John Leo

Sure enough, the recovery was only a week or so away. The new cycle may have started with the snorting, smirking, eyeball-rolling Gore performance in the first debate. Or it may have begun because anti-Bush media bias suddenly became an issue in Washington, causing reporters to think twice about the tone of coverage. Charles Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report, said pro-Democratic reporters were "larding their stories with their own ideological biases" because it suddenly looked possible for Gore to win. Howard Kurtz, media reporter for The Washington Post, discussed this possibility seriously under the headline "Are the Media Tilting to Gore?" And columnist Charles Krauthammer attracted a lot of attention with a Sept. 29 column listing the September Page 1 headlines on Gore and Bush in The New York Times. Most of them were so heavily skewed against Bush, he wrote, that "it would take a mollusk to miss the pattern."

The irony here is that believers in the liberal-bias theory seem to have made the competing cyclical theory look more accurate. In September, Republicans complained loudly, with some justification, that the media had ignored Gore's tall tales, specifically the one about arthritis medicine for his mother-in-law's dog, while vastly overplaying the rats issue.

By mid-October, Democrats and liberal commentators were doing the complaining, again with some justification. Margaret Carlson, Jonathan Alter, E.J. Dionne and others were asking why Gore's embellishments were endlessly kicked around in the media while Bush's inaccuracies and off-the-cuff fibs were being ignored. Here we have history's first great wave of liberal whining about conservative bias in Washington political coverage.

Gore had some legitimate beefs. He was, in part, the inspiration for the hero of "Love Story." He never said he discovered Love Canal. He did in fact play a large role in developing the Internet. But there were so many embellishments that reporters kept running with the story. Bush's inaccuracies were duller and harder to explain. Gore's claim that he had accompanied James Lee Witt to Texas was the last straw to many reporters, who began to see the embellishments as a character flaw of some importance. An anti-Gore bias may have come into play. The flood of embellishments crystallized what so many reporters think about Gore -- that he is inauthentic and not very principled. So they never let go of the issue.

Many people predicted the media's pro-Bush turn of early and mid-October, but nobody seems to have predicted that it would be the final cycle. There was plenty of time for the second great Gore comeback, but it never materialized (unless the timely revelation of Bush's drunk driving in 1976 is setting off a whirlwind four-day Gore cycle). Nobody knows why. But on the basis of the media performance in October, the liberal-bias theory seems to be in some trouble.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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