As Gore Looks to Future, Networks Stuck in Everyday Politics

Gore's message of what could be done on global warming was almost completely lost on the big three's evening news programs last night.

In a high-wattage return to Capitol Hill, Al Gore warned lawmakers from both houses of Congress yesterday that global warming is a grave threat that requires urgent, sweeping action. “This is not a normal time,” Gore told the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. “We are facing a planetary emergency.”

In his afternoon appearance before the committee Gore offered up a long series of policy proposals to help solve global warming, from “an immediate freeze on CO2 emissions,” to the replacement of employment taxes with pollution and CO2 taxes, to a fixed date banning the use of incandescent light bulbs. While his solutions were politically difficult (to say the least), Gore talked about what could be done on global warming — a message that was almost completely lost on the big three’s evening news programs last night. While Gore looked to the future, CBS, NBC and ABC — and consequently their 25 million or so viewers — were stuck in the petty politics and flashy sound bites of the present.

CBS’ report noted that Gore’s Capitol Hill appearance was his first since he certified “his own loss in the disputed 2000 election,” quoted Dennis Hastert calling Gore a movie star — “Rin Tin Tin was a movie star. I just have a slide show,” Gore replied — and included a fun riff on the aspects of “preacher Al” and “Professor Gore” that were on display. But while Gore was quoted saying “We do not have time to play around with this. We do not have the luxury of making it a political football,” and Gloria Borger reported that “Americans now believe global warming is a real problem,” her story had nothing about what could be done to change or lessen its effects.

NBC, too, had Gore’s dramatic warnings — “If we don’t act now,” Chip Reid reported, paraphrasing Gore, “later generations will suffer dearly,” while preacher Al challenged, “They will ask, ‘What in God’s name were they doing? Didn’t they see the evidence?’” — but its only mention of policy came when Reid reported that critics “condemned his proposal for a massive tax on polluting industries.” NBC did, however, manage to end with some of the James Inhofe-Barbara Boxer fireworks, followed by some Gore presidential talk (no, the storyline has not changed).

ABC led off World News with its Gore story, which was better than its competitors’, but not much. Gore gave more warnings (“The planet has a fever”), Kate Snow replayed some “familiar” and “contentious” moments from Gore’s “reunion of sorts,” and Inhofe and Boxer sparred. But Snow also reported that “Most Democrats and Republicans agreed climate change is an urgent problem,” and said that Gore “called on Congress to freeze carbon emissions and figure out how to drastically reduce all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, the message endorsed by much of the scientific community.”

Still, Snow closed by noting that while there is now a congressional consensus that global warming poses a problem, it is “very hard to find legislative solutions.”

It is harder still when many of those possible solutions do not make the air. So while the scientific consensus on global warming was long obscured by a false balance in the media’s coverage, the specifics of Gore’s congressional call to action were obscured by the game of everyday politics on the networks last night, too.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.