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Interessante toespraak van Al Gore oor die rol van die Internet (ENGELS) [boodskap #106326] Do, 06 Oktober 2005 12:55
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October 5, 2005

Al Gore on The Threat to American Democracy

"The subjugation of news by entertainment seriously harms our
democracy: it leads to dysfunctional journalism that fails to inform
the people."


Remarks by Al Gore as prepared
Associated Press / The Media Center

October 5, 2005

I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in
grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of
our public discourse . I know that I am not the only one who feels
that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's
fabled "marketplace of ideas" now functions.

How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in
the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "
an alternate universe"?

I thought maybe it was an aberration when three-quarters of Americans
said they believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking
us on September 11, 2001. But more than four years later, between a
third and a half still believe Saddam was personally responsible for
planning and supporting the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial
was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from
the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. But
now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of
serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks
at a time.

Are we still routinely torturing helpless prisoners, and if so, does
it feel right that we as American citizens are not outraged by the
practice? And does it feel right to have no ongoing discussion of
whether or not this abhorrent, medieval behavior is being carried out
in the name of the American people? If the gap between rich and poor
is widening steadily and economic stress is mounting for low-income
families, why do we seem increasingly apathetic and lethargic in our
role as citizens?

On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest
serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate
floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

The decision that was then being considered by the Senate with
virtually no meaningful debate turned out to be a fateful one. A few
days ago, the former head of the National Security Agency, Retired Lt.
General William Odom, said, "The invasion of Iraq, I believe, will
turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

But whether you agree with his assessment or not, Senator Byrd's
question is like the others that I have just posed here: he was
saying, in effect, this is strange, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to
have full and vigorous debates about questions as important as the
choice between war and peace?

Those of us who have served in the Senate and watched it change over
time, could volunteer an answer to Senator Byrd's two questions: the
Senate was silent on the eve of war because Senators don't feel that
what they say on the floor of the Senate really matters that much any
more. And the chamber was empty because the Senators were somewhere
else: they were in fundraisers collecting money from special interests
in order to buy 30-second TVcommercials for their next re-election

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was - at least for a
short time - a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public
discourse that reminded some Americans - including some journalists -
that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk
with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But
then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded.

In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was
consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders,
probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words
with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on
their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry. But they
placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be
well-informed. And they took great care to protect the openness of the
marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had
grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after
Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval
information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism, and the
Enlightenment and enshrined a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing republic they had the audacity to establish
was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire
of Reason."

Our founders knew all about the Roman Forum and the Agora in ancient
Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public
forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which
individual citizens would participate not only by speaking directly in
the presence of others -- but more commonly by communicating with
their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed
word. Thus they not only protected Freedom of Assembly as a basic
right, they made a special point - in the First Amendment - of
protecting the freedom of the printing press.

Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial
fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first
half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas
Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our
Constitution , our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing
press - as King George had done - they could not imagine that
America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something
other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed
since the majority of Americans received their news and information
from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and, for
the most part, resisting the temptation to inflate their circulation
numbers. Reading itself is in sharp decline, not only in our country
but in most of the world. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and
occupied by television.

Radio, the internet, movies, telephones, and other media all now vie
for our attention - but it is television that still completely
dominates the flow of information in modern America. In fact,
according to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch
television an average of four hours and 28 minutes every day -- 90
minutes more than the world average.

When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep
and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost
three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average American
has. And for younger Americans, the average is even higher.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is
important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television.
Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually
simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an
important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers
in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few

Television first overtook newsprint to become the dominant source of
information in America in 1963. But for the next two decades, the
television networks mimicked the nation's leading newspapers by
faithfully following the standards of the journalism profession.
Indeed, men like Edward R. Murrow led the profession in raising the

But all the while, television's share of the total audience for news
and information continued to grow -- and its lead over newsprint
continued to expand. And then one day, a smart young political
consultant turned to an older elected official and succinctly
described a new reality in America's public discourse: "If it's not on
television, it doesn't exist."

