Ignoring own history of smearing Gore, Matthews claimed "Gore got himself in those problem areas" and repeated smears

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On Hardball, Chris Matthews stated: "Al Gore, he's the one who said he created the Internet. He's the one who put out the word that he was the subject or the role model for Love Story, that he pointed the country's attention to Love Canal. He stuck himself into that story." Matthews concluded: "Gore got himself in those problem areas by vanity and showing off and trying to make himself cool." Matthews' comments echoed debunked falsehoods that were spread by the media, and Matthews in particular, during the 2000 presidential campaign.

On the November 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, New Republic senior editor Michael Crowley asserted that Democrats "believe, fundamentally, process is the reason that [former Vice President Al] Gore and [Sen. John] Kerry [D-MA] lost in 2000 and 2004, that they got slimed. There was the Swift Boats smear that the press turned on Gore in 2000." In response, host Chris Matthews asserted that "there's a big difference between what happened to Al Gore and what happened to Bob -- John Kerry." After stating that Kerry "got hit unfairly by the Swift Boat, attacking his service to his country," Matthews claimed that Gore brought his trouble upon himself, saying: "Al Gore, he's the one who said he created the Internet. He's the one who put out the word that he was the subject or the role model for Love Story, that he pointed the country's attention to Love Canal. He stuck himself into that story." Matthews concluded: "Gore got himself in those problem areas by vanity and showing off and trying to make himself cool." Matthews' comments echoed several old smears and falsehoods characterizing Gore as a "liar" or "exaggerator" that were spread by him and many others in the media during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Contrary to Matthews' characterization, Gore did not say he "created the Internet," nor did he claim, as Matthews has previously asserted, that he "invented the Internet." As Media Matters for America has documented, during the March 9, 1999, interview on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, that gave rise to the myth, Gore said: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Following that interview, numerous media outlets reported that Gore had asserted that he had "invented the Internet" -- a falsehood they continue to cite to this day. Matthews himself repeatedly mentioned this myth during his coverage of the 2000 presidential election. As Media Matters noted, in a September 22, 2000, article, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a Republican who is no friend of the Gore campaign, said earlier this month, 'Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet.' "

Further, Matthews' assertion that Gore "put out the word" that he was the "subject or role model" for the main character in Erich Segal's 1970 romance novel Love Story has been debunked. While Matthews and other media figures asserted during the 2000 campaign that Gore had claimed he was the "subject" of Love Story (examples provided below), Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz and many others have noted:

Gore never made the claim. ... Schmoozing one night about the movies with two Time reporters, Gore had mentioned an interview, reported in the Nashville Tennessean, in which Segal claimed that Gore and Tipper were the models for his story. There was such an interview, but the Nashville reporter misquoted Segal, who actually said that Al, and not Tipper, had served as one of his models.

In addition, Matthews' assertion that Gore said he "pointed the country's attention to Love Canal," a toxic-waste site in upstate New York, echoes a false claim first made in December 1, 1999, articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times and partially retracted in a correction printed in the Post's December 7, 1999, edition and the Times' December 10, 1999, edition, as Media Matters has documented. The allegation was cited by the media throughout the 2000 campaign to describe Gore as an "exaggerator." From the Times' December 1, 1999, article:

Later in the day, Mr. Gore ... said he was the one who had first drawn attention to the toxic contamination of Love Canal. He was telling a school audience that each person can make a difference in the world and he recalled a child writing to him when he was in Congress about a hazardous-waste site in Tennessee.

He then added: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tenn.," he said. "But I was the one that started it all. And it all happened because one high school student got involved."

Mr. Gore held Congressional hearings on the matter in October 1978. But two months earlier President Jimmy Carter had declared Love Canal a disaster area, and the federal government, after much howling by local residents, had offered to buy the homes.

Mr. Gore was not available to answer questions from reporters after he made this statement.

In reality, Gore didn't say "I was the one that started it all" -- he said "that was the one that started it all" [emphasis added] -- a fact that was clear as early as the December 1, 1999, broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball, which played a clip of Gore saying:

GORE: I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal, had the first hearing on that issue in Toone-Teague, Tennessee. That was the one you didn't hear of, but that was the one that started it all. We passed a -- a major national law to clean up hazardous dump sites, and we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around -- around the country. We've still got work to do, but we've made a huge difference, and it all happened because one high school student got involved.

