He’s an “evangelist,” a “preacher,” a “prophet” or perhaps even an environmental messiah -- at least according to the media.
The Los Angeles Times said he returned to Capitol Hill “reincarnated.” They might as well have said “resurrected.”
The second coming of Al Gore has sent off heat waves through what little global warming debate the mainstream media actually allow. The former, and probably current, presidential candidate showed that he is bigger than ever during a much-heralded March 21 congressional appearance.
And so is the government he is calling for -- the Big Green Machine running our lives, businesses and homes -- even regulating what light bulbs we use. Captain Planet wants immediate caps on carbon, an informal agreement to the Kyoto provisions (a cut of more than 20% in carbon output) and a far tougher eco-treaty by 2010. And while you’re at it, throw in nationalized health care, a “carbon-neutral” mortgage association and, of course, the taxes to pay for everything.
All the media could do was say “amen.” Journalists, who are notoriously less religious than most of America, have finally found religion -- the environment. Their high priest? Former Vice President Albert Gore Jr.
The CBS “Morning News” the day after Gore’s appearance left little doubt about where journalists stood. Reporter Gloria Borger praised the politician turned Elmer Gantry. “Actually, he now has a pulpit. Gore is the nation’s foremost environmental evangelist, and Preacher Al was here,” she told viewers.
Public Radio used many descriptions for Gore, but the religious element was there as well. “Morning Edition’s” Elizabeth Shogren described him as “sometimes a nerdy science teacher, sometimes a preacher, and sometimes a furious grandfather.”
And Gore himself has begun to embrace all the imagery. Shogren described the scene: “To those who didn't buy the economic argument, he switched to preacher mode and offered a spiritual pitch.” NPR then quoted Gore giving Congress this line about powers even higher than himself: “‘I believe the purpose of life is to glorify God, and we can't do that if we're heaping contempt on the creation.’”
It was just May last year that Gore found a medium large enough for his ambitions -- the big screen. “An Inconvenient Truth” hit theaters at the same time a book by the same name landed at stores. Since then, The New York Times has done 1,002 stories discussing climate change and global warming. The comparative non-believers at The Washington Post have done a mere 878. That’s 1,880 stories just in two newspapers in less than a year.
The networks were just as obvious. In one three-month span last summer, the newly crowned movie star or his film were discussed on at least 99 TV shows. There were no less than 75 appearances or clips involving Gore. By the end of July, Gore and his movie had spent more than five hours and 38 minutes on national television.
The Society of Professional Journalists warns reporters must “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.” They might have to create a whole new ethical code to deal with this kind of fanaticism.
The movie and book took Gore from media darling to “the summer’s most unlikely movie star,” as NBC’s Katie Couric called him in a May 24 interview. Couric even described him as “funny, vulnerable, disarming, self-effacing.” Yes. She meant Al Gore.
Gore’s version of “Truth” netted an Oscar and more media worship. Post environmental reporter Michael Grunwald wrote a June 11 commentary piece urging the former vice president to run for … vice president.
But speculation about Gore’s running not just for VP but for the top spot has grown. And the media have gone from praising Gore simply for his theatrical efforts to praising him for his environmental work to simply praising him for being him.
On February 9, CBS “Early Show” anchor Harry Smith chatted about climate change with Gore and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson, who have teamed up to offer a “$25 million prize to fight global warming.” “Is Al Gore a prophet?” Smith asked Branson.
By March, the media had decided the answer was “yes.”
Journalists don’t usually embrace religion in this way. According to a 2004 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press study, 58% of ordinary Americans said belief in God is a “prerequisite for morality.” “Journalists, regardless of their organization and position, take a decidedly different view. Fully 91% of those who work at national news organizations say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral; 78% of local journalists agree,” explained the study.
But show journalists a furry polar bear and they find faith.
Their faith is often blind, and they don’t question obvious inconsistencies. During Gore’s speech to the House last week, he described how world population has “quadrupled” “in less than one century.” “Population is stabilizing,” he said in one breath. In the next he said, “we're going from over 6.5 [billion] now to over 9.1 [billion] almost certainly within the next 40, 45 years.” Journalists ignored it.
Nor do journalists want to test their faith and hear from unbelievers or “deniers,” as they call them. Gore’s appearance was a media centerpiece, but statistician Bjorn Lomborg’s testimony the same day received almost no coverage. The Times was one of the few outlets even to acknowledge Lomborg visited the Hill. That’s because Lomborg says there are lots of better ways to spend our money than on global warming.
Anyone who has seen Gore’s movie should know that’s not really what it’s about -- even journalists. It’s about warming people to the prospect of a Gore presidency. The film dwells more on Gore the prophet than his hyperbolic disaster scenarios. By one count, he says the word “I” more than 60 times.
But somehow the media never noticed. Instead, they have promoted a film that is, essentially, self-promotional. Gore is not so much propheting as he is profiting.