- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

Like the boy who falsely cried wolf too many times, Al Gore has exaggerated, embellished or just plain

made up too many stories in this presidential campaign.

Mr. Gore's latest whopper is that he was in on the ground floor when the government established the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and that he contributed to its development.

This one occurred last Friday, when he defended Bill Clinton's decision to sell off 30 million barrels of this nation's strategic oil reserves to drive down oil prices and thus help Mr. Gore's presidential campaign. But in making that defense, the vice president once again could not resist exaggerating his policy-making role in government.

"I've been part of the discussion on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve since the days it was first established," Mr. Gore told a group of reporters at a Friday news conference. Really?

In fact, the defense-related oil-reserve program was drafted, debated, authorized and signed into law in 1975 two years before Mr. Gore got to Congress. Shortly after he was sworn in as a congressman from Tennessee in January 1977, the storage facilities were being filled with oil with no input or assistance from Al Gore.

Top energy experts told me this week that Gore could not have played any role in the establishment or development of the strategic oil reserve. Congress had already appropriated and spent $760 million to build the storage facilities by the time he had taken his seat on the House Commerce subcommittee on energy. There was nothing left to do at that point.

"It was in the original 1975 legislation to fill it up with 1 billion barrels of oil, and they started filling it on July 21, 1977," said Ed Porter, energy analyst at the American Petroleum Institute.

Why would Mr. Gore, with just six weeks to go before the election, make up such a story? Some say he has been embellishing his record and his past for so long it has become a bad habit that he cannot break. Others say it is a fatal flaw in his character, a compulsion that the news media has long ignored or overlooked, but which was well known to his Senate colleagues and his staff, which has warned him about this before.

An earlier memo from a top Gore aide cautioned him about his tendency to "exaggerate," calling it a threat to his credibility among the voters.

Whatever his motivation, Mr. Gore has been doing a lot of exaggerating that has been illuminated by the sharp focus of the campaign's spotlight. First he suggested he had invented the Internet. Then he said he discovered the Love Canal environmental scandal. Neither claim was true, and he had to resort to self-deprecating humor in an attempt to paper over the preposterous inventions that made him a laughingstock among late-night comedians.

But apparently he did not learn his lesson. If anything, his exaggerations have accelerated in the last couple of weeks as the pressure and intensity of the campaign has increased.

During a campaign appearance in Florida, Mr. Gore claimed his mother-in-law paid three times as much for her arthritis prescription drug than he paid for the same drug used by his dog.

It turned out the prices he used in his story were lifted from a House Democratic study, and that his staff could not substantiate them.

Last week he told a Teamsters conference he remembered when the garment workers union song "Look for the Union Label" was sung to him as a child. In reality, the TV jingle came out in 1975, when he was 27. When confronted with this fact, Mr. Gore said he was only joking when he told the story.

"You wonder if it's a failure to listen or an impulse to deceive," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications, says of Mr. Gore's compulsion to invent stories about himself.

"The question is, is there a basic personality flaw there?" she said. "Is there a tendency to exaggerate? Is there a tendency to reconstruct the past? When you start counting on the fingers of both hands, you start to say maybe there's a pattern here."

In the heat of the Democratic presidential primary campaigns, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley passed out a brochure that accused Mr. Gore of "uncontrollable lying." Said Mr. Bradley: "Al Gore needs to tell the truth."

In an op-ed piece in last Friday's Wall Street Journal, speechwriter Peggy Noonan went further: "The disturbing question is this: If Mr. Gore cannot help but lie about lullabies and Grandma's medicine, will he lie about troop movements, and espionage, and what our intelligence is telling us about what Saddam is up to?"

In the parable about the boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf, nobody in the village believed him when the wolf actually appeared. If Mr. Gore keeps making this stuff up, nobody will believe him either.

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