Nor did Gore claim that he had "pointed the country's attention to Love Canal," as Matthews claimed and as the Times originally reported.

Contrary to Matthews' assertion that "Gore got himself in those problem areas," numerous media figures -- including Matthews -- repeatedly highlighted the falsehoods about and smears of Gore during their coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign. Indeed, Politico editor-in-chief John Harris and Time senior political analyst Mark Halperin have argued that the treatment Gore received in 2000 from the "Freak Show" media -- a term they coined in The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 (Random House, 2006) -- played an important role in Gore's loss in the 2000 election. As Harris and Halperin noted in their book, the media in 2000 "exerted intense destructive pressure on Gore," seizing on Gore's "petty frailties" and making them his "defining" characteristics while downplaying Gore's "substantial strengths as a man and politician."

Instances in which Matthews repeated falsehoods about Gore include (taken from the Nexis news database):

  • On the October 11, 2000, edition of Hardball, Matthews asked Democratic strategist Susan Estrich, "Does Al Gore have a truth problem, and is it going to hurt him?" After Estrich replied, "He's got this little problem, but it's not really about truth," Matthews said: "Let me put it this way. ... If you apply to college, or you apply for a job, and you say, 'I discovered Love Canal, I invented the Internet,' these little problems are serious questions of character and resume inflation."
  • On the October 2, 2000, edition of Hardball, Matthews asked NBC correspondent Chip Reid, "While we're watching this, is -- is -- how do they co-- the staff people who are basically working for Al Gore, taking orders from him, how do they stop him from coming up with those fish stories he likes to tell about he invented the Internet or he was there at the creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve."
  • On the September 19, 2000, edition of MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams, reporting on a fundraiser Gore was holding with "the high-tech crowd," Matthews asserted that "everybody wants to show today that they're state of the art. We know what we know. Al Gore's the kind of guy that walks around with a Palm Pilot on his belt. We know that he's even claimed to have invented the Internet."
  • On the December 16, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews reported that the Republican National Committee "opened their Al Gore Store. The store sells items meant to remind voters of the vice president's most memorable moments like 'I invented the Internet' mouse pads and Al's alpha male baseball caps."
  • On the December 2, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews asked former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), "Senator, how did he get this idea? Now you've seen Al -- Al Gore in action. I know you didn't know that he was the prototype for Ryan O'Neal's character in Love Story or that he invented the Internet. He now is the guy who discovered Love Canal." After Simpson asserted that "I came along, and we did the Clean Air Act and the Superfund, and I don't remember Al ever, you know, doing any heavy lifting," Matthews said: "Well, you don't know the beauty of digital movie making. You can now take a guy like him and make him Forrest Gump and put him in that scene with you." Matthews also asserted, "It reminds me of Snoopy thinking he's the Red Baron."
  • On a separate segment of the December 2, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews asserted: "Well, let's talk about Al Gore and have some fun. We've gone into the serious part of the program. Now here's the hilarious part. This is Al Gore in this sort of Zelig co-- condition he finds himself in; you know, the guy who keeps showing up in historic moments in history." Later in the segment, Matthews said of Gore, "What is it, the Zelig guy who keeps saying, 'I -- I was the main character in Love Story, I invented the Internet, I invented Love Canal'?"
  • On the December 1, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews discussed "the amazing assertion by the vice president of the United States, Al Gore, that he was the one -- just as he was the one who invented the Internet, and was the character upon which Love Story the movie was based. Now, apparently, Love Canal, the horror story, was based upon his investigative reporting." Matthews then told presidential historian Douglas Brinkley that "writing about Al Gore is a hard one, because he's almost like Ben Franklin, he invented everything."
  • On the March 16, 1999, edition of Hardball, Matthews asked Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), "[W]hy does Al Gore keep making these -- a bright guy who makes preposterous claims, like he invented the Internet and he starred in Love Story?" Matthews also compared Gore to Moe Greene, the casino-owner character in the movie The Godfather. According to Matthews, Gore is "like Moe Greene, 'I built this highway!' Just like in Godfather, 'I built this place!' " In fact, it was mobster Hyman Roth who asserted in The Godfather: Part II that Greene "had an idea -- to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast" and claimed that "the city [Greene] invented was Las Vegas."

