Getting Personal

The rumors turned out to be true: Gore did indeed win the Nobel Peace Prize last week. But, as predicted, no sooner had the award been announced than opinion journalists of all stripes – ok, it was mostly conservative talking heads – began pillorying the choice. Many attacked Gore's lifestyle as hypocritical, and compared him to past recipients Yasir Arafat and "that crazy Jimmy Carter," as FOX News' Steve Doocy referred to the former president.

While there's still some antipathy toward Gore the politician, the hits on Gore the environmentalist are less about him and more about global warming. Attack the messenger, silence the message. The reaction was so harsh that everyone from the satirists at The Daily Show to the more straight-faced Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz took note.


Sure, that kind of opinion "journalism" is obnoxious and tasteless; what’s worse, though, are stories that take a similar tack in ostensibly straight reporting. Whether by ad hominem criticisms of Gore or just by focusing so closely on him and An Inconvenient Truth, many journalists are missing the big picture of climate change. The tireless media scourges at Media Matters noticed earlier this week that some of this problem was happening with reporting on a British judge who cited nine factual errors in Gore's film. The development meant that some reports, including those in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Times, and New York Times' main news blog, slanted too heavily towards the quibbles, missing the fact that the judge had also reaffirmed the movie's main premises. That's hardly the only example of the media over-exaggerating Gore’s importance to the main story—as anyone who's watched the media frenzy around Gore's Nobel can attest (will he have to run now?!).

While I hesitate to blame the victim here, and I certainly don't want to downplay the responsibility reporters have to tell as complete an account as possible, the fact is Gore invited some of the vitriol through the tactics he's chosen to pursue. Gore, it should be said, is an alarmist and a propagandist, which isn't the same thing as a liar but nonetheless makes him easy for some to dismiss. As he's said in interviews, "an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous" climate change could be is necessary to reach a media saturated audience and prompt them to act. It's a devil's bargain: for every person he reaches through hyperbolic computer simulations, how many does he alienate?




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