If Wired magazine considers its current laudatory cover story on Al Gore to be a sort of make-good for the role the magazine played in launching a phony press accusation against the VP in 2000 -- an accusation that took on a life of its own and helped define Gore as a so-called exaggerator -- than Wired needs to think again. Wired ought to apologize to Gore once and for all. In fact, given Gore's continued renaissance, with him being proven stone-cold right about the dangers of global warming and the insanity of invading Iraq -- two positions the MSM often mocked him for in real time -- it's likely Wired won't be the last outlet forced to issue an apology of sorts for its previously dishonest coverage of Gore. But if Wired acts fact, it could be the first.
Media and political junkies may recall Wired News played a key role in helping create the myth that Gore once awkwardly claimed to have invented the Internet. Indeed, Wired's new Gore profile can't resist revisiting the tale in its headline: "He invented the Internet (sort of)." The inventing-the-Internet charade represented a new low in MSM campaign journalism; a case in which a fabricated story came to dominate the coverage. And make no mistake, it dominated. In researching my new book on Bush and the press, I went back to the 2000 election and counted more than 4,800 television, newspaper and magazine mentions during the campaign of Gore supposedly claiming to have invented the Internet. The fact that it was not true seemed to be of little interest to a press corps often obsessed with tearing Gore down. (Gore was a fake and Bush was authentic, remember?)
The tale was first hatched by the Wired News, the "online home of Wired Magazine." On March 11 1999, Wired's Declan McCullagh posted a nasty article mocking Gore for his little-noticed comments to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Inelegant wording perhaps, but Wired treated Gore's statement as an outrageously false claim. (McCullagh later bragged, "I was the first reporter to question the vice president's improvident boast.") To give the story some oomph, Wired downplayed the real role Gore played legislatively in helping shepherd the Internet's commercial applications to life (even Newt Gingrich vouched for that), did not call the Gore campaign for additional comment or explanation, but did include a quote from conservative flak who ridiculed the VP. In fact, the GOP partisan was the only person apparently contacted by Wired for its Gore story.
The caustic Wired story was quickly picked up by Republicans who, busy planting the Gore-is-a-liar narrative in the press, began the mantra that Gore claimed to have "invented" the Internet. He never did. Nonetheless, pundits on the right (Bill Kristol) and left (Mark Shields) unloaded on Gore, as journalists ran with with the much more pleasing "invented" phrase. Even in its follow-up Gore/internet article, Wired, which knew Gore never claimed to have "invented" anything, effortlessly adopted the GOP spin, reporting in the very first paragraph that Gore "claimed to have invented the Internet." For that, Wired announced in 1999, the VP was "spewing half-witted comments."
Admit it Wired, it's time for that apology.
UPDATE: Despite the fact Wired News is regularly touted in company press releases as the "online home of Wired Magazine," the two outlets have had seperate owners since 1998, which I should have noted. Wired News should be the one apologizing to Gore, not Wired Magazine.