From the November 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Mike, last word. Michael Crowley, who won this big bout?

CROWLEY: Well --

MATTHEWS: Is this going in -- it looks like it might be going in Barack's direction. He seems to want to play it a lot more than Hillary does. She hasn't shown up on camera on this. He's shown up on camera. He seems to want to wallow in this baby.

CROWLEY: You know, I don't know who's won. I think you're right. He's a little more eager to talk about it.

But I want to say, I think Chuck made a great point about the second punch. But I do want to say, the first punch -- the process question -- is so essentially important to Democrats right now, because I think they believe, fundamentally, process is the reason that Gore and Kerry lost in 2000 and 2004, that they got slimed.

There was the Swift Boats smear that the press turned on Gore in 2000. And, so, I think that what's so interesting here is you're seeing this kind of military exercise happening about a nonexistent scandal, where both campaigns are trying to show, we fight back hard and fast, and we squash things right away.

And the Hillary people in particular are trying to say, "We've been through this before and we know how to handle these kinds of stories." Obama is trying to say, "I'm ready for this kind of thing, even though I haven't really been through the meat grinder before."

And it's a reminder how important it is -- how traumatized Democrats are by the kind of media circus that they feel killed them off in the last two elections, and how determined they are to avoid letting that happen again.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you, there's two -- Michael, there's a big difference between what happened to Al Gore and what happened to Bob -- John Kerry.

John Kerry got hit unfairly by the Swift Boat, attacking his service to his country. They conflated his opposition to the war when he came back, which we can all argue about, and his service to a country, his country, which is not really arguable. They trashed him.

But, in terms of Al Gore, he's the one who said he created the Internet. He's the one who put out the word that he was the subject or the role model for Love Story, that he pointed the country's attention to Love Canal. He stuck himself into that story.

And when [New Republic editor-in-chief] Marty Peretz's daughter wrote that piece in the Vanity Fair a couple months ago -- I'm sorry, she didn't make the case. Gore got himself in those problem areas --

[laughter]

-- by vanity and showing off and trying to make himself cool. But John Kerry got unfair treatment. I think there's a big difference, guys, big difference in how those two were treated.

CROWLEY: That may be so, but not --

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.

CROWLEY: -- that's not how most -- many Democrats feel.

MATTHEWS: Well, why would you expect a partisan to think anything more than partisan? That's what partisans do think.

[laughter]

CROWLEY: You're right.

MATTHEWS: Of course you think you were rooked. Everybody that loses an election says they were rooked, OK?

CROWLEY: Sure.

MATTHEWS: And they blame it on the umpire.

CROWLEY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Keep it up. Thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Mike Crowley.

From the October 11, 2000, edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Does Al Gore have a truth problem, and is it going to hurt him?

ESTRICH: He's got this little problem, but it's not really about truth. I mean, you have to say about Clinton that when he lied, at least it was worth it to lie.

MATTHEWS: Right. Let me put it this way --

ESTRICH: Gore -- this is like --

MATTHEWS: -- you're not answering the question --

ESTRICH: -- [former Rep.] Dan Rostenkowski [D-IL] --

MATTHEWS: -- I want to try it again. No --

ESTRICH: -- and postage stamps.

MATTHEWS: -- no. If you apply to college, or you apply for a job, and you say, "I discovered Love Canal, I invented the Internet," these little --

ESTRICH: Oh, no.

MATTHEWS: -- problems are serious questions of character and resume inflation.

From the October 2, 2000, edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: While we're watching this, is -- is -- how do they co-- the staff people who are basically working for Al Gore, taking orders from him, how do they stop him from coming up with those fish stories he likes to tell about he invented the Internet or he was there at the creation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Do they fear he might let loose with own of those babies in tomorrow night's debate?

