I have no insights to add here; (I’d be just piling on). I just wanted to address a tangential issue raised in the comments about why the New York Times covers certain books and not others. People in publishing realize how centralized the media business still is. It’s all about sending review copies and establishing relationships with book editors and TV producers. Al Gore deserves the attention he is receiving, but isn’t it curious how every network and news show seems to have scheduled a book talk at about the same time? TVmedia is wowwed by celebritydom even when he is talking about Habermas. For mass media, it’s the messenger –not the message–which counts. (I make this observation not merely because I resent this; I’m just acknowledging the way mass media works). Isn’t it ironic that a book criticizing media coverage of politics has warmed up to it so much (this, I suppose is a logical conclusion, now that Gore’s voice is being piped into the local Walmart these days.).
I plan to read the book eventually (and I hope translations are being commissioned in Mandarin, Russian and Arabic as we speak). I particularly recommend Gwen Eifel’s interview on PBS newshour . She asked some tough questions:
GWEN IFILL: So when you say that this is about cracks in fundamental democracy and not just about Bush and Cheney, does that mean that, if you had been president, these same problems would have existed?
AL GORE: I think many of them — well, I would have made different mistakes if I had served as president, and I like to think that I would have avoided some of the large ones that our country is suffering through now, having 150,000 of our soldiers trapped in the middle of a civil war, for example, and being an outlier and almost an outcast in the global community, when the rest of the world is trying to confront the climate crisis.
But some of the same problems with the way Americans — the way we Americans communicate among ourselves, they have no tether to which party is in control or which person is president of the United States. How we deal with them, I think, can be affected by leadership, but the problems outlined in this book and the solutions recommended really go much broader than who’s president or which party controls Congress. This is a much deeper set of challenges that we have to address together as Americans.
GWEN IFILL: Manipulating opinion, outsourcing the truth, why don’t you just go ahead and call it a lie?
AL GORE: Well, I think it’s more subtle than that. I think that, when someone conveys false impressions, and when it is done so in such an artful way, the phenomena itself is part of what should be changed.
For example, in both political parties, 80 percent of the budgets in contested races last November were devoted to 30-second television commercials, and the impressionistic approach is also part of the problem, in my view, because now the conversation is not really a two-way or a multi-way conversation. The vast majority of the information flow is over television — that’s still the dominant medium — and it’s a one-way flow.
Here’s my question for Al Gore. “You are selling some complex ideas –both in your book and your global warming campaign. Do Americans need a celebrity spokesman to present these ideas in order to be persuaded by them?