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Reed Irvine responds

Reed Irvine sent the following in response to the ConWebWatch article on his retraction of criticism of a reporter's article on Kosovo:

Thanks for your e-mail about the Lies of Al Gore.

With respect to the Love Story "lie," I suggest that you check the AP story by Sonya Ross dated Dec. 15, 1997. It reports, "Vice President Al Gore acknowledged Sunday a 'miscommunication' on his part in leading reporters to believe he and his wife were the model for the 1970s hot romance novel 'Love Story.' The author, Erich Segal, told the New York Times he was 'befuddled' by the comments in the first place. He said he called Gore, and the vice president said it was a misunderstanding. Gore's spokeswoman, Ginny Terzano, had told reporters on Dec. 14, 'We apologize if there was a miscommunication with reporters in an off-the-record conversation where they did not take notes." Ross ended her story saying, "The controversy grew from a Time magazine report (by Karen Tumulty) about Gore's musing aboard Air Force Two following a three-city tour of Texas last month. Gore spoke of an old Tennessee newspaper account that said he and Tipper were the models for Oliver and Jenny. Segal said Gore told him he only told the reporters the article made an erroneous connection."

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Karen Tumulty tells me nothing was said about the conversation Gore had with her and Rick Berke of the Times being off the record.(Another Gore lie through Terzano?)She said he knew both of them were working on profiles of him, and that he would flag certain things he said that he wouldn't want to see in a profile. Tumulty recalls that the remark was made in the context of Gore saying it was ironic that his roommate, Tommy Lee Jones, had a small role in the "Love Story" movie when it was he and Tipper who were the models for Oliver and Jenny.

According to Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, Rick Berke recalled that "it was more like" it was something that Gore had been told or had read about somewhere. Zorn said Tumulty had told a Times reporter Gore had said," All I know is what (Segal) told reporters in Tennessee." Zorn said Segal told the Times that a writer for the Tennessean had "just exaggerated" the connection to Gore. At Zorn's request, the Tennessean tried without success to find such a story, but they said that didn't mean that it didn't exist. Unless and until such an article is found, it is impossible to say whether Gore's claim was based on a reporter misquoting Segal or on Gore's embellishment of Segal's statement that Oliver was based partly on Gore and partly on Tommy Lee Jones. If the embellishment, including the part about Tipper, was done by a reporter I would agree that Gore's statement should not be called a lie. Otherwise, it is an exaggeration. But those who exaggerate frequently to bolster their public image get reputations for being liars. Unfortunately, Al Gore has acquired that reputation. I would now say that Gore's claim that he was the model for Oliver may have been one of Gore's many exaggerations and his claim that Jenny was modeled after Tipper was probably a lie, born of his propensity to exaggerate.

The Love Canal story appeared in The Washington Post on December 2, 1999. The reporter, Ceci Connolly, taped Gore's remarks at the New Hampshire high school forum. She reported that Gore said, "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal." She added, "Gore went on to brag about holding the 'first hearing on that issue' and said, 'I was the one that started it all.' But yesterday (he) called an Associated Press reporter in upstate New York to play down his role and applaud local residents of the Niagara neighborhood who fought the long battle against the waste site." He said," If anyone got the misimpression that I claimed to do what citizens in Love Canal did, I apologize." Connolly pointed out that as a junior House member Gore had held hearings on the danger of chemical contamination - two months after residents evacuated Love Canal.

Connolly told me that it was difficult to make out from the tape whether he said, "I was the one," or "That was the one." I think he would be more likely to refer to a person as "the one" than to an event. But it doesn't matter. He left the impression that he had played a significant role in exposing the Love Canal contamination, and he knew that was inaccurate. His handlers no doubt advised him to call the AP and apologize. Connolly tells me her story was not retracted, and I see no reason why it should have been.

As for Gore's claim that he took the initiative in creating the Internet, there is a big difference in claiming to be the creator rather than one of many contributors.

I appreciate your effort to keep AIM accurate, but I disagree with your assertion that I should have begun my column with my correction and apology. I will be interested in seeing if you follow your own advice.

I visited your Web site and read your article about my "screw-up" in accusing Jeffrey Fleishman of fabrication. You accuse me of malice in writing what I said about Fleishman's reporting. Malice means saying things that you know are not true or that involve reckless disregard of the truth. That usually involves jumping to conclusions without bothering to check the facts. And that is precisely what you did in writing your article.