REID: It's always a worry that he would exaggerate in the same way the Bush people are worried that he will flub a line or get something wrong. But my guess is that both of them are so cautious on that kind of thing that it's unlikely that Al Gore is going to do any exaggerating in this. And from what you just heard him talking about, you heard him talking about this discussion, this -- it sounds like a calm discussion he wants to have with the American people. They're trying to get him out of worrier mode. They don't want him to be this gladiator debater who goes in and chops George Bush to pieces. That will not work. They want him to talk in calm tones about the problems of real people, and at times, they say, it will be as though he's ignoring the fact that George Bush is even on the stage, talking directly to the American people about the policies and the issues that they care about.

MATTHEWS: Thanks a lot, Chip Reid, who's down in Florida with Gore.

From the September 19, 2000, edition of MSNBC's The News with Brian Williams:

WILLIAMS: More tonight from Chris Matthews, the host of the MSNBC Hardball, who joins us now from a stop on the Gore campaign in Mountain View, California, where I understand Air Force Two has just rolled to a stop -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Brian, you're right on time tonight, I'm standing here on this platform. Right behind me is Air Force Two with the vice president arriving here for his big fundraiser among the high-tech crowd.

WILLIAMS: Chris, let's talk about what's going to be done tonight, what kind of amounts are going to be raised? And is there a political purpose in addition to the fund-raising stuff on this trip?

MATTHEWS: Well, of course, everybody wants to show today that they're state of the art. We know what we know. Al Gore's the kind of guy that walks around with a Palm Pilot on his belt. We know that he's even claimed to have invented the Internet.

Tonight in terms of dollars and cents, about $3 million. That's not big money, it's not chump change, but it's not big money compared to what the Republicans have been able to raise among the high-tech crowd, about twice that amount.

So Gore is the underdog in the high-tech world, even though he's got that Palm Pilot.

From the December 16, 1999, edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: The Republican National Committee. Today they opened their Al Gore Store. The store sells items meant to remind voters of the vice president's most memorable moments like "I invented the Internet" mouse pads and Al's alpha male baseball caps. Proceeds from the sale go to the United Way. Republicans say they hope to raise more money from Al Gore -- than Al Gore himself donated to charity in 1997.

From the December 2, 1999, edition of Hardball:

GORE [video clip]: I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal, had the first hearing on that issue, and Toone-Teague, Tennessee; that was the one you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all. We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dump sites. And we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around--around the country. We've still got work to do. But we've made a huge difference. And it all happened because one high school student got involved.

MATTHEWS: "I found a little town in upstate New York called Love Canal." Bob Reich, Mr. -- Mr. Secretary, professor, what is it in a man that makes him build a mountain out of a molehill?

ROBERT REICH (former Clinton administration labor secretary): Well, I don't know, Chris. Maybe he doesn't want to emphasize his starring role as vice president. He wants to talk about something else. Change the subject.

MATTHEWS: It reminds me of Snoopy thinking he's the Red Baron. I mean -- I mean, how did he g-- Senator, how did he get this idea? Now you've seen Al -- Al Gore in action. I know you didn't know that he was the prototype for Ryan O'Neal's character in Love Story or that he invented the Internet.

SIMPSON: How do you --

MATTHEWS: He now is the guy who discovered Love Canal.

SIMPSON: How do you get into that kind of a box as a politician? It makes no sense. It's like -- it -- it -- it's fantasy land. I was on the Environment and Public Works Committee. I came along, and we did the Clean Air Act --

MATTHEWS: Right.

SIMPSON: -- and the Superfund, and I don't remember Al ever, you know, doing any heavy lifting. I -- he wasn't lifting timbers.

MATTHEWS: Well, you don't know the beauty of digital movie making. You can now take a guy like him and make him Forrest Gump and put him in that scene with you.

From the December 2, 1999, edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about Al Gore and have some fun. We've gone into the serious part of the program. Now here's the hilarious part. This is Al Gore in this sort of Zelig co--condition he finds himself in; you know, the guy who keeps showing up in historic moments in history. Here he is. Here's what Al Gore said today about putting Love Canal on the map. He said this the other day.

