Gore speech - democracy in grave danger


October 6, 2005, 05:48 PM
Democracy in grave danger - I'll save you the time of reading thru this crap and offer a succint translation - We poor Democrats can't win any elections, even when we count the ballots again and again.


Media conference on Wednesday in New York:

I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse . I know that I am not the only one who feels that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's fabled "marketplace of ideas" now functions.

How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"?

I thought maybe it was an aberration when three-quarters of Americans said they believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11, 2001. But more than four years later, between a third and a half still believe Saddam was personally responsible for planning and supporting the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. But now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.

Are we still routinely torturing helpless prisoners, and if so, does it feel right that we as American citizens are not outraged by the practice? And does it feel right to have no ongoing discussion of whether or not this abhorrent, medieval behavior is being carried out in the name of the American people? If the gap between rich and poor is widening steadily and economic stress is mounting for low-income families, why do we seem increasingly apathetic and lethargic in our role as citizens?

On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

The decision that was then being considered by the Senate with virtually no meaningful debate turned out to be a fateful one. A few days ago, the former head of the National Security Agency, Retired Lt. General William Odom, said, "The invasion of Iraq, I believe, will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

But whether you agree with his assessment or not, Senator Byrd's question is like the others that I have just posed here: he was saying, in effect, this is strange, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to have full and vigorous debates about questions as important as the choice between war and peace?

Those of us who have served in the Senate and watched it change over time, could volunteer an answer to Senator Byrd's two questions: the Senate was silent on the eve of war because Senators don't feel that what they say on the floor of the Senate really matters that much any more. And the chamber was empty because the Senators were somewhere else: they were in fundraisers collecting money from special interests in order to buy 30-second TVcommercials for their next re-election campaign.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was - at least for a short time - a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public discourse that reminded some Americans - including some journalists - that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded.

In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry. But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well- informed. And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism, and the Enlightenment and enshrined a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing republic they had the audacity to establish was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire of Reason."

Our founders knew all about the Roman Forum and the Agora in ancient Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which individual citizens would participate not only by speaking directly in the presence of others -- but more commonly by communicating with their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed word. Thus they not only protected Freedom of Assembly as a basic right, they made a special point - in the First Amendment - of protecting the freedom of the printing press.

Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution , our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and books.

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing press - as King George had done - they could not imagine that America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and, for the most part, resisting the temptation to inflate their circulation numbers. Reading itself is in sharp decline, not only in our country but in most of the world. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by television.

Radio, the internet, movies, telephones, and other media all now vie for our attention - but it is television that still completely dominates the flow of information in modern America. In fact, according to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of four hours and 28 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 that the average American has. And for younger Americans, the average is even higher.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television. Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few minutes.

Television first overtook newsprint to become the dominant source of information in America in 1963. But for the next two decades, the television networks mimicked the nation's leading newspapers by faithfully following the standards of the journalism profession. Indeed, men like Edward R. Murrow led the profession in raising the bar.

But all the while, television's share of the total audience for news and information continued to grow -- and its lead over newsprint continued to expand. And then one day, a smart young political consultant turned to an older elected official and succinctly described a new reality in America's public discourse: "If it's not on television, it doesn't exist."

But some extremely important elements of American Democracy have been pushed to the sidelines . And the most prominent casualty has been the "marketplace of ideas" that was so beloved and so carefully protected by our Founders. It effectively no longer exists.

It is not that we no longer share ideas with one another about public matters; of course we do. But the "Public Forum" in which our Founders searched for general agreement and applied the Rule of Reason has been grossly distorted and "restructured" beyond all recognition.

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation.

Whether it is called a Public Forum, or a "Public Sphere" , or a marketplace of ideas, the reality of open and free public discussion and debate was considered central to the operation of our democracy in America's earliest decades.

In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" - made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay. It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people. And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1) It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all; 2) The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them; 3) The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about.

What resulted from this shared democratic enterprise was a startling new development in human history: for the first time, knowledge regularly mediated between wealth and power.

The liberating force of this new American reality was thrilling to all humankind. Thomas Jefferson declared, "I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." It ennobled the individual and unleashed the creativity of the human spirit. It inspired people everywhere to dream of what they could yet become. And it emboldened Americans to bravely explore the farther frontiers of freedom - for African Americans, for women, and eventually, we still dream, for all.

