human being on Wed, 27 Nov 2002 17:23:35 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Gore's_TV_War

// now if Mr. Gore would bolt the Democratic Party and
// run as an independent or green candidate, then he'd
// have my vote, and certainly many many millions more...

'All this gray hair is from Far From Heaven.'--Christine Vachon

Gore's TV War: He Lobs Salvo At Fox News

by Josh Benson

Among the many problems facing the Democratic Party, according to 
former Vice President Al Gore, is the state of the American media.

"The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some 
major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and 
parcel of the Republican Party," said Mr. Gore in an interview with The 
Observer. "Fox News Network, The Washington Times, Rush 
Limbaugh--there's a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by 
wealthy ultra-conservative billionaires who make political deals with 
Republican administrations and the rest of the media . Most of the 
media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth 
column in their ranks--that is, day after day, injecting the daily 
Republican talking points into the definition of what's objective as 
stated by the news media as a whole."

Mr. Gore has been airing his views during a nationwide promotional book 
tour that marks his re-emergence in public life after a self-imposed 
exile following his loss in the 2000 Presidential election. Now, as Mr. 
Gore considers another Presidential campaign, he's determined to 
confound his ponderous image by unveiling a new Al Gore--one who doesn't 
hesitate, as he puts it, to "let 'er rip."

Hence his controversial criticisms of President Bush's foreign policy, 
and his surprise announcement in favor of a government-run universal 
health-care system. And hence, in a phone interview with The Observer, 
his extensive criticism of the media, which is hardly a conventional 
way of launching a national political campaign.

Actually, Mr. Gore may have little reason to hide his views about the 
media, for his re-emergence, while generating a massive amount of 
attention, has also inspired ridicule from commentators of all 
ideological persuasions. Conservatives seemed delighted by his return, 
remembering his awkward candidacy in 2000, and many liberals have been 
quite frank in wishing that he would simply disappear.

But Mr. Gore has a bone to pick with his critics: namely, he says, that 
a systematically orchestrated bias in the media makes it impossible for 
him and his fellow Democrats to get a fair shake. "Something will start 
at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will 
explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox 
News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times 
and the others. And then they'll create a little echo chamber, and 
pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly 
ignoring the story they've pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty 
soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called 
objective sampling, and lo and behold, these R.N.C. talking points are 
woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."

And during a lengthy discourse on the history of political journalism 
in America, Mr. Gore said he believed that evolving technologies and 
market forces have combined to lower the media's standards of 
objectivity. "The introduction of cable-television news and Internet 
news made news a commodity, available from an unlimited number of 
sellers at a steadily decreasing cost, so the established news 
organizations became the high-cost producers of a low-cost commodity," 
said Mr. Gore. "They're selling a hybrid product now that's news plus 
news-helper; whether it's entertainment or attitude or news that's 
marbled with opinion, it's different. Now, especially in the cable-TV 
market, it has become good economics once again to go back to a 
party-oriented approach to attract a hard-core following that 
appreciates the predictability of a right-wing point of view, but then 
to make aggressive and constant efforts to deny that's what they're 
doing in order to avoid offending the broader audience that mass 
advertisers want. Thus the Fox slogan 'We Report, You Decide,' or 
whatever the current version of their ritual denial is."

"We understand that Gore is frustrated," said R.N.C. spokesman Kevin 
Sheridan. "He's the leader of a party without a message. But if he 
thinks that the Republican National Committee can control the American 
media, then perhaps he needs a break from the book tour."

Fox spokesman Rob Zimmerman said, "We won't dignify this with a 

A spokesman for The Washington Times didn't return calls for comment. 
Rush Limbaugh was traveling and not available for comment.

A Left Hook

Of course, some of the harshest criticisms of Mr. Gore have come from 
distinctly non-conservative quarters. Mr. Gore seemed particularly 
stung, for example, by an op-ed written by Frank Rich of The New York 
Times, suggesting that his new spontaneity was a charade. "When people 
write a line like one that I read this morning--quote, 'People do not 
change,' period, end quote--well, there's a difference between learning 
from experience and self-reinvention," Mr. Gore said. "People do 
change, particularly in America. If you don't learn from the 
experiences you have in life, then you're not trying very hard, and if 
you don't make mistakes, you're not human . If people who make their 
living criticizing anybody and everybody want to add me to their list, 
that's all right. Hell, they've got to make a living."

Democrats sympathetic to Mr. Gore frequently maintain that "political 
insiders"--the media, big donors, professional politicians--paint an 
overly pessimistic picture of his viability as a candidate and suggest 
that his position has been strengthened by the party's poor showing in 
the midterm elections several weeks ago. "There are all these people in 
the party who have been adamant that we need a fresh face," said Joe 
Andrew, who headed the Democratic National Committee during the Clinton 
administration. "I think a lot of those people are taking another look 
at Al Gore now, saying that, 'Well, at least there's someone out there 
with big ideas, who looks good on TV, who looks more comfortable with 
himself.' I think it's simply a fundamental reaction to the sense that 
he is a serious candidate with serious ideas."

But while Mr. Gore has a solid core of support, many Democrats do want 
a fresh face to take on George W. Bush in 2004. The same formal and 
informal polls that show Mr. Gore with substantially larger backing 
than any other Democratic hopeful also show that a great many donors, 
opinion makers and party leaders are uncommitted--and leaning toward 
Anyone But Gore.

It's possible that no amount of criticism will keep Mr. Gore out of the 
race, but there's little question that "Gore fatigue" already has 
become a rallying point for his potential opponents. "At this point, 
people are uniformly looking for a different face and a different 
agenda, an agenda that requires a backbone," Vermont Governor Howard 
Dean, a potential Democratic contender, told The Observer.

Asked about Mr. Gore's efforts to make a fresh start as a 
straight-talking, independent-minded Democrat, Mr. Dean said, "I think 
it will be kind of a tough job for someone who was a sitting Vice 
President to call himself an outsider."

Mr. Gore acknowledged his image problem among powerful Democrats, and 
that the onus will be upon him to recapture the loyalties of those who 
supported him in 2000. "Maybe I bear the blame for some of it," he 
said. "I haven't been very good about calling all of the insiders over 
the last two years, and maybe some of them have a beef with me because 
of that. I know they have been courted assiduously by some of the 
others who are considering a run for the White House, and it may be 
that some of them have already signed up with other people. If I do 
decide to run again, I think there's a lot of support, but I'd also 
have to work really hard to get a bunch of them committed back to me."

Mr. Gore also reckoned that he would have to prove himself all over 
again to key political and media players. "I'm well aware that the 
political insiders and political-journalism community have a 
considerable amount of influence, and even though I'm stronger at the 
grassroots level, I think that if I did run again, I would have to 
convince those two groups that I've learned enough in the last couple 
of years to run a better campaign than I did last time. I don't think 
that there's a thing that I could say and no words I could choose that 
could accomplish that--the way to convince them would be in actually 
doing it."

For now, Mr. Gore can only attempt to explain what motivates the 
ceaseless lampooning he continues to face from America's columnists and 
commentators. "That's postmodernism," he offered. "It's the combination 
of narcissism and nihilism that really defines postmodernism, and 
that's another interview for another time, if you're interested in it.

You may reach Josh Benson via email at:
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This column ran on page 1 in the 12/2/2002 edition of The New York 

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