In the heat of the summer the media talked up a storm about global warming. And the most celebrated “expert” on the topic was a man who received a degree in government, dropped out of two graduate programs (law and divinity) and received a D and a C-plus in natural sciences. Al Gore, whose stunning educational record was reported by The Washington Post on March 19, 2000, went from policy wonk to movie star almost over night.
Gore and his film received so much positive air time on TV this summer that instead of watching all those media appearances you could have watched the documentary three-and-a-half times and still had plenty of time to get a coke and some popcorn.
The Debate is Over
The media, smitten with Gore, didn’t make things hard for the former vice president. Gore was given a pass on some tough questions because either the show’s host or Gore himself would declare that “the debate is over” on global warming. This unsubstantiated declaration was made on nine occasions throughout the three-month period.
On the May 31, 2006, edition of “The Early Show” with Harry Smith, Gore said it himself, “the debate among the scientists is over. There is no more debate. We face a planetary emergency.” He continued adamantly, “There is no more scientific debate among serious people who've looked at the evidence.”
During this exchange Smith gently questioned Gore about the existence of a debate saying that “more conservative elements” of the media believe this to be more than a one-sided issue. But Smith went along with him when Gore criticized global warming skeptics, insinuating that they were fools, by saying, “Well, I guess in some quarters, there's still a debate over whether the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona, or whether the earth is flat instead of round.”
During a “Today” show interview with Katie Couric, Gore again declared, “The debate’s over. The scientific community has reached as strong a consensus as you will ever find in science.” Couric agreed with Gore and followed up with this statement, “Where there is disagreement among scientists is not if, but when, we may see drastic environmental changes across the globe.”
Of course the debate wasn’t over. Many respected scientists still were debating virtually every aspect of the issue throughout the summer. An essay that appeared in the August 2006 edition of Environment & Climate News, published by The Heartland Institute, spoke to the continuous nature of the climate debate. In his article “Gore Movie is Gorgeous Propaganda, Misrepresentation,” Heartland President and CEO Joseph Bast questioned Gore’s scientific accuracy. He also listed 23 climate experts, working at institutions such as Harvard, MIT and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who “all dispute Gore’s alarmist claims.”
Audiences of this summer’s Al Gore interviews might not have been aware that an opposition even existed. None of Gore’s interviews were either preceded or followed by the appearance of any contrary views on global warming.
Al Gore, Movie Star
“I went to bed with a recovering politician and I woke up with a movie star and it’s great,” said Tipper Gore, Al’s wife, who promoted his new image during a “Good Morning America” interview on June 13, 2006. Tipper’s wording sounded good to TV personalities who said he was “all the buzz.”
Even before Tipper appeared on the show, “Good Morning America” was hyping Gore. On May 23 Claire Shipman suggested the “celebrity” might still have politics on his mind. “Al Gore and global warming. On the face of it, not two subjects you’d expect to add up to the buzziest film since the last Michael Moore flick. But check it out, here’s Al being celebrated in Cannes, doing the celebrity thing at an LA opening, power-walking a green carpet in Washington as rumors of another presidential run swirl,” she explained.
When Katie Couric interviewed Gore on May 24, 2006, the flood of compliments just kept coming. Couric told Gore, “I think in this movie at different turns, you're funny, vulnerable, disarming, self-effacing. And someone said after watching it quote, 'if only he was like this before, maybe things would have turned out differently in 2000.’”
Gore’s whirlwind of publicity wasn’t limited to TV. Print media also joined in the celebration. BMI previously documented how Entertainment Weekly’s July 14, 2006, issue featured Gore on the cover. The article, which also declared the debate on global warming “over,” called Gore “hip and trendy.”
The story went on to praise Gore for connecting to crowds “charismatically” and noted that he had “even found his sense of humor.” “Pulp Fiction” producer Lawrence Bender, quoted in the article, said, “With gas prices [going up] and global warming percolating in the zeitgeist – it felt like the perfect storm.” The article’s author Benjamin Svetkey said “global warming is percolating in the zeitgeist,” but he ignored the obvious conclusion that the media put it there.
Al Gore, “I used to be the next President of the United States”
“The View” on June 29, 2006, was a veritable celebration of Gore. He even was hailed as a “movie star.” One of the show’s hosts wouldn’t stop until she had slipped in her preferred choice for the 2008 presidential ballot – Clinton/Gore.
Host Joy Behar threw her support behind the former vice president. “Can I ask you a question, if you were to run for president again, which I wish you would do that,” she said to audience applause. “Alright that’s just me. My opinion, I would vote for you in a minute. I love Hillary too; I’d like to see the two of you on the same ticket,” Behar explained.
At the end of the segment, Barbara Walter’s couldn’t help putting in a shameless plug for the film when, amidst other praise, she told viewers “it’s very important to see this.”
Even news anchors seemed to beg Gore to run for the White House in 2008. Bill Weir was the one doing the pleading on “Good Morning America” on June 23, 2006. “You said in the movie that this issue drove you to run for president in ’88, but you’ve also said recently that it’s keeping you in part from running in 2008 because the corrosive nature of modern politics would diminish the message there, but can this be fixed, can the planet be saved without the help of a president?” he asked Gore.
CNN’s “The Situation Room” also took part in forecasting the 2008 political climate. Leading into the May 17, 2006 story, Jack Cafferty said, “Al Gore says he’s not running for president again.” But the news segment, titled “Here We Gore Again?” went in the opposite direction when reporter Brian Todd referred to Gore’s plan not to run as a “line he’s used with reporters more than once recently.”
