What Gore Feeding Frenzy?
by L. Brent Bozell III
September 4, 1997
Perhaps no group is more familiar with the world of current events than Washington reporters and editors. Lynn Sweet is Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, a prestigious journalistic post that certainly demands someone in the know. But when last week's scoop on Vice President Al Gore popped up - what he claimed had just been a "few" phone calls to donors from the White House were actually 71 - Sweet claimed on CNBC's "Equal Time" the Gore story had been subject to a never-ending drumbeat: "This story, the whole involvement of the Vice President has been at the forefront of [news] this whole month, [and] ever since March. From the Buddhist temple to whether or not he did or did not make phone calls."
There's just one problem with this statement:. It's about as plausible as the notion that 71 illegal phone calls constitute a "few." The Al Gore Buddhist Temple fundraiser story got almost zero news coverage when The Washington Post broke it last October - or when the Thompson hearings took up the immunity of nuns in the Buddhist temple fundraiser in July. (ABC and NBC ignored them completely.)
The brief flurry over Gore's phone frenzy in early March lasted less than a week. It happened again last week, when Gore's press-conference claims were exposed as a lie. ABC's "World News Tonight" and "CBS Evening News" aired one story. But "NBC Nightly News" did nothing. On September 3, The Washington Post noted the supposed soft-money contributions Gore solicited ended at least partially in hard-money accounts, leading to a Justice Department announcement of a preliminary inquiry into a special counsel. Only ABC's "World News Tonight" explained the Post's hard vs. soft money distinctions. NBC's Tim Russert missed that point in a two-minute interview. CBS gave the Justice probe just 17 seconds - one-third of the 48 seconds CBS didn't devote to the Diana story that night.
Sweet's other-worldly claim of a Gore feeding frenzy isn't unique. this year, maybe.
Trivial pursuit is the name of the game in today's news rooms. News about illegal activities by the Vice President of the United States arrives 20 minutes into the show, after the health news, the celebrity news, the weather news - if it appears at all. Here again, Lynn Sweet is not exactly on top of media trends. On CNBC a few months ago, Sweet claimed "almost every news show" leads every night with "a story out of Washington. Now don't tell me in this whole big country, always the most important thing coming out is the White House or Washington. I'm sure we could take up a survey, if we looked at it, a huge percent, a majority of those [first] stories are politics and government." If journalists like Sweet were to spend more time watching the news instead of just talking about it, they'd understand how inane that thinking is.