- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

Since March, Vice President Gore has been challenging Texas Gov. George W. Bush to accept any number of dozens of presidential debate invitations that he himself had unconditionally accepted. He would meet Mr. Bush "anytime, anywhere," Mr. Gore has stated over and over. Since last month's political conventions, Mr. Bush has accepted two debate venues to which Mr. Gore had earlier committed himself. Now, Mr. Gore is vigorously reversing himself. He is pretending that his earlier commitments were conditional upon Mr. Bush's accepting the three presidential debates being organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan organization that has sponsored presidential and vice presidential debates since 1988.

On Sunday, Mr. Bush agreed to meet Mr. Gore Sept. 12 in a 60-minute, prime-time debate broadcast of NBC's "Meet the Press," with NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert as moderator. Mr. Bush accepted a long-standing invitation from CNN's "Larry King Live" to debate the vice president on Oct. 3 in another 60-minute session. Mr. Bush also agreed to meet Mr. Gore on Oct. 17 at a 90-minute debate sponsored by the debate commission. In addition, Mr. Bush has proposed that the vice presidential candidates debate twice, rather than the single running-mate debates that have taken place in the past.

It was at this point that Mr. Gore declared that all of the previous invitations he had so ostentatiously accepted were contingent upon Mr. Bush's participation in all three commission debates. Early Monday morning aboard Air Force Two, Mr. Gore told reporters, "I said some time ago the condition is we have to have the commission debates." But a few hours later in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, co-host Matt Lauer reminded Mr. Gore that he had set no such condition when he accepted Mr. Russert's invitation on July 16. In a typical response, Mr. Gore dissembled. Nevertheless, a videotape reveals Mr. Gore, who debated Democratic presidential rival Bill Bradley on a Sunday morning edition of "Meet the Press" earlier this year, telling Mr. Russert in July, "I've accepted for two or three months now, your invitation to debate on this program. Have you gotten a 'yes' from Governor Bush yet?" When Mr. Bush delivered his "yes" to Mr. Russert, it was Mr. Gore who back-pedaled. Ditto for the invitation from "Larry King Live." On March 14, Mr. Gore excitedly told Mr. King, "I accept. I accept" without stating a single condition.

Ostensibly, Mr. Gore objects to the fact that other major broadcast networks ABC and CBS, specifically have declared they would not televise the debates moderated by CNN's Larry King and NBC's Tim Russert despite the fact that both CNN and NBC have offered to allow their debates to be broadcast live by all other networks. In this, Mr. Gore's beef should be with ABC and CBS. It would be a colossal abdication of responsibility for the news divisions of ABC and CBS to ignore the opportunity to televise presidential debates moderated by another network's newsman. Indeed, in 1988, CBS televised the two presidential debates even though the moderators were from the PBS and CNN networks and the panels of reporters included correspondents from competing broadcast networks but not its own. In 1992, all three broadcast networks televised the vice presidential debate, which included Mr. Gore, even though the single questioner was Hal Bruno of ABC News. All three broadcast networks televised the third 1992 presidential debate, whose panel excluded any network representatives. In fact, in threatening to ignore two presidential debates, CBS and ABC are allowing themselves to be used by Mr. Gore. They deserve each other. But the public surely deserves much more.

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