Tomorrow (July 9) marks 31 years since Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton picked Tennessee Senator Al Gore as his vice presidential candidate on the 1992 Democratic Party ticket. The announcement kicked off a wave of positive coverage from liberal reporters anxious to boot then-President George H. W. Bush from the White House, as the media gleefully participated in the re-branding of a new “centrist” Democratic Party.
Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift was enamored with the relatively young ticket (both Clinton and Gore were in their mid-40s at the time). “I think Gore and Clinton could be the all-generational change ticket,” she claimed on The McLaughlin Group on July 4, 1992, a few days before Gore’s selection was made official. “I suppose if they lose, they could do cameo appearances on Studs or something.”
On CNN’s Inside Politics July 10, Clift continued to objectify the Democratic ticket: “I must say I was struck by the expanse of their chests. They may have to put out their stats.” Back on The McLaughlin Group on July 12, she remained smitten: “I must say, looking at some of that footage, it looks like the all-beefcake ticket.”
The Democratic ticket was announced just four days before the start of the Democrats’ national convention, held that year in New York City. The party’s goal was to re-brand itself after two explicit liberals, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, were defeated in landslides in 1984 and 1988. Political reporters knew this, of course, and happily acted as if Clinton and Gore were ushering in a new middle-of-the-road Democratic Party.
“Both Gore and Clinton are centrist, some would say conservative, Democrats,” CBS’s Richard Threlkeld told Evening News viewers the night of Gore’s selection.
ABC even insisted that Gore’s radical environmental policies would help the party’s re-branding: “One of the biggest advantages in choosing Gore as a political partner is the Senator’s track record on the environment,” reporter Jim Hickey claimed on the July 10 Good Morning America. “It’s a track record the White House tries to paint as extremist, but Gore has already received the endorsement as an outstanding choice by the Sierra Club and other powerful conservation groups.”
For her part, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell suggested on the July 12 Today show that Republicans would no longer own the “family values” issue: “You can’t get much more squeaky clean than Al Gore, his four kids, and his wife Tipper.”
When the convention kicked off the next day, CBS’s Susan Spencer announced during her network’s live coverage that “even liberal Democrats... think that Al Gore and Bill Clinton could be a winning ticket. They’re willing to swallow the problems that they have with such a conservative pair in hopes of winning.”
“That’s the ticket — not a liberal in sight,” ABC’s Jim Wooten agreed on the July 13 World News Tonight, “and that’s the picture Clinton wants the convention to leave with the country: Democrats happily moving from their liberal past to their centrist future.”
The next night, CBS anchor Dan Rather offered this urgent update for viewers of the All-Star Game: “Delegates approved the Clinton-Gore center-of-the-road Democratic Party platform, trying to move the party closer to voters around the malls in America’s suburbs.”
A Media Research Center study of that week’s convention coverage (July 13-16, 1992) found that “Bill Clinton and Al Gore were never once directly labeled liberal, only ‘moderate,’ ‘centrist,’ ‘middle of the road,’ or ‘conservative’ a total of 19 times. Before his July 16 speech, for instance, Tom Brokaw tagged Clinton ‘a moderate of modest means.’ A bit later, [NBC’s] John Chancellor decided ‘they’ve done a good job of moving this party back to the center of the political spectrum.’”
It was exactly the publicity the Democrats wanted for their convention, and they got even more of it when the media glommed on to the Democratic ticket’s post-convention bus tour to keep the positive headlines flowing.
“When they appear with their wives, Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, they look like two suburban couples, perhaps old college friends, out on the town for a good time,” the Washington Post’s Ed Walsh enthused in a July 23 article. “And whether they are playing miniature golf with their wives, tossing a football around or gleefully backslapping each other at campaign rallies, the images and the message are always the same: Youth, vigor, energy. And change.”
“Delighted Democrats like to say of Clinton and Gore that theirs is a partnership where 1 plus 1 equals 5, and when Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore are added to the equation, 2 plus 2 equals 10,” Walsh’s Post colleague, Dave Maraniss, echoed in an August 6 “Campaign Journal” piece. “And the power of their numbers does seem to multiply exponentially at times such as this afternoon, when the eight-bus caravan made a semi-impromptu stop at a rest area in Bowling Green, Mo.”
“Clinton and Gore had, once again, transcended the traditional rites and cliches of politics,” Newsweek’s Joe Klein gushed in the magazine’s August 17 issue. “Something was happening out there on Highway 61, an emotional connection that mocked and then demolished the industrial-strength cynicism of the 150 journalists tagging along.”
“They got more positive coverage on this bus tour than the Beatles got on their first tour of America. More reporters were oohing and aahing. It was almost embarrassing,” Newsweek’s Clift admitted on the July 25 McLaughlin Group, before playfully adding: “I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to do it until now.”
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.