And just as knowledge now mediated between wealth and power, self- government was understood to be the instrument with which the people embodied their reasoned judgments into law. The Rule of Reason under- girded and strengthened the rule of law.

But to an extent seldom appreciated, all of this - including especially the ability of the American people to exercise the reasoned collective judgments presumed in our Founders' design -- depended on the particular characteristics of the marketplace of ideas as it operated during the Age of Print.

Consider the rules by which our present "public forum" now operates, and how different they are from the forum our Founders knew. Instead of the easy and free access individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation today.

Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America. They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset essays, pamphlets, books or flyers.

Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in ideas contributed by individual citizens.

Ironically, television programming is actually more accessible to more people than any source of information has ever been in all of history. But here is the crucial distinction: it is accessible in only one direction; there is no true interactivity, and certainly no conversation.

The number of cables connecting to homes is limited in each community and usually forms a natural monopoly. The broadcast and satellite spectrum is likewise a scarce and limited resource controlled by a few. The production of programming has been centralized and has usually required a massive capital investment. So for these and other reasons, an ever-smaller number of large corporations control virtually all of the television programming in America.

Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.

So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television's domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, "no nation can be free."

As a result of these fears, safeguards were enacted in the U.S. -- including the Public Interest Standard, the Equal Time Provision, and the Fairness Doctrine - though a half century later, in 1987, they were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.

And radio is not the only place where big changes have taken place. Television news has undergone a series of dramatic changes. The movie "Network," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, was presented as a farce but was actually a prophecy. The journalism profession morphed into the news business, which became the media industry and is now completely owned by conglomerates.

The news divisions - which used to be seen as serving a public interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network - are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, more importantly, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation of which they are a small part. They have fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets, less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on government sources and canned public relations hand-outs. This tragedy is compounded by the ironic fact that this generation of journalists is the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of their profession. But they are usually not allowed to do the job they have been trained to do.

The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

For these and other reasons, The US Press was recently found in a comprehensive international study to be only the 27th freest press in the world. And that too seems strange to me.

Among the other factors damaging our public discourse in the media, the imposition by management of entertainment values on the journalism profession has resulted in scandals, fabricated sources, fictional events and the tabloidization of mainstream news. As recently stated by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and tarted up."

The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")

In fact, one of the few things that Red state and Blue state America agree on is that they don't trust the news media anymore.

Clearly, the purpose of television news is no longer to inform the American people or serve the public interest. It is to "glue eyeballs to the screen" in order to build ratings and sell advertising. If you have any doubt, just look at what's on: The Robert Blake trial. The Laci Peterson tragedy. The Michael Jackson trial. The Runaway Bride. The search in Aruba. The latest twist in various celebrity couplings, and on and on and on.

And more importantly, notice what is not on: the global climate crisis, the nation's fiscal catastrophe, the hollowing out of America's industrial base, and a long list of other serious public questions that need to be addressed by the American people.

One morning not long ago, I flipped on one of the news programs in hopes of seeing information about an important world event that had happened earlier that day. But the lead story was about a young man who had been hiccupping for three years. And I must say, it was interesting; he had trouble getting dates. But what I didn't see was news.

This was the point made by Jon Stewart, the brilliant host of "The Daily Show," when he visited CNN's "Crossfire": there should be a distinction between news and entertainment.

bla bla bla - there is more, go to the URL to read it.

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October 6, 2005, 05:53 PM
there should be a distinction between news and entertainment.

I think this sums up the whole thing nicely. Too bad it seems most americans take opinion shows as a source of news now a days.

Gordon Fink
October 6, 2005, 05:56 PM
So the press has less of a “liberal” bias than a stupid bias? :evil:

~G. Fink

October 6, 2005, 06:03 PM

Sorry to disagree with you, but: "Jon Stewart, brilliant host of "The Daily Show"" sums it up even more succinctly.

I think Stewart is funny, but when the man who thought himself qualified to be President calls satire on cheerleaders brilliant, and an accurate comment on the state of public discourse, it reinforces my gladness that his public role is diminished.

R.H. Lee
October 6, 2005, 06:08 PM
No Al, it's not a 'democracy'. It's a constitutional republic. You should know that. Go stand in the corner.

