- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2000

Everyone knows the old question about whether a tree falling in the forest makes noise if no one is there to hear it fall. But what about whether a scandal breaking in the capital makes waves if no one is there to report it or, rather, if the reporters on the scene choose either to avert their eyes or just change the subject.

The continuing misadventures of Vice President Al Gore provide a case in point. Take the story of Al Gore, slumlord. With the exception of this newspaper, the New York Post and Fox News, the press took a pass on a story that had everything: a presidential candidate-landlord, impoverished, mistreated tenants living (if you can call it that) within sight of the candidate's Tennessee farm, a wagonload of hypocrisy, even putrid plumbing. In other words, a muckraker's dream, a news anchor's Hamlet one would think. But no. Except for briefs on NBC and CNN, there was virtual network silence. As for the mainstream press, The Washington Post and the New York Times both tucked an Associated Press dispatch on the matter deep inside their Sunday papers.

Saving their reporters for some future rendezvous with destiny? That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the great Gore press pass continues. Recently, this newspaper led with an article by Jerry Seper about what House Committee on Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton calls "the latest outrage" in the ongoing investigation into the White House's failure to turn over hundreds of thousands of "missing" e-mails to assorted congressional committees, the Justice Department and a federal grand jury all in flagrant violation of multiple subpoenas, of course. The "latest outrage" there have been so many is that the "missing" e-mail messages to and from Mr. Gore during the ever-interesting impeachment era (March 1998 to April 1999) have been "lost" due to a "technical error."

That is, not only were the White House e-mails, including Mr. Gore's, not retrieved for sundry investigators, as reported by this newspaper in February. Now it turns out that Mr. Gore's share of the lot is actually irretrievable. How what is the word? convenient. One technical error and whoosh the e-mail trail has ended, erasing what former White House computer chief Sheryl L. Hall has described as thousands of computer memos to and from the vice president on Monica Lewinsky, the White House procurement of secret FBI files on hundreds of Reagan and Bush administration officials (aka Filegate), 1996's fancy campaign-finance footwork, and the less-than-savory transformation of the Commerce Department into the political junketing arm of the government for corporate execs.

Given the indelible historic notoriety of Rosemary Wood's 17-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes, one has to question the inattention make that barely suppressed yawns among the media at the story of the hundreds of thousands of missing e-mails. The Washington Post gave the latest installment in the e-mail saga a fairly short slot on A7. The New York Times stashed the story on A22. There was no room for it on the front page that day, what with the major Gore-Bush feature breaking the news that Mr. Gore had designed his own campaign button. No wonder George Will suggested on ABC's "This Week" that the newspaper of record "register as an agent of the Gore campaign."

As for the Gore campaign itself, it must find itself in a state of bemused confusion. That is, with so little damage, who needs damage-control? It could be that, with a press this pliant, the artful science of spin-doctoring may go the way of bloodsucking leeches.

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