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Does Gore stand by all the misstatements he never made?

Sunday, September 03, 2000

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept 4, 2000) The New Testament book of John has 21 chapters, not fewer than 16 as stated in an article yesterday on quotes falsely attributed to Vice President Al Gore.

Mysterious denizens of the Internet have reached out from cyberspace and shoved Dan Quayle's foot into Al Gore's mouth.

Or, as Al Gore never said, "I stand by all the misstatements that I have made."

The latest trend in political disinformation has used the Internet to disseminate a series of quotations that make Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, sound like his Republican vice-presidential predecessor, Dan Quayle.

And some journalists have taken the bait.

Consider the plight of David Addis, a popular columnist with the Norfolk Virginian Pilot. He did a collection of campaign gaffes, both Republican and Democratic, and his offerings from Gore were real howlers:

"I didn't live in this century."

"I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people."

"Welcome to President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, and my fellow astronauts."

The reason the quotes make Gore sound so much like Quayle is that they are quotes previously attributed to Quayle.

Sometime around 1997, a list of "Gore" quotations began circulating in various spots on the Internet. Where Quayle had said "Republican" or referred to "President Bush" and "Mrs. Bush," some anonymous editor had changed it to fit a Democratic administration.

"I wonder if they were someone's before they were Dan Quayle quotations," mused Bill Kirby, an Augusta, Ga., columnist who was taken in by the list, sent to him via e-mail.

In fact, one of them was someone else's.

Quayle's famously silly remark about wishing he'd learned Latin so he could speak to people in Latin America is bogus.

It originated as a joke told in 1989 by Rhode Island Rep. Claudine Schneider. Several news outlets picked it up as if it were true and it took on a life of its own, continuing to fool even experts.

'Insane' material

"I hate to admit it, but I've used that joke before. But I thought it was real," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and author of "Feeding Frenzy," which examines presidential campaigns and the media.

Sabato expressed worries about the "insane and frightening" material circulating on the Internet and how it is finding its way into mainstream media.

"Everyone talks about the great promise of the Internet," Sabato said. "There are also great dangers. This is a terrible example of it. Misinformation and outright lies are sent through cyberspace regularly and never corrected."

Addis, the Virginia columnist, is not alone in being taken in.

In July, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran an editorial headlined "(Mis)Speaketh Al," that included the "I didn't live in this century" remark, as well as 10 other quotations which a Post-Gazette search of sources traced back to Quayle.

"I'll stand by where we got the information from," said Trib editorialist Colin McNickle, who both declined to give their origin and said he believed the quotations were accurate "as far as we can determine."

That would include this remark attributed to Gore in the July 16 Trib: "I stand by all the misstatements that I have made."

It was attributed to Quayle on Dec. 24, 1990, in the Louisville Courier Journal.

A litany of similar Gore quotes once attributed to Quayle turned up in list form in The Independent, a London newspaper.

One widely distributed Gore gaffe -- "If at first we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure" -- first turned up in stories attributing it to Quayle as long ago as August 1990.

In almost every instance, journalists taken in by the Gore forgeries say they received them via e-mail from friends and sources they trusted.

Addis, at the Virginian Pilot, said he even researched the quotes.

"I tracked it back to a Republican Party site and went with it," he said. "It turned out to be a mistake."

While the origins of the Gore List are murky and seemingly untraceable, the Gore campaign, not surprisingly, blames the Republicans.

"It's very pernicious and falls right in line with the negative attack ad the Republican National Committee released" this week, Gore spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said.

GOP web sites

While no conclusive evidence points to any political party, several Republican party Web sites have posted the fake Gore quotations.

In North Carolina, the Catawba County Republican Party received the list in an e-mail from Jeff Long, station manager at radio station WHKY in Hickory, N.C., and promptly posted them.

"That's one of the journalistic problems of the Internet," Long explained later, in an e-mail. "If people read it on the Net, then they figure it must be true, not thinking that anybody can say anything."

As of last week, Edgar Readling, webmaster of the Catawba County GOP page, said the list was still posted. Long said his station never broadcast the phony quotes.

The bogus nature of the Gore/Quayle quotes has, in fact, been pointed out on some Internet sites.

"Hello! These are not Gore quotes, people!!" blared Carolyn Gargaro, a Maple Shade, N.J., Internet site developer who manages several conservative political Web sites.

Gargaro had begun a site dedicated to embarrassing Gore quotes "because people often commented on Quayle's blunders, stating that Gore never said silly things."

In time, though, Gargaro began to receive quotations she thought looked suspicious. First, she received a widely circulated quotation in which Gore professed to say his favorite Bible verse was "John 16:3." Gore actually said his favorite verse was "John 3:16."

"Then," Gargaro said, "I was sent the Quayle/Gore list and immediately, it was like, 'Wait, huh?'

"I can't believe a newspaper actually ran these."

In an era in which partisanship has taken bitter turns, not everyone is as concerned as Gargaro.

At Free Republic, a right-wing Internet site that often becomes the source of anti-Clinton attacks, the Gore List turned up in May of last year, posted by someone giving his name as Don Morgan.

"I vouch for NONE of these, but then facts are in disrepute here, anyway. These are funny," Morgan wrote.

Two messages later, someone listed as "Dstalley" advised Morgan, "Unfortunately, these are Dan Quayle quotes."

A few other correspondents seemed oblivious to Stalley's posting.

"This is one to bookmark! What ammunition!" one wrote.

"Verify these quotes before you repeat them," Stalley wrote later. "We don't want to lose credibility."

Finally, one list member summed up the spirit of the Internet.

"Quayle, Gore -- it doesn't matter in this media war with liberals. They'll stick like a tar baby to Gore."

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