EDINBURGH — Former Vice President Al Gore blew through Edinburgh a few days ago and complimented the government on its contributions to diminishing the "threat'' of global warming. Government policies must be working, because it is noticeably cooler at the end of summer!
In remarks to the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Gore also said "Democracy is under attack.'' He fears the consolidation of the media in too few hands. "Democracy is a conversation,'' he said, "and the most important role of the media is to facilitate that conversation of democracy. Now the conversation is more controlled, it is more centralized.''
Gore cited as examples the Italian media, much of which is owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the media in Russia, which has stifled dissent on television on orders from President Vladimir Putin. He also mentioned South Africa, where dissent "is disappearing and free expression is under attack.'' Funny, I thought liberal Democrats like Gore believed that when apartheid ended, all evil would disappear.
Gore told his audience, "the only thing that matters in American politics now is having enough money to put 30-second commercials on the air often enough to convince voters to elect you or re-elect you. The person who has the most money to run the most ads usually wins.''
Putting aside what could be interpreted as sour grapes over his loss in the 2000 election, Gore is right in his indictment of broadcast media and much of cable TV. Too much on television has conditioned too many viewers to the sensational instead of the cerebral. Vegetables and fruits are essential to a healthy body. Intellectual nourishment is equally important to strong minds and to a worldview that extends beyond one's baser instincts. Consider the resurrection of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and the types of stories that get the attention of cable news. When broadcast TV does get around to covering important subjects, the liberal slant is so obvious as to preclude serious consideration of viewpoints that do not conform to the political opinions of the show hosts, anchors, producers and guest bookers.
The networks long ago abandoned any notion of civic responsibility in favor of profit. One might just as well ask a chicken to fly than to ask the cash-sucking networks to attempt shock therapy on the mostly brain-dead electorate, whose interest in politics they have helped diminish.
But the networks do like trends. Is there a politician alive who might start one by swimming against the media tide? Is there a politician who, for example, has the nerve to propose an "energy independence day'' in the not-too-distant future and promise, if elected, to wean the United States from Middle East oil? He (or she) might recall John F. Kennedy's pledge to land Americans on the moon by the end of the 1960s. That goal was achieved because most Americans understood its importance in the context of the Cold War.
Such a politician would inevitably gain media attention. This attention would not effect the concentration of the media in the hands of a few, but it could bypass the gatekeepers and resonate with the public. That's what happened with talk radio, which circumvented big media and allowed a substantial portion of the country to hear things they otherwise might not have heard. The TV networks might be forced to pay attention to such a politician and his ideas, because the public would demand to hear more.
Al Gore is on to something important. Now if someone can be found who will lead by example, the country and even the media, would be the beneficiaries.