically, "Will you go after Democrats?" He was like, well, well, uh, uh -- he should mention them if he's going to go after Vitter to this extent, I think.
HUFFINGTON: Remember what is interesting here is it was Larry Flynt again who came up with Bob Livingston's extramarital problems which led to Livingston resigning and David Vitter being elected to his seat --
KURTZ: This is back in 1999.
HUFFINGTON: Yes, back in 1999. And then I happened to see Larry Flynt after that. And you know what is interesting? That there was more to be revealed about Bob Livingston, which he did not go on to reveal because he had left public life and he felt therefore it didn't have to -- he didn't have to go there.