October 6, 2005, 07:18 PM
No Al, it's not a 'democracy'. It's a constitutional republic.

I'm not sure about "constitutional" used in conjunction with "republic". We're certinaly a republic.

October 6, 2005, 08:17 PM

October 6, 2005, 08:18 PM
Al who?

October 6, 2005, 08:30 PM
Actually, if you filter out the partisan crap, which is about 35% - 45% of the content, he makes a valid and important point concerning the influence of elite mass media on the American polity.

It's also a point that the new media makes less critical every day.

Bottom line: If you allow CNN to define reality for you, you're hosed.

October 6, 2005, 08:33 PM
I can't stand the SOB but he had valid points in that speech.

October 6, 2005, 09:08 PM
Al Gore is exactly right in some ways but perfectly wrong in how he applies his ideas.

We do have a meritocracy of ideas, but unlike Gore, I beleive that this concept is more alive now than it has been in nearly 100 years. Since the 80s, the Democrats and the left have slowly lost control of the flow of information.

Many ideas from the right finally began to be released into general circulation so that the meritocracy could begin to debate their value. The left kept operating (and still does operate) on the assumption that no one was being exposed to these ideas and declined to address them in any meaningful way.

As a result, the left is in great decline. Rather than shift to more effective ideas, they blame the system as being unfair. This is not a winning strategy.

Standing Wolf
October 6, 2005, 09:21 PM
No Al, it's not a 'democracy'. It's a constitutional republic. You should know that. Go stand in the corner.

Actually, he's in the corner. Amrica sent him there in 2000. It's where he's going to spend the rest of his life. He's never going to shut up and take his defeat like a man, you understand, but Liar Gore's brief fling with fame was five years ago.

October 6, 2005, 09:24 PM
Bottom line: If you allow CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC or any other major news network or nightly news to define reality for you, you're hosed.


October 6, 2005, 09:27 PM
beerslurpy +1

October 6, 2005, 09:34 PM
Amazing that he could have a speech that long and not have a single idea put forth to solve a single problem that our country has. Bad Republicans, Bad Press run by conglomerates that do not give outlet to democrat ideas. What a jerk. Thank God that he is not our President. But why Lord, did you only give us George Bush as an alternative. Maybe you could give us a little better choice next time. As for the press, thank you that you did give us a little better selection of choices there. Took a long time, but better late than never. Now for the Presidency--

October 6, 2005, 10:42 PM
BHS (Bush Hatred Syndrome) has tainted everything the loyal opposition has said for so long and so loud that it's very difficult to pick out the pearls that might be in there somewhere.

The Media, now that there are alternate news outlets, can only preach to the congregation. They themselves have caused our skepticism.

Personally I find the whole thing very wearing to listen to after 5 years. I know Bush is not as bad as the Left and the MSM would have us believe, just as I know he ain't as good as Rush tells us. With the polarization of the media, we really are required to make up our own minds...and a lot of people don't like doing that.

Without 9/11, history would have considered Bush a failed and mediocre president. With 9/11, as much as you hate to think it, history could very well rank him among the greats…and rate the Left and MSM as the ankle-biters of a giant.

Give even his most rabid supporter a minute, and they could all list 10 things they don’t like about Bush…but that’s not what history remembers.

Eight years of Clinton…do you remember the agenda or the scandals.

Succeed or Fail in Iraq...I think history will remember him kindly.

October 6, 2005, 10:54 PM
translation - We poor Democrats can't win any elections, even when we count the ballots again and again.

Don't worry Al ... Diebold to the rescue!

October 6, 2005, 11:47 PM
Gore endangers the Republic every time he opens his mouth.

October 6, 2005, 11:49 PM
I hope this speech wasn't given before a meal. If so, even the rubber chickens probably died of boredom.

October 7, 2005, 12:01 AM
Eight years of Clinton…do you remember the agenda or the scandals.

Most people remember the peace and prosperity, and laugh at the blue dress.

Succeed or Fail in Iraq...I think history will remember him kindly.

About as kindly as Adolf Hitler is remembered in Germany, I reckon.