GORE [video clip]: I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal; had the first hearing on that issue in Toone-Teague, Tennessee. That was the one you didn't hear of, but that was the one that started it all. We passed a -- a major national law to clean up hazardous dump sites, and we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around -- around the country. We've still got work to do, but we've made a huge difference, and it all happened because one high school student got involved.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's the vice president of the United States stepping into an elaborate trap of his own construction. Here's Lois Gibbs, the woman who did blow the whistle on Love Canal talking here on Hardball last night.

[excerpt from December 1, 1999, Hardball]

GIBBS: I would say he was reading the newspapers --

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

GIBBS: -- that he did find it, but he -- he held hearings in March of '79. In -- August 2nd of 1978, 239 families were evacuated.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

GIBBS: There was emergency declaration by the president and by the state. So, you know, by the time he got involved --

MATTHEWS: Kicked in, yeah.

GIBBS: -- at Love Canal, it was quite a ways down that road.

[end of excerpt]

MATTHEWS: Right. Twenty-six front-page stories in The New York Times about Love Canal, f-- action by Jimmy Carter, the president of the United States, incredible knowledge by the whole country of Love Canal at the point that Al Gore stepped into the story and began to identify it by holding hearings.

Here's what Al Gore said last night to clear the air in retracting his claim that he discovered the Love Canal story. Quote, "If anybody got the misimpression that I claimed to do what citizens in Love Canal did, I apologize. I give credit to Lois Gibbs and her neighbors for raising Cain. Many people were stirred up, appropriately so, before I ever even found out about it.'

Well, there's Al Gore. What is it, the Zelig guy who keeps saying, "I -- I was the main character in Love Story, I invented the Internet --

ED ROLLINS (Republican strategist): I think he's --

MATTHEWS: -- I invented Love Canal"?

ROLLINS: I think he has Edmund Morris writing his speeches for him. The -- the -- the -- the reality is that Al Gore needs to be Al Gore. He needs to write his own scripts.

MATTHEWS: He's not happy with being Al Gore.

From the December 1, 1999, edition of Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Let's go to New Orleans for another little aspect of New York politics. That's the amazing assertion by the vice president of the United States, Al Gore, that he was the one -- just as he was the one who invented the Internet, and was the character upon which Love Story the movie was based. Now, apparently, Love Canal, the horror story, was based upon his investigative reporting. I don't know what you make this Doug Brinkley, but writing about Al Gore is a hard one, because he's almost like Ben Franklin, he invented everything.

From the March 16, 1999, edition of Hardball:

Rep. JOE SCARBOROUGH (R-FL): We--we've been doing--we've been doing such a good job over the past four years on P.R., I think it's really starting to help these national candidates. Now I think, you know, Al Gore -- you know, give Al Gore a task, and he does a great job, as far as vice president, whether you agree with him or not because he's sort of this life-time senator bureaucrat type. But I -- I just don't see the leadership there. And -- and for this guy to come out, give a vision of where he wants America to go in the 21st century, I think it's gonna be a hard sell. I mean, we -- every time he steps out, he stubs his toe, whether it was the no-controlling precedent situation, or now he's the father of the Internet or the fifth Beatle or whatever it was. And -- and -- and -- and --

MATTHEWS: He invented the Internet, he said.

SCARBOROUGH: He invented the Internet and, also, you know, he was in Ryan -- you know, Ryan O'Neal's story --

TOM SQUITIERI (USA Today reporter): Love Story.

SCARBOROUGH: -- Love Story. So this guy steps on his -- sort of steps on his toe a good bit.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, he was the guy who was making the snowprints there with Ali MacGraw.

SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. He was -- he was Ali MacGraw's -- and, of course, he -- he -- he's -- I think we're gonna be able to embarrass him --

MATTHEWS: Why does he do this stuff? Bob Wexler, a co-Democrat with this fellow, why does Al Gore keep making these -- a bright guy who makes preposterous claims, like he invented the Internet and he starred in Love Story?

Rep. ROBERT WEXLER (D-FL): Well, you know, you -- you guys will just pick on anything.

MATTHEWS: I'm just asking.

WEXLER: And here's a guy who's a bright guy. He's taken on the super information highway as an issue. He brought into Congress -- he --

MATTHEWS: He built that. He's like Moe Greene, "I built this highway!" Just like in Godfather, "I built this place!"

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, he remembers when Vegas was a ghost town.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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