Charles C. Thompson II is a network news veteran, both as a founding producer of ABC's "20/20" and as Mike Wallace's producer at
CBS's "60 Minutes."
An experienced print journalist, Tony Hays' recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.More ↓Less ↑
SAVANNAH, Tenn. — Vice President Al Gore is tortured by the fact
that he lost Tennessee, say friends. After all, had he won his home
state — the state he represented all his years in Congress — he would
now be President-elect Gore, with or without Florida.
“I know that’s one thing bothering him the most, that he lost
Tennessee,” said close friend Steve Armistead, who spent his summers
with Gore while growing up in Tennessee, according to a New York
Times report. “The other night he asked me, ‘What happened in Tennessee?’”
Although the media have accurately reported that Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes would have put Gore at 271 and thereby made him the next president of the United States, most have missed the reason Gore suffered his first-ever defeat in Tennessee.
Indeed, 24 years ago in his first run for Congress, Gore won an overwhelming 94 percent of the vote. His dominance was such that he ran unopposed for his next two House terms. And when he ran for his second term in the Senate a decade ago, Gore became the first statewide candidate in Tennessee’s history to take all 95 counties.
So why did Gore lose Tennessee on Nov. 7 — the first time a presidential candidate has failed to win his own state since George McGovern lost his native South Dakota in 1972?
The usual press analysis is that Tennessee’s demographics have changed, sending the once-Democratic stronghold tipping to the Republican Party. Sen. Fred Thompson and Gov. Don Sundquist have echoed this idea, while Rep. Bill Jenkins, from historically Republican upper east Tennessee, noted in an Associated Press report that “Tennessee didn’t leave Gore. Gore left Tennessee.” He pointed to Gore’s changing stance on gun control and abortion as bellwethers.
Yet, while these issues may have played a role, the answer is far more fundamental than that.
“It was the character issue,” says popular Nashville radio talk host Phil Valentine. “Thanks to talk radio and sources like WorldNetDaily getting out the truth, I believe it tipped the state to Bush.”
Valentine initially broke a story on Gore’s ties to alleged
criminal figures in Wilson County, Tenn., next door to Gore’s home county. Shortly after that, WorldNetDaily ran a series of investigative reports detailing Gore’s involvement in and interference with criminal investigations linked to his uncle, retired judge Whit LaFon and top campaign fundraisers like Clark Jones, of Savannah, Tenn. According to Valentine, it was stories like those that spelled Gore’s defeat.
“They [the stories] stayed under the radar nationally,” he said, “but around here they were on everyone’s lips.”
Charlotte Alexander, editor of the Decatur County Chronicle in Parsons, Tenn., agrees.
“Absolutely, it was the integrity issue,” she affirms. Alexander’s paper ran the WorldNetDaily series of articles profiling Gore’s seamy political dealings in Tennessee.
“We sold out of every edition that carried those stories. People literally drove in from hundreds of miles away to buy 25, 50, 100 copies, whatever they could afford, to take back with them,” she said. “We had well-known Democrats come in here after reading those stories and say out loud that they couldn’t be associated with somebody that behaved as Gore had.” Alexander even had additional copies printed, but the public soon gobbled those up as well.
“Those [WorldNetDaily] stories coming out about Gore involving himself in criminal investigations were just too much,” says former Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Milton Bowling. “I’m a Democrat, but I couldn’t get past that. I know plenty of people who felt the same way. It was never a matter of party in Tennessee; it was always about character and integrity. Gore flunked that test.”
The WND articles clearly had a major impact in Tennessee’s legal community, especially those reports dealing with Gore’s ties to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Larry Wallace. According to former TBI director and now District Attorney General John Carney, at a recent meeting of the Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference, the articles were widely discussed, yet only one DAG took issue with them, and that was longtime Wallace friend and Gore supporter Gus Radford of the 24th Judicial District.
“Gus was the only one trying to undermine them [the WND articles],” said Carney. Carney is now looking beyond the election toward bringing reform to the Tennessee law enforcement community after eight long years of Clinton-Gore influence. “Something needed to be done,” Carney said flatly. “That’s the message that went out in the communities. It’s time this mess got cleaned up.”
Is Tennessee turning Republican? Not really. Tennesseans have been conservative politically for decades. Since 1968, Tennessee has been a swing state in presidential politics, usually voting Republican, but giving its electoral votes to Democratic neighbors like Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1996. The fallacy of the establishment media’s argument — that the state’s political demographics have changed — becomes clear upon examination of the way Tennesseans voted in their congressional races this year.
Historically, the mountainous regions of east Tennessee were staunchly Republican, while middle and west Tennessee were Democratic strongholds, with only Memphis holding a substantial Republican bloc. Any Republican candidate for state office had to come out of east Tennessee with a huge margin to overcome the Democratic totals in the western two-thirds of the state.
Despite Thompson’s and Sundquist’s claims to the contrary, the people of middle and west Tennessee have not changed their politics. In what was basically Gore’s old congressional district, Democratic incumbent Bart Gordon trounced his Republican opponent, and outpolled Gore in every county including Gore’s home county, Smith.