Al Gore is a pathetic outdated bore. He never wanted to be president and that is why he lost. His style is convoluted and laborious, which betrays his pensive melancholic nature and lack of mental clarity. What a waste of space.

cracked butt
October 7, 2005, 12:09 AM
And the chamber was empty because the Senators were somewhere else: they were in fundraisers collecting money from special interests in order to buy 30-second TVcommercials for their next re-election campaign.

This is where I stopped reading. I don't know if Al knows the irony of his own statement.

October 7, 2005, 12:49 AM
How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"? Well, there was this one aunt who had lots and lots of cats in the house. She kept ranting about "The string beans are the key the reptiles from the lower fourth dimension." She hasn't yelled stuff like that since starting the meds. But the cats are still there. She calls them her children.

October 7, 2005, 12:54 AM
Let's try "America is in Grave Danger". Doesn't much matter whether it's from Bush or Gore, that is the bottom line.

October 7, 2005, 01:30 AM
Al, it's time for your semi-annual drug test.

Based on those additional lbs., it does appear like y'all been gettin' the munchies again. Big-time.

We all Feel Yor Paiyyyne.

October 7, 2005, 01:40 AM
About as kindly as Adolf Hitler is remembered in Germany, I reckon.

Godwin's Law.

October 7, 2005, 04:50 AM
Berrslurpy +1

There is a subtle point to this speech, I wnoder who wrote it?

And why is Weird Al giving a speach about the media without singing?

October 7, 2005, 04:55 AM
Most people remember the peace and prosperity, and laugh at the blue dress.


i suppose totally un gun related articles are ok as long as they bash your political opponents?

shouldnt that make cop bashing threads equally legitimate as they are the perpetrators of said control?

who is it that takes such pleasure in denying you your arms all the time, really?

October 7, 2005, 01:04 PM
Tsk, tsk. This is the *High Road* forum. While Al Gore isn't exactly the ideal presidential candidate and it's well known that his political stance is contrary to most users on this forum - lets not fall into the same name-calling and bash the man rather than examine his ideas. We're better than that, gentlemen. And I'd say we're intelligent enough to pick apart the flaws in his arguments rather than resorting to slander. ;)

Gore does make a valid point in that the media of today is lopsided and spews its rhetoric in one direction without provisions for citizens to respond. I doubt anyone here really trusts the networks to provide fair and unbiased information. Where I break from his argument is what he identifies as the cause for this. Both the Left and the Right have struggled over control of the media since its inception so complaining about control of the media being in the hands of the Right is to miss the bigger picture.

Since we all know that Al Gore invented the internet (ahem), it surprises me that he only mentioned it once in his speech and never expanded on it. I believe he did this because following that path would have poked some large holes in his argument. While the internet started out as a military computer network - it's fundamental design was to be decentralized and extremely difficult to censor. From a network perspective, censorship is viewed as damage and data is routed somewhere else. To destroy the internet would require the eradication of every primary and secondary router, then you'd have to target every node. Otherwise the data would still exist and would become accessible the moment the damaged equipment was replaced. This is far more resistant to destruction than say the Gutenberg presses of the olden days. Because of the medium, ideas can now *persist*. Have you ever tried to recall a mass email you've mistakenly sent? Ever realize how impossible it is?

While the internet does have its share of corporate content pushing like television , it is flexible enough so that ANYONE can create their own website, database, discussion forum, blog, etc. The ability to do so is more pervasive than the tin presses the Federalist Papers were printed on and the ideas expressed are far more difficult to wipe out. By the very existence of the forum I am participating in RIGHT NOW, I'd say that avenues to freely express ideas and discuss topics important to America's wellbeing do exist.

So what is the fundamental problem with political discourse in this country? APATHY. Most people don't care. We aren't given the tools to think for ourselves. Instead, we're spoonfed the same drivel in government run schools. Americans are conditioned to be sheep. Sheep are cared for and as long as they feel comfortable they won't stray.

The solution? Question what you're told. Discuss it with others who question what they are told. Then use the avenues provided within our system of government to set into motion how you want life to be. See? The founding fathers were on to something. :D

Camp David
October 7, 2005, 01:58 PM
Gore speech - democracy in grave danger

Wow...that's effective...put me to sleep before the 2nd paragraph! Can we sticky or bookmark this one? Very usefull for sleepless nights! ;)

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