Fournier’s Amnesia

Via Atrios, we’ve spotted the Associated Press’ Ron Fournier writing revisionist history about his own coverage of Al Gore’s 2000 campaign.

Yesterday, in a story on truth vs. distortion thus far in the 2004 campaign, Fournier wrote: “Few of [Bush’s and Kerry’s] assertions [about each other] are patently wrong; most reside in the murky gray area between correct and incorrect — a rhetorical margin of error. Just as Bush convinced many Americans in 2000 that Democrat Al Gore fabricated his biography and record, Bush and Kerry hope to open a credibility gap.”

A little research, however, points out that Bush had a little help in convincing some voters that Al Gore had fabricated his biography and record in 2000 — from, among others, Ron Fournier.

Let us return for a moment to yesteryear, and the brouhaha that ensued over Al Gore’s supposed claim that he “invented the internet.” To catch everyone up, we turn to a piece by Jane Hall in the September/October 2000 Columbia Journalism Review:

Gore has been quoted directly — in derisive comments by Republicans as well as in news stories — as claiming that he “invented” the Internet. In fact, what he said in that interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was, “During my service in Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” He may have been self-aggrandizing. But he didn’t say he invented the Internet — and, as several Internet experts said when the jokes came flying, Gore did play an important role while in Congress in developing the Internet.

The CNN interview Hall referred to took place in March 1999. On June 26, Ron Fournier reported, “Gore told CNN last week that he helped create the Internet.” (It is unclear what interview Fournier was referring to; Campaign Desk has been unable to find a June interview with Gore including such remarks).

But just days later, on July 1, Fournier began sliding down the slippery slope into the “murky gray area between correct and incorrect” by reporting, “[Gore] was criticized for appearing to suggest that he invented the Internet,” without providing the actual language Gore used in the CNN interview.

A few months later, on March 15, 2000, the day after Gore secured the nomination over Bill Bradley, Fournier introduced Gore as a candidate who “once claimed to have invented the Internet.”

Fournier’s negligence shined later that year on August 31, 2000. That day Fournier wrote two dispatches covering a negative ad released by the Bush campaign, leading each with a slightly different paraphrase of Gore’s Internet comment.

Fournier writing from Louisville, KY:

Going negative and getting personal, the Republican Party is questioning Al Gore’s credibility with a TV ad reminding voters about his Buddhist temple fund-raiser and the time he took credit for the Internet. [Emphasis ours.]

Fournier writing from Holland, OH:

Making an issue of Al Gore’s credibility, Republicans plan to air an ad reminding voters of his fund-raising visit to a Buddhist temple and his suggestion that he invented the Internet. [Emphasis ours.]

In short, if Bush was influential in 2000 in wrongly convincing many that Gore had embellished his resume, Fournier, given the wide distribution of AP, was one of his handmaidens.

Funny how memory plays tricks on a guy.

Thomas Lang

Correction: The above has been corrected to reflect the true date of Gore’s March 1999 interview.

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.