This just in: Al Gore has a penchant for exaggeration.
From tales about his relatives to claims about his own achievements, the vice president’s embellishments frequently send media “truth squads” cracking and campaign aides back-peddling.
Pants on Fire
Gore’s latest trouble with the truth came Tuesday in his first presidential debate with Republican candidate George W. Bush. When moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their “ability to handle the unexpected,” the Texas governor cited his handling of wildfires that swept through part of his state in June 1998.
“I accompanied [Federal Emergency Management Agency Director] James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out,” Gore said in his response.
The vice president was in Texas shortly after the fires had broken out, but he was there to address the state’s Democratic Party at a June 26 fund-raiser, not to inspect fire damage, as his remark implied. Furthermore, Witt was never with him at any point during the trip.
An aide later claimed the vice president had conducted an aerial inspection of the affected area from Air Force Two.
“I was there in Texas,” Gore said on ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America the next day. “I’ve made so many trips to these disaster sites … If James was there before or after, then I got that wrong.”
Are You Experienced?
But Gore ‘got it wrong’ a number times throughout the course of the evening.
When Lehrer asked the vice president to clarify what he means when he questions whether his opponent is experienced enough to be president, Gore insisted, “I have actually not questioned Governor Bush’s experience. I have questioned his proposals.”
On March 12, however, as he criticized his opponent’s tax relief proposal at a campaign rally in Irving, Texas, Gore said, “[This] raises a serious question: Does Governor Bush have the experience to be president.” “No!” cried the partisan crowd. “Proposals like that make you wonder,” Gore added.
In an exchange about public education, Gore told the tale of 15-year-old Kailey Ellis, a student at Sarasota High School in Florida, who had to stand during her science class because, Gore claimed, “they can’t squeeze another desk in for her.”
But the school’s principal, Daniel Kennedy, called the story “misleading” and said Ellis was only without a desk for one class period.
“I think the vice president’s intentions were completely honorable, to try to get more money for the schools,” Kennedy said in an interview with ABCNEWS, “but he was provided with facts and information that were simply misleading.”
“We certainly have enough desks,” Kennedy added. “He slipped up on the facts.”
And Tuesday was, by no means, the first day the vice president ‘slipped up on the facts’ in an effort to score political points. Gore, in fact, stretches the truth regularly.
His most infamous exaggeration occurred during an interview with CNN on March 9, 1999, when he boldly asserted, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”
Gore is widely credited with having been a leader in the area of information technology, having introduced key legislation such as the Supercomputer Network Study Act and the National High Performance Technology during his tenure in the House. But Gore’s critics seized on what was admittedly an overstatement of his achievements.