You allege that I claimed "Fleishman fabricated a story on a Serb-conducted massacre in Kosovo in 1999, shortly before the U.S.-led NATO coalition began its bombing campaign against Serbia."

That is false. I did not charge that Fleishman fabricated reporting on the Racak massacre. It arose from a story Fleishman had in the Inquirer 11 months later in which he said that the day after the massacre, which occurred on Friday, January 15, the Serbs launched a second attack on Racak to keep the KLA from examining the bodies of the victims. That was an obvious error because many journalists descended on Racak the next day and were shown the bodies by the KLA, who had regained control of the village after the Serb forces withdrew the previous afternoon. International observers, including Amb. William Walker, were also there in force. There was no Serb attack on Racak that day, but the Inquirer's foreign editor sent me a letter in which he insisted that there was and quoted from a letter he had received from Fleishman in which he said he was there and witnessed the Serb attack. That puzzled me.

The Inquirer got around to admitting in July, six months after I had called it to the attention of the ombudsman, that they had the day and date wrong. They published a brief correction, saying that the correct date was Sunday, Jan. 17, 1999.

As I said in my retraction, the dispute degenerated into an argument about the date of the second attack. I interviewed a British correspondent who was in Racak early Sunday morning. He told me he had seen no fighting. I saw no report of any fighting on Sunday in the New York Times and the Washington Post, but heavy fighting for control of the bodies was reported on Monday, Jan. 18. I was certain that Fleishman was wrong about the day and the date, but he insisted that a three-day battle for control of the bodies began on Sunday, the 17th. That is what I thought was a fabrication. When the Inquirer called my attention to stories by Fleishman and other journalists who reported fighting on Sunday, I looked up their stories and saw that Fleishman was right and I was wrong about the day and date. I said so last year. Fleishman wanted an apology as well as a retraction. I agreed that he was entitled to that, and the statement you saw satisfied him.

I believe Fleishman probably would agree that he was wrong in saying that the Serbs began the fighting to keep the KlA from examining the bodies, since the bodies had been in their control since late on Friday. He might even agree that the battle for control of the bodies did not last three days, because the fighting on Sunday began when the KLA refused to allow a Serb magistrate to enter the village to examine the bodies accompanied by a police escort since Serbs moved in in force Monday morning and took them to Pristina, but fighting continued on Tuesday.

Your statement that this "ultimately boils down to the usual reason: Clinton-hating" is false. The alleged massacre was widely reported. Clinton used in in his March 24, 1999 speech announcing the launch of NATO's air war. He did not cite it by name, however.

Your statement that "AIM based its attack on Fleishman" on "some French reporters who claimed the massacre was a hoax" is also false. You are also mistaken in saying, "It turns out that the massacre occurred on the day after the French reporters said it did." The French reporters did not deny that there had been an attack on Racak on Friday, Jan. 15 and that over 40 Albanians had been killed. Renaud Girard, the reporter for Le Figaro, was there the next day and he reported it as a massacre.

I did not accuse Fleishman of fabricating the story of the alleged massacre. My first letter to the Inquirer was written mainly to suggest that it look into the stories by Renaud Girard and Christofe Chatelot, the correspondent for Le Monde, casting doubt on the massacre. Chatelot, had been in Racak on Friday afternoon, after the Serb forces had withdrawn. He had seen no sign of a massacre. When he saw Girard's story, Chatelot told him that neither he, nor an American observer that he met there, nor the APTN camera crew that the Serbs invited to cover their attack had seen any evidence of a massacre. After he and Chatelot had interviewed the camera crew and seen their footage, Girard retracted his first story and reported that there had been no massacre.

I did not criticize Fleishman for reporting the massacre. He had a lot of good company in doing so. I did believe that the French journalists had published information that the Associated Press, which had footage of what transpired at Racak, and other news organizations should report.

Your attack on me shows reckless disregard of the truth. You jumped to conclusions, expressed in defamatory language, without having made the least effort, as far as I can see, to ascertain the facts. But don't worry. I am not the litigious type. I am sure that you will acknowledge your errors and retract and apologize for your false accusations on your Web site. I am looking forward to your showing me that you can do it better than I did. Go to it!

Sincerely yours,

Reed Irvine

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Posted 7/12/2001

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