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The Groaning of Al Gore

Al Gore hasn't even gotten into the presidential race, and he is already beating up on the media—in this case, television—which is interesting because, as a part owner of Current, he himself is a television executive. Nonetheless, Gore blames television for most of the ills of the world in his new book, The Assault on Reason, excerpted in the May 28 edition of Time.

In one impassioned portion, he writes, “The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by the empire of television.” Jeez.

He argues that it's too easy to blame just President George W. Bush and his administration for getting us into the war. We should also blame the TV-addled public whose marketplace of ideas has been overrun by misguided electronic media. Instead of paying attention to important matters, the public has been titillated with “serial obsessions” ranging from the O.J car chase to Paris and Nicole. Thanks to big, bad TV, we were all gazing at Britney's navel, and meanwhile the country was marching to war. Who knew?

There is no doubt in our mind that TV did mishandle the run-up to the war, as CBS' John Roberts conceded to B&C in an interview last week. But flawed Iraq-war coverage was not a TV exclusive. The New York Times published what amounted to an apology on May 26, 2004, for its gullibility. Blaming television for for this lousy war, rather than blaming the Bush Administration and blaming weak politicians of both parties—Congress voted for this war—is ludicrous.

Gore opines that the reasons legislators aren't hanging on the every word of their fulminating colleagues—all those empty seats in the House and Senate chambers during speeches—is that they are out raising money to pay for TV commercials. But the biggest impediments to election reform are politicians themselves. He also asserts, “The news media seldom report on Senate speeches anymore.” What? C-SPAN reports them wall-to-video-wall. And the Sunday political-affairs shows are more aggressive than they were in the good old days of television that Gore imagines.

Yet, Gore decries consolidation and lays into “media Machievellis” who are “hollowing out our Democracy” to make room for their “propagandistic electronic messaging.”

Assuming for a second that Gore is absolutely right on the mark, how in the world did Gore's old boss, Bill Clinton, get raked over the media coals for 24 hours a day during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and still maintain the support of the majority of the electorate?

Gore ought to be embarrassed by The Assault on Reason, whose title alone is a good, one-line assessment of its overall jingoistic message. His essay is the rant of a politician who has just discovered what millions of intelligent, in-touch Americans already know: We watch TV. Maybe we watch too much TV. We don't know enough about the world around us.

Television didn't create this situation. It is there to be watched, or not. It can be tuned to Spike or PBS. Al Gore concludes that the “well-informed citizenry” is in danger of becoming the “well-amused audience.” There are some “inconvenient truths” in Gore's media screed. There's also a load of hyperbole.

This sounds like a book you could pass on in favor of sitting down with a good TV show.