He was suspicious of Gore’s denial and included clips from Gore’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” Todd also spoke with a political expert who predicted Gore would stay in the game.
The most telling example of wishful thinking was Gore’s appearance on SNL playing, you guessed it, the president of the United States. The comedy sketch, which appeared on May 13, 2006, was a moment of indulgence, both for Gore and the show’s writers. It illustrated just how eager the media were to place Gore in power. Ironically, when Gore posed as the President on SNL his “parallel universe” was facing the negative consequences of stopping global warming.
Moral Issue or Political Issue
During his interview on “The View,” Gore also spoke about his approach to global warming. He said, “If we make up our minds to take it out of politics and see it is a moral issue, which I think it is, partisanship should not be involved here.”
Gore repeatedly stated that this was not a political issue, but the book version of “An Inconvenient Truth” says otherwise. “The way we treat forests is a political issue,” is a quote from page 222 of the book. Speaking of our obligation to use our technology to prevent and remediate global warming on page 250 Gore says “this, too, is a political issue.”
A section titled “The Politicization of Global Warming” appears on page 284. Gore didn’t shy away from using that section to criticize the president and take what can only be described as political angle on global warming.
Interviewers didn’t question that Gore was being contradictory when he went on TV and claimed that global warming was not a political issue, but a moral issue. In the June 23 “Good Morning America” Gore said “It shouldn’t be a political issue, it should be seen for what it is – a moral issue.”
In his May interview with Katie Couric he claimed the same thing – “It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue.” Couric didn’t challenge him on that point, but she did note that Gore was “basking in the limelight” and “soaking up standing ovations.”
Media Myth of Gore’s Popularity
After his defeat in the 2000 election few would have forecast that Al Gore would be the media’s hot topic for summer 2006. However, the deluge of press coverage was enough to foster myths about the former vice president.
This summer’s media coverage implied that Gore enjoyed a big jump in popular support. On “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” on May 16, Olbermann suggested Americans were ready for a change of heart about the former vice president. He predicted “if Al Gore ran in 2008, was the democratic nominee, it’d seem to be two groups that would have an opportunity to get a do-over, one being the voting public who I'm sure asked now would probably chose the other way around, if they were actually given a choice, but the second one would be Al Gore who could possibly run a campaign based on Al Gore rather than 5,000 different advisors…”
A Gallup Poll released on August 3, 2006, challenged this assumption made by many in the media. While in office as vice president Gore enjoyed an average favorability rating of 56 percent. That poll showed that Gore is viewed with a favorable opinion by only 48 percent of Americans. Only 19 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of the “movie star.” Democrats also ranked Gore behind Hillary Rodham Clinton as their preferred candidate for president in 2008.
In addition to hyping his popularity, the media also pushed Gore’s personal crusade for the environment. In his book, film, and many of his appearances Gore loved to discuss how seemingly small individual efforts could contribute to a global solution. “Vice President Gore advocates what he calls a carbon neutral lifestyle. That is, you can balance out a gas-guzzling SUV or frequent airline travel by making a donation to an eco-friendly start-up company, a solar-panel company, a wind farm somewhere,” said Bill Weir on June 24 “Good Morning America.”
During his June appearance on “The View” Mr. and Mrs. Gore listed ways individuals could help reduce their impact on climate change. Their solutions included switching to energy efficient light bulbs and driving a hybrid vehicle.
Gore seemed to be very familiar with energy efficient practices, but a recent op-ed published in USA Today showed facts to the contrary. Peter Schweizer’s August 9, op-ed titled “Gore isn’t quite as green as he’s led the world to believe,” questioned Gore’s image, pushed all summer by the broadcast media.
Gore and his wife own three homes located in Nashville, Tenn. (10,000 square feet), Arlington, Va. (4,000 square feet) and Carthage Tenn. As Schweizer, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, stated the more troubling news was Gore’s energy use habits in these homes. Programs in both the D.C. and Nashville areas offer alternative energy choices for only a few extra pennies per kilowatt hour. Schweizer said that businesses, institutions and the Bush administration are using this type of alternative energy. “But according to public records, there is no evidence that Gore has signed up to use green energy in either of his large residences.”
Schweizer also reported that Gore’s property in Carthage sits atop a zinc mine. “Gore receives $20,000 a year in royalties from Pasminco Zinc, which operates a zinc concession on his property. Tennessee has cited the company for adding large quantities of barium, iron and zinc to the nearby Caney Fork River.” Photographs of the Gores enjoying the beautiful Caney Fork River are featured prominently in the first several pages of Gore’s book.
Business & Media Institute researchers analyzed three month’s worth of television on major networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, PBS, Comedy Central and SciFi – for reporting on Al Gore or “An Inconvenient Truth.” All stories concerning Mr. Gore and his film from May 1, 2006 – July 31, 2006, as determined by a Nexis search, were included.
In all, BMI staff found 99 stories that discussed Gore or the movie. Of those, the former vice president, his film or both were shown on 75 different programs. Finally, the appearances were watched, analyzed and timed – totaling five hours, 38 minutes and eight seconds.
It would be ridiculous to claim Al Gore wasn’t newsworthy during summer 2006. The former vice president has made an even bigger name for himself as a climate change spokesman and his movie gave welcoming news outlets a timely story.
But there is a clear line between timely news and advocacy and much of the Gore coverage clearly crossed it. Softball questions, unchallenged claims and a failure to look into Gore’s personal “carbon footprint” all point to a media that became the convenient PR firm for one person’s version of the truth.
Al Gore has popularized the term “An Inconvenient Truth,” but there is more to the story than just Al Gore’s side of the issue. Obviously, the media can’t handle that truth.