In Nashville, long a Democratic base, Rep. Bob Clement, son of a populist Democratic governor, outpolled the vice president by more than 28,000 votes. And Clement’s district does not include all of the city.
But the 6th District was no exception. In upper and central west Tennessee, home of the 8th District, Democrat incumbent John Tanner carried every county against a credible opponent. In Madison County (Jackson, Tenn., and hometown of Gore’s uncle, Whit LaFon), Tanner outpolled his party’s standard-bearer by more than 8,000 votes. By the media’s yardstick, Tanner, Gordon and Clement should have felt some of the same heat as Gore — but not only did they win convincingly, they outpolled their party’s presidential candidate in his home state.
Republican Rep. Ed Bryant and Rep. Van Hilleary hold seats that span historically Democratic counties, but in both cases, more than half of their victory margins came from the traditionally Republican territories in their districts. Moreover, Tennessee has a habit of returning incumbents, no matter the party.
Gore carried west Tennessee, but only marginally, and then only because of the Ford political machine in Shelby County (Memphis). The large African-American family has controlled Democratic politics in Memphis for decades, and Harold Ford Jr., who currently holds the congressional seat in that district, was Gore’s choice to deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. But even the Ford machine couldn’t make up the losses Gore sustained in what should have been his strongholds, middle and west Tennessee. And it was voters in those two regions, observers say, that brought concerns about Gore’s character and integrity to the ballot box with them.
The Gore campaign was evidently concerned about the influence of the WorldNetDaily stories early on. Doug Hattaway, one of Gore’s primary campaign spokesmen, personally called media outlets across middle and west Tennessee in late September and early October, pleading with, and in some cases reportedly threatening, news directors to keep the stories off the air and out of print.
“Doug Hattaway called me,” said freelance TV reporter Tommy Stafford. Stafford had produced a story for WMC-TV in Memphis on the Thompson-Hays articles in WorldNetDaily. “He hammered at me,” said Stafford, “but I told him, ‘Look, I interviewed these guys. They’re credible.’” Hattaway then turned his attention to the news director at the Memphis station and the story was put on indefinite hold. “It was that kind of arrogance, plus the credibility issues, that beat Gore in Tennessee,” said Stafford. “Political parties didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“It was an uphill battle against news sources like the Tennessean, who refused to tell the true story,” said Valentine. “I think people began to question Gore’s character and integrity here in Tennessee. I think the truth came back to bite Gore in Tennessee, and I find it ironic that, if Florida holds for Bush, it will be Tennessee that was Gore’s downfall.”
“Whether the mainstream media believed the WorldNetDaily stories were credible or not,” said Alexander, “the voters did. I’ve never seen articles that attracted the kind of attention these did. They cost Gore the margin he needed in middle and west Tennessee. They cost Gore Tennessee’s electoral votes. That’s a fact.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – An 8-year-old, $165 million defamation case against WND springing from a series of stories about then-presidential candidate Al Gore has been settled.
The terms of the out-of-court agreement with auto dealer Clark Jones are confidential. The settlement averts the need for a trial in Tennessee that was scheduled for next month.
Below is the text of the settlement statement jointly drafted by all parties in the lawsuit. Both sides agreed to limit comment on the lawsuit to this statement:
“A lawsuit for libel, defamation, false light and conspiracy was filed by Clark Jones of Savannah, Tennessee against WorldNetDaily.com, Tony Hays and Charles H. Thompson II arising out of a press release issued by WorldNetDaily.com on September 18, 2000, and articles dated September 20, October 8, November 24 and December 5, 2000, written by Tony Hays and Charles H. Thompson, II, posted on WorldNetDaily.com’s website.
“The original news release by WorldNetDaily.com of September 18, 2000, and the article by Hays and Thompson of September 20, 2000, contained statements attributed to named sources, which statements cast Clark Jones in a light which, if untrue, defamed him by asserting that the named persons said that he had interfered with a criminal investigation, had been a ‘subject’ of a criminal investigation, was listed on law enforcement computers as a ‘dope dealer,’ and implied that he had ties to others involved in alleged criminal activity. These statements were repeated in the subsequently written articles and funds solicitations posted on WorldNetDaily.com’s website. Clark Jones emphatically denied the truth of these statements, denied any criminal activity and called upon the publisher and authors to retract them.
“Discovery has revealed to WorldNetDaily.com that no witness verifies the truth of what the witnesses are reported by authors to have stated. Additionally, no document has been discovered that provides any verification that the statements written were true.
“Factual discovery in the litigation and response from Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies confirm Clark Jones’ assertion that his name has never been on law enforcement computers, that he has not been the subject of any criminal investigation nor has he interfered with any investigation as stated in the articles. Discovery has also revealed that the sources named in the publications have stated under oath that statements attributed to them in the articles were either not made by them, were misquoted by the authors, were misconstrued, or the statements were taken out of context.
“WorldNetDaily.com and its editors never intended any harm to Clark Jones and regret whatever harm occurred. WorldNetDaily.com has no verified information by which to question Mr. Jones’ honesty and integrity, and having met him, has no claim or reason to question his honesty and integrity. WorldNetDaily.com wishes him well.”