An Ox to Gore
Say what you want about Al Gore. Agree or disagree with him about global warming. Say that Gore is boring, slow-talking and now portly. But Al Gore sure has it right when it comes to the news media's focus on superficial and tawdry stories.
Gore has been making the rounds on the television talk shows to promote his latest book, "The Assault on Reason." One of the themes of Gore's book is that the news media are partly to blame for the lack of citizen input into major decisions made by the U.S. government, such as on global warming and the invasion of Iraq, because the media, especially the television news networks, are covering entertainment news and celebrity gossip at the expense of the most important stories facing Americans. This is something I have been blogging about for over a year.
A couple of days ago, Diane Sawyer of ABC News proved Al Gore's point, right in front of Gore. Here, thanks to Crooks and Liars, is Gore's interview with Sawyer, where he tries to talk about his book and Sawyer keeps trying to steer the conversation to the presidential horse race and even to Gore's weight and whether it reflects his Presidential intentions. Behind them is a giant graphic that reads "The Race For '08," which is neither the topic of Gore's book or the purpose of his appearance. It's quite embarrassing. Gore, politely but firmly, finally says to Diane:
"But listen to your questions. It's, you know, the horse race, the cosmetic parts of this ... but while we're focused on, you know, Britney and K-Fed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our's country's been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are."
That night, Gore appeared on CNN's Larry King Live. Larry King has made an industry out of focusing on Britney, K-Fed, Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff (Lacy Peterson, Chandra Levy, the Runaway Bride, etc.). Here is what Gore said:
GORE: But in a lot of the news media, the line between entertainment and news is now very blurred, and a lot of news organizations feel the need to run polls and conduct focus groups the same as politicians now. And so we get a lot more of Anna Nicole Smith's funeral arrangements and Paris Hilton's legal battles on her jail term than we get about how we can solve the climate crisis and how we can get our troops out of this civil war they are trapped in, in Iraq. And we have this huge onslaught of trivialities and four-and-a- half hours a day is the average amount of time Americans watch television. And so much of it is just sort of mind-deadening. And you know what I'm talking about. And that line between entertainment and news is really gone now in many cases.
KING: What is the danger of the Paris Hilton/Anna Nicole Smith coverage kind of thing?
GORE: Well, the danger is that the volume of it excludes serious discussion of the choice that we have to make as a free people. Now a second aspect of this, though, is that television has mainly been in one direction. And so where the people used to have a greater opportunity to take part in the conversation and talk back in ways where what they said would be heard and listened to, now the act of just sitting motionless in front of the TV set and absorbing all of this stuff, particularly when the majority of it is the Britney and the K-Fed and whether or not Russell Crowe threw a telephone at the hotel concierge, that the ability and the opportunity to participate actively in the processes of self-government are disappearing.
No matter what side you may take as to Al Gore's policies or the many issues facing Americans, shouldn't we all be concerned about Gore's point that our ability to hear a full airing of different views on the issues, especially on the dominant television medium, is being crowded out by coverage of Britney, K-Fed, Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith and Russell Crowe's flying telephone?