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Political Corrections, Part 3: The Perils of Insulting People

Reed Irvine is forced to apologize for trashing a journalist. Now, will he admit to lying about Al Gore?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/2/2001

As screw-ups go, this was a big one.

In an action that pretty much screams "out-of-court settlement to avoid getting sued for libel," Accuracy in Media's Reed Irvine spent a good chunk of his June 27 column apologizing for AIM's trashing of a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Apparently, the apology's appearance in Irvine's regular column was part of the deal as well, since it also appears on NewsMax.

Irvine, though, did what he could to bury the lead. He spends the first half of his column, titled "The Perils of Journalism," defending the principles behind the creation of AIM and some of its early accomplishments. It is not until the sixth paragraph that Irvine begins his mea culpa, which has its origins in an accusation that Inquirer reporter Jeffrey 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.

This is no mere "we regret the error" stuff (though Irvine does say exactly that at one point). It was a decidedly vicious attack. How vicious? Here, in Irvine's words, is what AIM is apologizing for:

Accuracy in Media retracts all of its assertions challenging the authenticity and credibility of Jeffrey Fleishman’s reporting in the Philadelphia Inquirer about fighting at Racak on January 17, 1999. Fleishman was in Racak. He reported the fighting at the time, as did other reporters. Our description of his reporting as "pure fiction" and "imaginative writing" was unfounded, and we should not have compared him to Janet Cooke. It was unfair of AIM to publish assertions about Jeffrey Fleishman’s reporting without first making an attempt to contact him.

Why did Irvine and AIM get so nasty in the first place? "Our sources were not as reliable as we thought," Irvine writes, but it ultimately boils down to the usual reason: Clinton-hating. Specifically, Irvine says that Clinton used the massacre Fleishman wrote about to help justify the bombing campaign. AIM dug up some French reporters who claimed the massacre was a hoax, which is what AIM based its attack on Fleishman on. It turns out that the massacre occured on the day after the French reporters said it did, and AIM and the Inquirer apparently spent a lot of time arguing about this: "Because of errors on both sides it degenerated to a dispute over a date," Irvine writes. That pending dispute over a key fact, of course, didn't keep AIM from borking Fleishman.

What Irvine and AIM are feeling as a result of what they did to Fleishman is not a "peril of journalism," as Irvine would have people believe. Real journalists don't make such malicious statements -- expecially when a key piece of information is in dispute, as was the case when AIM made its attack. (Face it: you don't compare a reporter with Janet Cooke, the poster girl for journalistic fabrication, and not have malicious intent.) AIM's original goal with its Fleishman-bashing was not journalism at all but to make some quick anti-Clinton points with its consituency, and it's been demonstrated time and again by conservatives that Clinton-bashing doesn't always coincide with the facts.

This was not the first time Irvine and AIM has spread lies with malicious intent. In fact, one of the inaugural articles on ConWebWatch details one such instance. So, with that in mind, I sent the following e-mail to Reed Irvine:

    Mr. Irvine:

    Congratulations on the courage to admit making an error and issuing a retraction. (You lose points, however, for burying the retraction under several paragraphs of self-promotion and not clearly labeling the retraction as such at the top of the article.)

    As long as you're in this apologetic mood, please reconsider another article of yours that contains one outright lie and two other statements that are not what you claim them to be. I am referring to your April 2000 article "17 Lies of Al Gore," in which you claim the following statements are "lies" of Al Gore:

    "He and Tipper were models for 'Love Story.'"

    "He uncovered the pollution at Love Canal."

    "He took the initiative in creating the Internet."

    The first statement is an undisputable lie because Gore never said he and Tipper were the models for "Love Story." According to a story in The New York Times, Gore said he had heard that author Erich Segal had said that and that was "all I know." What Segal did say was that the lead male character in "Love Story" was modeled after Gore and his roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones. So even if Gore had made the statement, it would not have been the absolute "lie" you claim.

    In the second statement, you use selective information to prove the statement is a "lie." You show no evidence of considering the statement from which this "lie" is taken in its entirety. If you do that, it is obvious that the actual Gore statement "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal" is not the same statement as "I uncovered the pollution at Love Canal." While The New York Times and the Washington Post originally asserted this as well, they have since printed corrections.

    The third statement, while certainly an exaggeration, has some basis in truth and therefore cannot be considered a "lie." A Washington Post article notes that “many of the researchers and venerated propeller-heads who did have a hand in the Internet's creation said Gore deserves substantial credit for passing a number of bills that boosted supercomputing and high-speed communications networks, which in turn helped create the Internet as it exists today.” According to one “propeller-head” quoted in the story -- Vinton G. Cerf, a senior vice president at MCIWorldcom and the person most often called "the father of the Internet" for his part in designing the network's common computer language -- "I think it is very fair to say that the Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the vice president in his current role and in his earlier role as senator."

    In your "Perils of Journalism" article, you claim that it is difficult to get the news media to correct "their most serious errors which were linked to their biases." In declaring certain statements to be "lies" that really aren't, you have made errors that are directly linked to your biases -- specifically, the desire to paint Al Gore in as negative a light as possible, as you did frequently during the 2000 presidential campaign. Will you correct these errors?


    Terry Krepel
    editor, ConWebWatch

Reed Irvine's response

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