Sunday, May 27, 2007




[From his new book excerpted in Time]

AL GORE, THE ASSAULT ON REASON - Radio, the Internet, movies, cell
phones, iPods, computers, instant messaging, video games and personal
digital assistants all now vie for our attention - but it is television
that still dominates the flow of information. According to an
authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of
4 hours and 35 minutes every day - 90 minutes more than the world
average. When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours
of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is
almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time the average American

In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely
in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for
individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation.
Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not
speak. The "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the
"well-amused audience." Moreover, the high capital investment required
for the ownership and operation of a television station and the
centralized nature of broadcast, cable and satellite networks have led
to the increasing concentration of ownership by an ever smaller number
of larger corporations that now effectively control the majority of
television programming in America.

In practice, what television's dominance has come to mean is that the
inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is
now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they
use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these
commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics - and
the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance
reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as
the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through
purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one
way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas
will continue to play a diminished role. That is also why the House and
Senate campaign committees in both parties now search for candidates who
are multimillionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal

When I first ran for Congress in 1976, I never took a poll during the
entire campaign. Eight years later, however, when I ran statewide for
the U.S. Senate, I did take polls and like most statewide candidates
relied more heavily on electronic advertising to deliver my message. I
vividly remember a turning point in that Senate campaign when my
opponent, a fine public servant named Victor Ashe who has since become a
close friend, was narrowing the lead I had in the polls. After a
detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of
potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent's
campaign and the planned response to the response, my advisers made a
recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity:
"If you run this ad at this many 'points' [a measure of the size of the
advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we
purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net
result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the

I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead
had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own
campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our
democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the
governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest
bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass
media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of
reason began to diminish. . .
As a college student, I wrote my senior thesis on the impact of
television on

The potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially
discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively
exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis. The combination of
ever more sophisticated public opinion sampling techniques and the
increasing use of powerful computers to parse and subdivide the American
people according to "psychographic" categories that identify their
susceptibility to individually tailored appeals has further magnified
the power of propagandistic electronic messaging that has created a
harsh new reality for the functioning of our democracy. . .

And what if an individual citizen or group of citizens wants to enter
the public debate by expressing their views on television? Since they
cannot simply join the conversation, some of them have resorted to
raising money in order to buy 30 seconds in which to express their
opinion. But too often they are not allowed to do even that.
tried to buy an ad for the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast to express
opposition to Bush's economic policy, which was then being debated by
Congress. CBS told MoveOn that "issue advocacy" was not permissible.
Then, CBS, having refused the MoveOn ad, began running advertisements by
the White House in favor of the president's controversial proposal. So
MoveOn complained, and the White House ad was temporarily removed. By
temporarily, I mean it was removed until the White House complained, and
CBS immediately put the ad back on, yet still refused to present the
MoveOn ad.

To understand the final reason why the news marketplace of ideas
dominated by television is so different from the one that emerged in the
world dominated by the printing press, it is important to distinguish
the quality of vividness experienced by television viewers from the
"vividness" experienced by readers. Marshall McLuhan's description of
television as a "cool" medium - as opposed to the "hot" medium of print
- was hard for me to understand when I read it 40 years ago, because the
source of "heat" in his metaphor is the mental work required in the
alchemy of reading. But McLuhan was almost alone in recognizing that the
passivity associated with watching television is at the expense of
activity in parts of the brain associated with abstract thought, logic,
and the reasoning process. . .

Fortunately, the Internet has the potential to revitalize the role
played by the people in our constitutional framework. It has extremely
low entry barriers for individuals. It is the most interactive medium in
history and the one with the greatest potential for connecting
individuals to one another and to a universe of knowledge. It's a
platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and
distribution of ideas, in the same way that markets are a decentralized
mechanism for the creation and distribution of goods and services. It's
a platform, in other words, for reason. . .

The democratization of knowledge by the print medium brought the
Enlightenment. Now, broadband interconnection is supporting
decentralized processes that reinvigorate democracy. We can see it
happening before our eyes: As a society, we are getting smarter.
Networked democracy is taking hold. You can feel it. We the people - as
Lincoln put it, "even we here" - are collectively still the key to the
survival of America's democracy.,8816,1622015,00.html



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