Time.com has published an excerpt from Al Gore’s latest book, The Assault on Reason, and Gore doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to TV’s impact on democracy. Despite the internet, Gore says TV still dominates. “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 politicsâ€”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.” He goes on to cite the news media’s fascination over the years with O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, among others. “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.'”
Gore writes that the internet can “revitalize the role played by the people in our constitutional framework” because of its interactivity, openness and low barriers to entry. He may not have invented the internet, but Gore certainly understands its potential.
Update: Broadcasting & Cable responds in an editorial, “Gore ought to be embarrassed.”