By Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center
eporters would like the public to believe that they, more than anyone, despise hypocrisy in public figures the televangelist with the prostitute, the Just Say No anti-drug crusaders allegedly funding crack dealers in the inner cities through anti-Communist rebels. But that appetite for exposÚs has never extended to Al Gore, the passionate environmentalist with the zinc-mining royalties.
Today's Wall Street Journal carried a story by crack investigative reporter Glenn R. Simpson titled "From Al to Zinc: Story of a Mine Shows How a Fatherly Favor Still Haunts Gore." That headline is inaccurate: Gore's zinc royalties have never haunted Gore, at least in public. (Insert exasperated sigh here.)
Simpson begins by noting that the rare mineral germanium, combined with zinc, "for which Carthage is the primary source in the Western Hemisphere," is "increasingly used in fiber optics and other sophisticated communications equipment." Bully for the Internet inventor.
He then discounts the political value of Gore's mining investment: "Though any pollution from zinc mining on the Gore property is minor and the campaign calls the accusation 'old and tired,' the plant that processes the zinc 100 miles away in Clarksville is a high-pollution Superfund site, and a previously undisclosed Environmental Protection Agency study cites it for dangerous contamination. But in another irony, if zinc has been Mr. Gore's friend, he has been the industry's enemy pushing to declare it a toxic substance requiring tougher regulation." (Simpson also softens the case against Gore later by noting "The state of Tennessee doesn't consider it dangerous.")
This "old and tired" accusation against Gore the strident voice who railed against the "ecological Kristallnacht" making a half-million in mining royalties--would be a brand-new story to almost every American voter. It first came to the national media's attention on August 15, 1992, when Washington Post investigative reporter Charles Babcock did a story. (Okay, it was buried inside the paper on a Saturday.)
Babcock began: "Next month, Democratic vice presidential nominee Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) will receive a $ 20,000 check for the mineral rights on his farm in Carthage, Tenn., just as he has almost every year since 1974.
"The check is the product of an unusually valuable lease for zinc rights his father, Albert Gore Sr., negotiated with the late legendary oil man, Armand Hammer, and passed on to him. A review of candidate Gore's personal finances, based on his financial disclosure statements, land records and interviews, shows that the $ 330,000 he has collected from the lease over the years has been his most important source of income after his salary."
Later, after ticking off other details of Gore's financial disclosure forms, Babcock noted the unusually lucrative arrangement: "The $20,000 a year amounts to $227 an acre, much more than the $30 an acre Occidental Minerals, part of Hammer's oil company, paid the senior Gore and some neighbors a few years before the 1973 arrangement was made. For the first 11 years, Occidental paid the younger Gore $190,000 for the lease without mining under the property because it never built a mine in the area."
Babcock also wondered how Gore Junior, who said he made "slightly above slave wages" as a reporter at the time Hammer dealt with his father, could buy the property from dear old Dad. "Land records show the younger Gore paid his father $140,000 for the property and the lease (his father keeping the first $20,000 lease payment), and took out a $100,000 mortgage. The down payment came from profits from two previous real estate investments, Gore Jr. said."
You would think details like these would have raised lots of journalistic eyebrows. We can easily play the conservative critic's parlor game: If Gore were a Republican, how many camera crews would have been on the next plane to Nashville? This investigative apathy is especially noticeable when the major media were fascinated in 1992 by sons who benefited financially from their powerful dads but the sons were George W. Bush (and Harken Energy) and Neil Bush (and Silverado Savings & Loan). The Bush sons were also given more scrutiny in that year than the Clintons and their Whitewater dealings.
The same liberal media pattern of omission was demonstrated on October 29, 1992, when the Washington Times reported a related matter with the same potential environmental-hypocrite angle. "The family farm where Sen. Al Gore said he learned his environmental values has been the site of a large open dump filled with pesticide containers, aerosol cans, old tires, used filters filled with waste oil, and unrecycled cans and bottles for several years." Reporter Michael Hedges found the dump "appears to violate state and federal statutes, according to environmental officials." Network coverage? Zero.
Two days later, the Times quoted Gore's response when he was asked about the story by a caller on C-SPAN. Gore said the paper was "claiming that on my father's farm there is a trash dump that they don't like. Well, it was extremely misleading, like a lot of things in that particular publication, and it's just untrue." But after Gore refused to give local reporters a look at the dump on the family farm, the Times reported that Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF flew a helicopter over the land and broadcast footage of the dump, as the Times had reported it. Predictably, CBS didn't use their affiliate's footage.
Gore's Occidental payments didn't become much of an issue again until 1997, when Edward Jay Epstein released his book Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer, which reported on Gore Senior's elaborate business dealings (and political favors for) Hammer. Epstein also revealed Hammer was a financier of Soviet espionage in the United States, which never complicated young Gore's hawkish reputation.
Newsweek reporter Bill Turque built on that foundation in his biography Inventing Al Gore. Turque noted that the "real estate investments" that helped Gore pay for his mining money-generator began with a $45,000 loan from a Tennessee farm co-op to buy twenty acres of land from his dad. "It's not clear what collateral aside from his last name a 21-year-old college senior could offer to qualify for a loan of that size." But whatever the size of Gore's small fortune, it was all the result of political pull. The lack of media attention to these details makes it infinitely easier for Democrats to insist that it is just George W. Bush who's had everything in life handed to him by his pa.
Some TV reporting this year has been downright dishonest in its omission. On September 21, ABC's World News Tonight led with a story by reporter Terry Moran on how Gore "was casting himself as the champion of beleaguered consumers and Governor Bush as a pawn of the oil industry." Gore declared: "I will not go along with an agenda that is of Big Oil, by Big Oil, and for Big Oil." Moran concluded that the Gore campaign welcomes the issue "if only to point out to voters that both Governor Bush and Dick Cheney hail from the oil industry." It must have been too close to the election for Moran to recycle anything from a March 6 story he reported on Gore's Occidental Petroleum holdings (which Moran inaccurately implied was just part of his mother's estate, not his decades-long cash cow.) Moran's March story concentrated on research by the liberal Center for Public Integrity and the radical protest groups Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Action Network, which have dogged the Gore campaign with protests all year long with minimal national media results.
CPI complained in its book The Making of the President 2000 that in 1997, thanks to pressure from Gore, the Energy Department sold its interest in the Elk Hills oil field in Bakersfield, California. Ironically, they noted Elk Hills was one of the oil fields involved in the 1920s Teapot Dome scandal, which led to the resignation of Interior Secretary Albert Fall. In 1973, Richard Nixon tried to lease Elk Hills to boost domestic oil production. The Reagan administration repeatedly proposed selling it. "But where Fall, Nixon, and Reagan had failed, Gore succeeded," the book noted. "It was the largest privatization of federal property in U.S. history, one that tripled Occidental's U.S. reserves overnight."
The almost total omission of these details from the national media coverage of Campaign 2000 (and 1996, and 1992, and 1988) demonstrate that the media's power often derives from what stories it decides shall not see the light of day. Al Gore has savored the benefit of decades of favorable coverage of his environmental idealism, and perhaps his green swaggering reflects his confidence that friendly national reporters won't go mining for unfavorable news.