Three weeks after announcing he would sell his struggling cable news channel, Current, to Al Jazeera — pocketing an estimated $100 million in profit — Al Gore skewered television news in an interview with BuzzFeed.
"I think that the influence of television over the last half century has been harmful to the operations of our democracy," said Gore. "In the age of our founding, and for much of the history of the republic, crucial. Individuals could gain easy access to information and could express their own views. They can't do that on television."
"They get plenty of information from it, but they can't participate in a dialogue or engage in collaborative decision-making," he went on. "But the internet is now growing in importance and pervasiveness, to the point where soon it may offer an alternative to the TV media environment that reinvigorates democracy. I'm hoping that's the case."
Gore's dissatisfaction with TV won't stop him from making the talk show rounds next week to promote his new book, The Future. He is expected to make appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Today show, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
In his book, Gore complains that "virtually every news and political commentary program on television is sponsored in part by oil, coal and gas companies," a conflict of interest that, he argues, prevents them from reporting the truth about the issue most important to him: climate change.
But he does have kind words for one outlet: Al Jazeera, the network that bought Current from him.
"The change that many analysts believe was most important in sowing the seeds of the Arab Spring was the introduction in 1996 of the feisty and relatively independent satellite television channel Al Jazeera," he writes in his book.
Critics have pointed out that Al Jazeera has close ties to the government of oil-rich Qatar, but Gore did not respond to questions about it.
Gore told BuzzFeed that more responsible, independent news media could go a long way toward resolving the problems facing America.
"This is why I put so much emphasis in this book on the importance of dealing with the problems in our democracy," Gore said. "American democracy has been hacked. It's not working the way it's supposed to. The economy is not working the way it's supposed to. Inequality is growing. The middle class is being hollowed out. We need to change things. We need to reform our democracy and institute policies that'll improve the operation of the economy so that it benefits more people and not just those at the very top."
"Just consider the fact that we have come through a presidential campaign in a year where climate-related disasters cost the country $110 billion, 60% of the nation in severe drought, New York City flooded for the second time in two years, and in spite of all that, not a single question was asked to any candidate in any debate about climate change. So, yeah, I think the news media needs to do a
better job of addressing these challenges."