By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Al Gore, who takes aim in his new book at the corporate media for “suffocating the free flow of ideas,” on Tuesday defended the sale of his television channel to Al-Jazeera.
The Qatar government-owned news network earlier this month struck a deal to buy Current TV, the cable news network co-founded by the former vice president. The price tag was $500 million.
Gore told The Associated Press that he had no reservations about selling the channel to Al-Jazeera, which has won U.S. journalism prizes but has been criticized by some for an anti-American bias. The new owner plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al-Jazeera America.
“They’re commercial-free, they’re hard-hitting,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re very respected and capable, and their climate coverage has been outstanding, in-depth, extensive, far more so than any network currently on the air in the U.S.”
The 64-year-old Gore said he considers Current TV, which was largely outflanked by MSNBC in its effort to be a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel, to have been a success.
“We won every major award in television journalism, and we were profitable each year,” said Gore, who has a home in Nashville. “But it’s difficult for an independent network to compete in an age of conglomerate.”
In a new 592-page book titled, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change,” Gore makes only a fleeting reference to Al-Jazeera, calling it “the feisty and relatively independent satellite television channel” that played a key role in bringing about the Arab Spring.
Gore in the book likens the influence of money in the political process to a “slow-motion corporate coup d’etat that threatens to destroy the integrity and functioning of American democracy.”
“Corporations are not people,” Gore said in the interview. “Might doesn’t make right. Money is not speech. And those who advocate the dominance of American politics by large corporations, special interests and anonymous donors are working against the original design by our founders.”
“Our democracy has been hacked,” he said.
Corporations have enlisted politicians and lobbyists to further their goals and have also “recruited a fifth column in the Fourth Estate,” he said in the book.
“The one-way, advertising-dominated conglomerate-controlled television medium has been suffocating the free flow of ideas necessary for genuine self-determination,” he writes.
The Internet provides a path for breaking the corporate stranglehold on the media, Gore said in the interview, as it “is less vulnerable to the dominance of special interests, because individual voices play a larger and more influential role.”
Gore, who won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to raise awareness about climate change, also calls for a carbon tax, though he acknowledged that passage does not appear to be imminent.
“Well, I wouldn’t go to Vegas and bet on it right now,” he said. “But neither would I say that it’s impossible … The day has passed when we can use the earth’s atmosphere as an open sewer.”
“Yes it’s tough, because we’ve been relying on these fossil fuels for 150 years. But the cost of solar and wind is coming down rapidly and energy efficiency saves money while it reduces pollution,” he said. “And we need to move in that direction quickly.”
Gore, who represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate and House before he was tapped by President Bill Clinton as his running mate, blames procedural rules in the Senate for blocking popular measures.
“I fully appreciate the virtues of the filibuster, but it’s gotten so out of control that I do think that it needs to be dialed back significantly,” he said. “It has been abused to the point where American democracy is paralyzed.
“Nothing can pass the Senate that is opposed by special interests,” he said. “And that’s not right.”
Gore points out in the introduction of his book that as a “recovering politician,” the chances of his returning to public office become slimmer the more time passes. Gore won more popular votes than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential contest, but was defeated in the electoral college after the Supreme Court stopped a hotly debated recount in Florida.
So the book shouldn’t be seen as a “manifesto” for a future political campaign, he writes in the book.
But he’s not shy about making a series of policy recommendations.
“We should have more progressive taxation, we should have higher inheritance taxes. I’ve always believed that,” Gore said. “I advocated that during my political career and I continue to advocate it.”
“We need to restore our democracy, we need to reform markets so they operate the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “And the U.S. leadership of the world needs to be restored.”