Bush and Coke vs. Gore and Pot

Last August, the national media pounced on George W. Bush over swirling rumors that he used cocaine in his youth. Reporters echoed The Washington Post, which urgently suggested to Bush "We need to ask the cocaine question." Even though the Post and others searched far and wide for any hint of evidence, no witness, no accuser stepped forward. But when Newsweek magazine (the Post's corporate cousin) spiked an excerpt from its own reporter Bill Turque's biography of Gore dealing with Gore's use of marijuana, a witness did speak out. More damning still, John Warnecke was a friend of Gore's for many years. He alleged Gore and he regularly smoked marijuana together right up to Gore's initial run for Congress in 1976 (and even once during that campaign).

For those keeping track, that would mean Gore was using drugs two years after Bush claimed he could deny using them. So if Bush's denial of drug use in the past 25 years was not a deterrent to further media investigation, does it not follow that an allegation of drug use within the last 25 years is even more reason for the media to investigate Gore? But where Bush stumbled with dates and would not issue a categorical denial to all the cocaine rumors, Gore denied his accuser's claims of regular use. "When I came back from Vietnam, yes, but not to that extent." Then he added his running mate's favorite tactic: "It's old news." And that was that for another stillborn Gore scandal.Tony Snow asked Sen. John Kerry about it on "Fox News Sunday." NBC's Katie Couric asked Gore about it directly on "Today," although without the tone she used when the subject was Bush ("Is the pot calling the kettle black?"). But ABC, CBS, CNN, and the three news magazines wouldn't touch it.

The dirty double standard in "news" coverage of the campaign is out of control. Ted Koppel's "Nightline" devoted an entire show last August to the Bush rumors. Koppel lectured: "Why not accept his one-size-fits-all declaration that when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible? Perhaps, we might say, because he has never accepted youth and irresponsibility as legitimate excuses for illegal behavior." Gore responded to the Warnecke allegations with a very similar-sounding dodge: "When I was young, I did things young people do; when I grew up I put away childish things." But Koppel put Bush on the hot seat. Gore walks. In 1987, shortly after Ronald Reagan's nomination of Douglas Ginsburg to the Supreme Court fell apart among revelations of Ginsburg's marijuana use, Gore said he used marijuana "once or twice in college, in the Army in Vietnam, and once or twice in graduate school." Few reporters seemed to care whether Warnecke's claims of regular marijuana use would expose Gore as a liar.

More importantly, imagine if an accuser came forward and said he not only did drugs with George W. Bush, but that the Bush family pressured him to lie about it? Bush would be out of the race, thoroughly disgraced. Yet Warnecke says he was called in rapid succession by Al Gore, one of his campaign aides, and then his wife Tipper, all asking him not to talk to the press. Even most of the print publications which noted the accusations did not bring up the allegation of pressuring Warnecke to lie to reporters.

By their silence, were the media accusing Warnecke of being an unreliable source? Was Warnecke's long history of drug abuse a perversely disqualifying factor? Or his treatment for depression? Warnecke admitted to an interviewer at Salon.com that "they're going to try to make than an issue. Despite all their big talk about mental health, about removing the stigma and Tipper coming forward about her depression."

Warnecke was right, judging from ex-Gore aide Joe Cerrell on Fox's "Hannity & Colmes." He went directly to impeaching Warnecke's sanity: "By his own admission, he's a depressive. He's a schizophrenic. He hears voices."

Meanwhile, those Democrats who are prodded to respond to the issue spin badly. On "Fox News Sunday," John Kerry claimed Gore was better than Bush because he admitted use, and better than Clinton because he didn't claim he only used it once and didn't inhale. Then he turned around and said Bush's rumored drug use should be the only issue since he supported tough drug laws.

All this media silence - after reporters marched around last August claiming Bush was "dogged by questions that won't go away" - is another sickening signal of yet another totally tilted year of campaign coverage. Once again, our honorable Democrats are placed on a pedestal far about the common everyday hypocrisy of those moralistic Republicans. Some liberal reporters don't have a principled bone in their body, unless the principle is electing a Democrat.