The subject of Al Gore always sets me musing about the press. So pardon a paragraph of exposition before I get to Gore’s new movie.
It seems to me that the political press has always felt more comfortable with amiable doofuses than with people who genuinely care about what they’re doing. If I wanted to psychoanalyze freely (before you protest, check the name of this blog) I would say that political reporters generally have egos bigger than their intellect and just feel more comfortable around the limited and slightly sleazy politicians who fit their cynical view of how politics is supposed to operate.
Of course there are other ways of winning over reporters. At least one investigator has shown that dumping copious amounts of booze, attention and cocktail weenies on reporters can win you an enduring reputation as a straight talker.
Maybe Clinton was a bit too bright and wonkish to sit at the kool kids table. Certainly Al Gore, brighter and more earnest than your average handful of Brookings scholars, was out before he was ever in. That explains as well as anything I’ve seen how a smear that made no sense – Al Gore makes things up to please people – took on a life of its own in the press. The Heathers had such a good time dissing the bright kid that they rarely if ever took time to note the equally-(not)egregious whoppers told by Gore’s amiable, limited opponent.
To his credit Gore the almost-president went on campaigning for the same issue as always: people, pollution and the climate. Five years on the speaking circuit has clearly punched-up Gore’s presentation to the point that director Davis Guggenheim has assembled the Gore lecture, some voiceovers and a scattering of graphics into a film that two reviewers that I usually trust, NY Times and The Onion, describe as an emotional punch in the gut. Now honestly, when was the last time you heard somebody describe a powerpoint presentation like that? Add to that informative and intellectually convincing and it seems like high praise for what is basically a movie-length slideshow. A successful movie will force “skeptics” to try a lot harder than recent ads and op-eds by folks with a weak grasp of the science and obvious conflicts-of-interest.
Not to worry though, climate skeptics may have an ace in the hole: years after the fact media Heathers can’t seem to stop writing their hackneyed ’90s narratives. Case in point, the dreaded CLENIS. So here is this week’s assignment for the folks at TechCentralStation: find a factual innacuracy in Gore’s presentation. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a result misattributed to one scientist instead of another or a misplaced date. In 90-some minutes there has to be something. Then just step back and let the good old Gore-lies-to-please-people credibility smear (that falls under Mentally Imbalanced for those keeping score) take off under its own power. If the kool kids can’t stop themselves from obsessing about the Clintons’ marriage then they won’t mind a chance to kick the smart kid again.
I don’t mean to say that the folks at TCSDaily and elsewhere are fundamentally dishonest, although that may be, but they have to cut down this message before it becomes a phenomenon. The last thing Republicans need is a million or two Americans reacting like the reviewer at the Onion:
The first response to An Inconvenient Truth is horror. No matter how reliably genial and measured Gore’s oratory style, no matter how much hope he dutifully tries to squeeze into the proceedings, it’s hard to come away feeling anything but a prevailing sense of doom. The second response is outrage. How could the press and our leaders allow for the debate over global warming to center on the issue of whether it even exists?
…Quite apart from its environmental agenda, the film is a reminder that there’s no space for substance in political discourse: A 30-second soundbite on global warming could easily be brushed off as tree-hugging rhetoric, but after 100 minutes of level-headed elaboration, it’s chillingly undeniable.
Maybe fear is the greatest motivator. It is depressing to think that Democrats may ride a wave of fear akin to 9/11 demagoguery but hey, that strategy worked out pretty well for Karl Rove. I bet the prospect of the same phenomenon running in reverse has him at least a little bit frightened.