Wash. Post ignored own role in creating false Love Canal story about Gore

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

The Washington Post asserted that "Republicans tarred [Al Gore] in 2000 as someone who claimed to have discovered the Love Canal disaster and invented the Internet." But the Post did not note that the Love Canal smear was based on a falsehood originating in The New York Times and The Washington Post itself, nor did it note that Gore never claimed to have "invented the Internet."

In a May 28 Washington Post article, staff writer Jonathan Weisman asserted that "Republicans tarred [Al Gore] in 2000 as someone who claimed to have discovered the Love Canal disaster and invented the Internet." But Weisman did not note that the Love Canal smear was based on a falsehood originating in The New York Times and The Washington Post itself. First, the paper ran articles on December 1 and 2, 1999, misquoting Gore then the Post waited until December 7 to issue a correction, even though video of Gore's comments was available at least by the evening of December 1, 1999. Additionally, Weisman also ignored the Post's role in perpetuating the myth that Gore said he invented the Internet.

As Media Matters for America noted, on February 17, 2000, Slate.com editor-at-large Jack Shafer wrote that New York Times reporter Katharine Q. "Kit" Seelye and Washington Post staff writer Ceci Connolly were responsible for creating the false Love Canal story: "[I]t's Seelye's fault -- and the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly's -- that folks think Gore claimed credit for Love Canal in the first place. Which he didn't" [emphasis in original].

Connolly wrote in a December 1, 1999, article that Gore said, "I was the one that started it all":

Speaking later at Concord High School, Gore boasted about his efforts in Congress 20 years ago to publicize the dangers of toxic waste.

"I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal," he said, referring to the Niagara homes evacuated in August 1978 because of chemical contamination. "I had the first hearing on that issue."

Gore said he first became aware of the problem when a young girl in Tennessee wrote to him about a mysterious illness that had befallen her father and grandfather. Although few remember his hearings on that site in Toone, Tenn., Gore said his efforts made a lasting impact. "I was the one that started it all," he said.

Gore's shorthand description of Love Canal -- and his failure to note that the hearings he chaired came a few months after President Jimmy Carter declared the neighborhood a disaster area -- were reminiscent of earlier attempts to embellish his role in major events.

He has been ridiculed for claiming to have been the inspiration for the movie "Love Story," and today even he poked fun at his earlier assertion that he invented the Internet.

In a December 2, 1999, article, Connolly wrote:

Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore.

The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie "Love Story" and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal."

Gore went on to brag about holding the "first hearing on that issue" and said "I was the one that started it all."

But yesterday, the Democratic presidential candidate called an Associated Press reporter in upstate New York to play down his role and applaud local residents of the Niagara neighborhood who fought the long battle against the waste site.

"If anybody got the misimpression that I claimed to do what citizens in Love Canal did, I apologize," Gore said in a telephone interview he initiated.

As a junior House member, Gore held hearings in 1978 on the dangers of chemical contamination -- two months after residents evacuated Love Canal.

But Gore did not say "I was the one that started it all," as Connolly wrote, but rather: "that was the one that started it all" [emphasis added] -- a fact that, as Media Matters has also documented, was clear as early as the December 1, 1999, broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball, which, according to the Nexis transcript, 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 and Toonteague (ph), 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 the country. We still have work to do but we made a huge difference, and it all happened because one high school student got involved.

As Gene Lyons wrote in a February 16, 2000, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column:

Speaking at a high school in Concord, N.H., Gore tried to persuade students that individual citizens can make a difference. As an example, he cited a high school girl in Toone, Tenn., who'd alerted his congressional office to a toxic waste dump in the 1970s.

After the young woman alerted him, Gore said: "I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tenn. That was the one that you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all."

The Post ran a correction of Connolly's December 1, 1999, and December 2, 1999, articles on December 7, 1999: "A Dec. 1 article and a Dec. 2 Politics column item about Vice President Gore's involvement in the Love Canal hazardous waste case quoted Gore as saying 'I was the one that started it all.' In fact, Gore said, 'That was the one that started it all,' referring to the congressional hearings on the subject that he called."

A March 5, 2000, column by the Post's ombudsman noted that what Gore actually said about Love Canal was "a whole lot different from The Post's version ... which fits the role The Post seems to have assigned him in Campaign 2000":

As for Love Canal, Gore said that after a high school student contacted him about a toxic waste site in Toone, Tenn., he sought information about other such sites, learned about Love Canal, and used the two as case studies in a hearing that led to legislation aimed at cleaning up such sites. As he put it: "I ... had the first hearing on that issue, and Toone, Tenn. -- that was the one you didn't hear of -- but that was the one that started it all." That is a whole lot different from The Post's version, "I'm the one that started it all," which fits the role The Post seems to have assigned him in Campaign 2000.

From the May 28 Washington Post article:

The Republican National Committee, grumbling John McCain staffers and conservative bloggers have tried for months to label Barack Obama as a serial exaggerator and heir to Al Gore, whom Republicans tarred in 2000 as someone who claimed to have discovered the Love Canal disaster and invented the Internet.

It just wasn't sticking. But yesterday, they thought they'd finally caught him red-handed.

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Jonathan Weisman
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