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October 17, 2003

Al Gore Reaches For The Remote

What goes on in the mind of Al Gore?

His latest brainchild is the creation of a television network, slanted to the left, to compete with Fox News. To accomplish this, Gore, along with a team of investors, is poised to purchase a minor news channel from Universal, called Newsworld International.

As word of the ex-Veep’s plans have circulated through the liberal braintrust, the conventional wisdom is that this idea is not well thought out. Some of the obstacles are practical ones, including the tremendous costs involved, and the difficulty of carving out more space on the dial.

The more substantial difficulties, however, would seem to be behavioral. The main school of thought among media-savvy liberals is that television and radio are primarily conducive to conservatives, who thrive on endless doses of hostility, sloganeering and fear-mongering. Liberals, on the other hand, gravitate toward niche-programming tailored toward high-minded conversation (MacNeil-Lehrer); humor (Jon Stewart); or ribald parody (Bill Maher). On radio, liberals seem to orient toward the tame and somewhat generic (see NPR). If anything, the medium the left seems most adapted to print (consider: Michael Moore, Al Franken, Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivans, Paul Krugman, Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Michael Moore).

So if conservatives salivate to Fox, while a liberal would rather watch C-Span, what does Gore see that others don’t? One possibility is, nothing. If you believe The New York Observer (which has been obsessesing over this story for months), Gore is on an ego trip—he wants to be a mogul. In our view, however, it’s more of a Don Quixote-thing. We think Gore sees himself as a visionary. (Remember the “I discovered the internet” debacle?) Given the Democratic establishment’s intense preoccupation with, and mental anguish over Fox, we think Gore just convinced himself he could figure out a way to go head-to-head.

Interestingly, the media platform most ripe for a liberal champion is the internet. (The reason no one knows it is because big media is too threatened to pay attention.) The left-wing has practically mind-melded with the ‘net, building dramatically evolving and rapidly growing vehicles for activism, community-building, news dissemination, grass-roots organizing, political commentary and satire (the Dean campaign; Move-On; Meet-Up; the Blog phenomenon; IndyMedia: and White House.org are just the most notable examples.) (Hey, even BAGnews is getting 5000 hits a day. And, like everybody else, the trendline is only up.)

So, what does this say about Al? Maybe he does see something that nobody else does. Maybe he can make a passive medium work for people who are craving more consciousness, more unsponsored interconnection, more spontaneity.

On the other hand, maybe he’s just reaching for the remote.

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