On August 28, 1996, Al Gore shared with the Democratic convention and the nation the tragic story of his sister's 1984 death from smoking. He tremulously pledged: "Until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking."
So what would Gore say when his campaign hired Carter Eskew, a consultant who created ads against Sen. John McCain's $1.10-a-pack cigarette tax? Ads Bill Clinton claimed could be "fatal to young children who continue to be seduced and sold illegally cigarettes that will shorten their lives"? He didn't have to say anything. It's another Gore tobacco gaffe the media have barely touched.
Early Smoke Signals. AP reporter Ron Fournier broke the Eskew news late on July 1. The Washington Post and The New York Times followed the next day. These reports mentioned Eskew's tobacco work, but didn't connect it to Gore's passionate anti-tobacco pledge. The Times described Eskew as "a consultant for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies." The Post noted "the Gore-Eskew relationship was frayed when the former aide led the tobacco industry's massive effort to kill anti-smoking legislation." Later that day, CNN's John King suggested Eskew "drew some fire here at the White House" last year on the ads. Other TV coverage? Zero.
The Second Round. On July 9, The New York Times devoted a front page story to Eskew's feud with fellow Gore adviser Bob Squier, his former mentor. The next morning, NPR analyst Daniel Schorr briefly said of Eskew's ties: "Maybe it's the wrong time for that." That night, CNN's Capital Gang aired a segment on the controversy. Mark Shields hit the hypocrisy, complete with video clip: "Here's Al Gore emoting publicly at the convention about his sister's death and the evils of tobacco, and he hires the guy who ran the campaign that sabotaged the only serious legislative effort to curb smoking in this country...How can you do that? Isn't that hypocrisy?"
On the Sunday shows, CNN Late Edition host Wolf Blitzer asked DNC Chairman Roy Romer about the feuding and only mentioned Eskew's tobacco work in passing. On ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos didn't note the speech, but said the tie "can be a problem." Sam Donaldson agreed with Bill Kristol that Bill Bradley could make hay with Gore's convention hypocrisy.
Still Very Still. Except for CNN, no morning or evening network newscast has even mentioned Eskew's name, and neither has Time, U.S. News, or USA Today. This week's Newsweek gave Gore a down arrow in its "Conventional Wisdom Watch," with this oblique reference: "More good news. His two top message meisters aren't on speaking terms."
ABC Good Morning America host Charles Gibson failed to question Gore about it in his Monday interview. CBS This Morning host Russ Mitchell asked that day: "It is said that two of your top advisers are not speaking to each other...how would you assess the state of your campaign right now?" He didn't wonder if Gore's anti-tobacco pledge was just a disposable piece of theatre. - Tim Graham