- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

Vice President Al Gore yesterday conceded that a dramatic anecdote he told in Tuesday night's debate was not exactly true and the accuracy of one or two others was questioned as well.
Mr. Gore who said he traveled to Texas with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt to inspect wildfire damage acknowledged yesterday he did not.
"I was there in Texas. I think James Lee went to the same fires. I've made so many trips with James to these disaster sites. I got that wrong," the vice president said on "Good Morning America."
The Gore campaign spent much of yesterday putting out other fires concerning other anecdotes, including one by Mr. Gore that a Florida school forced a female student to stand in an overcrowded classroom.
"Her science class was supposed to be for 24 students," the vice president said during the debate. "She is the 36th student in that classroom… . They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class."
Sarasota High School Principal Daniel Kennedy, however, said that isn't true. The class was short a desk for just one day.
"That was probably one of the first days of school when we were in the process of leveling classes. And, she did have an opportunity to use a lab stool," he said on radio station WFLA in Sarasota.
"We don't really have any students standing in class and we have more than enough desks for all of our students," said Mr. Kennedy.
The Bush campaign yesterday criticized Mr. Gore as reporters scurried to check the veracity of anecdotes the vice president told during the debate.
"It's a troubling pattern of ongoing embellishments and exaggerations from the vice president under pressure," said Bush senior adviser Ari Fleischer. "It's an unsettling indication of how the vice president reacts to pressure by exaggerating personal stories that are easily verifiable."
Mr. Gore's latest gaffes follow the concocted story two weeks ago about how prescription drugs for his mother-in-law cost more than arthritis drugs for his dog. Aides later said the story was a "composite" using numbers from a congressional report.
That was followed by Mr. Gore's claim that he was involved with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "since the days it was first established." In fact, he entered the House two years after the reserve was created in 1975.
Then he told a labor group that his mother had sung one of their union songs to him as a lullaby, but the song wasn't written until Mr. Gore was 27. He later said he had been kidding.
During the debate, Mr. Bush responded to a question from moderator Jim Lehrer about how he handled the unexpected by recalling his actions during wildfires in Parker County, Texas, in 1996. "I have to pay the administration a compliment," said Mr. Bush. "FEMA has done a good job of working with governors during times of crisis."
Mr. Gore, in a rebuttal, sought to do the governor one better.
"I want to compliment the governor on his response to those fires and floods in Texas," Mr. Gore said unasked. "I, I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out."
A quizzical expression crossed Mr. Bush's face as the vice president spoke.
"I thought for a moment I was going to call him on it," Mr. Bush told Fox News Channel yesterday. "I don't remember him being in Parker County. But I took the man at his word.
"This is a man he's got a record, you know, of sometimes exaggerating to make a point."
Mr. Gore acknowledged yesterday he had been in a Houston hotel possibly for a fund-raiser at the time and had not traveled to Texas with Mr. Witt to survey the fire damage. He said yesterday he had been briefed by FEMA officials.
"I was there in Texas in Houston with the head of the Texas emergency management folks and with all the federal emergency management folks. If James Lee was there before or after, then, you know, I got that wrong then."
The Bush campaign said Mr. Gore visited Houston on June 25, 1998, not during the 1996 fires to which Mr. Bush was referring. They said Mr. Gore attended a hastily arranged airport briefing on the fires before he drove off to a political fund-raiser. Mr. Witt was not with Mr. Gore during the briefing.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane explained that the vice president had confused Mr. Witt with his underling, Buddy Young, a regional FEMA director who was actually the official who met with Mr. Gore on the occasion in question.
"The vice president traveled down to Texas in June of '98, flew over the fires and then did an event with Buddy Young," Mr. Lehane told The Washington Times. "He was not with Witt. We've been with Witt in the past in other disaster areas and emergency zone. He was just mistaken.
"The point was he saw the fires and held a meeting on them he was complimenting the governor," said Mr. Lehane. "I think it shows how touchy the Bush campaign is you can't even give them a compliment these days. I think those guys are getting a little stressed out down there."
Reporters also examined Mr. Gore's claim that a Florida schoolgirl, Kailey Ellis, had to stand in her classroom.
"I want the federal government … to make improvement of our schools the number-one priority so Kailey Ellis will have a desk and can sit down in a classroom where she can learn," Mr. Gore said in the debate.
School officials in Florida acknowledged yesterday that the 15-year-old girl did indeed go without a desk in science class for a day. They said she was late for school and it took officials a few hours to find a desk for her.
"We were refurbishing that classroom and in the back of that picture, if you look carefully, you can see probably about $100,000 worth of new lab equipment that was waiting to be unpacked, which is one of the reasons the room looked as crowded as it did," Mr. Kennedy, the school principal, said in the radio interview.
This exchange between the talk-show host and Mr. Kennedy followed:
Host: "The way that it was framed last night was that they couldn't fit another desk in there because there were so many students in the classroom."
Mr. Kennedy: "Right I think that's a little bit misleading to tell you the truth, because I've been in the classroom many times."
Host: "Ah-ha. A little twisting of the truth."
Mr. Kennedy: "Yes, I think so."
The Gore campaign refused to backtrack on the anecdote. Aides made copies of a Sarasota newspaper article on the girl and passed them out to reporters traveling with the vice president.
Mr. Lehane said his boss was merely referring to the newspaper article, which had been sent to him with a handwritten note from the girl's father.
The principal, however, was disappointed. "I think it's unfortunate the vice president didn't call the school to check," said Mr. Kennedy.
Gore campaign staffers yesterday said Mr. Bush was guilty of his own misrepresentations.
One, they said, involved RU-486, the French abortion pill recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.
"He said the federal government can't review it," Mr. Lehane said. "In the past he had said if he was president, he would have the government review it."
Mr. Lehane also said the Texas governor "is just flat out wrong" in asserting that he has been outspent by Mr. Gore in the presidential campaign.
"Bush, I think, has spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $93 million," Mr. Lehane said. "We've spent about $46 million."
Dave Boyer, traveling with George W. Bush, reported from West Chester, Pa.; Bill Sammon, traveling with Al Gore, reported from Warren, Ohio.

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