But some extremely important elements of American Democracy have been
pushed to the sidelines. And the most prominent casualty has been the
" marketplace of ideas" that was so beloved and so carefully protected
by our Founders. It effectively no longer exists.

It is not that we no longer share ideas with one another about public
matters; of course we do. But the "Public Forum" in which our Founders
searched for general agreement and applied the Rule of Reason has been
grossly distorted and "restructured" beyond all recognition.

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of
ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts
our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a

Whether it is called a Public Forum, or a "Public Sphere" , or a
marketplace of ideas, the reality of open and free public discussion
and debate was considered central to the operation of our democracy in
America's earliest decades.

In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" -
made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay. It was
universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for
American government was its accountability to the people. And the
public forum was the place where the people held the government
accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of
ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas

1) It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save
the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied
not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to
contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was
available to all;

2) The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most
part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market
to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the
individual responsible for them;

3) The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were
all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That
is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about.

What resulted from this shared democratic enterprise was a startling
new development in human history: for the first time, knowledge
regularly mediated between wealth and power.

The liberating force of this new American reality was thrilling to all
humankind. Thomas Jefferson declared, "I have sworn upon the alter of
God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of

It ennobled the individual and unleashed the creativity of the human
spirit. It inspired people everywhere to dream of what they could yet
become. And it emboldened Americans to bravely explore the farther
frontiers of freedom - for African Americans, for women, and
eventually, we still dream, for all.

And just as knowledge now mediated between wealth and power,
self-government was understood to be the instrument with which the
people embodied their reasoned judgments into law. The Rule of Reason
under-girded and strengthened the rule of law.

But to an extent seldom appreciated, all of this - including
especially the ability of the American people to exercise the reasoned
collective judgments presumed in our Founders' design -- depended on
the particular characteristics of the marketplace of ideas as it
operated during the Age of Print.

Consider the rules by which our present "public forum" now operates,
and how different they are from the forum our Founders knew. Instead
of the easy and free access

individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means
of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually
impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national
conversation today.

Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America.
They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset
essays, pamphlets, books or flyers.

Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely
inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in
ideas contributed by individual citizens.

Ironically, television programming is actually more accessible to more
people than any source of information has ever been in all of history.
But here is the crucial distinction: it is accessible in only one
direction; there is no true interactivity, and certainly no

The number of cables connecting to homes is limited in each community
and usually forms a natural monopoly. The broadcast and satellite
spectrum is likewise a scarce and limited resource controlled by a
few. The production of programming has been centralized and has
usually required a massive capital investment. So for these and other
reasons, an ever-smaller number of large corporations control
virtually all of the television programming in America.

Soon after television established its dominance over print, young
people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of
democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join
the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of
expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality
theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the
television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed
words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American
people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on
national television.

So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the
printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in
television's domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change
that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not
coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and
information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in
American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas"
on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind
for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with
imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened
as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like
gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The
feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized
knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in
which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where
knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the
people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their

It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over
this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for
damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when
the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United
States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on
democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if
control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, "no nation
can be free."

As a result of these fears, safeguards were enacted in the U.S. --
including the Public Interest Standard, the Equal Time Provision, and
the Fairness Doctrine - though a half century later, in 1987, they
were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush
Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.

And radio is not the only place where big changes have taken place.
Television news has undergone a series of dramatic changes. The movie
" Network," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, was presented as
a farce but was actually a prophecy. The journalism profession morphed
into the news business, which became the media industry and is now
completely owned by conglomerates.

The news divisions - which used to be seen as serving a public
interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network - are now seen
as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, more importantly,
to advance the larger agenda of the corporation of which they are a
small part. They have fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets,
less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more
vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on
government sources and canned public relations hand-outs. This tragedy
is compounded by the ironic fact that this generation of journalists
is the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of their
profession. But they are usually not allowed to do the job they have
been trained to do.

The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control
and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They
placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a
reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at
crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press
releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it
in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons
of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is
critical of the President.

For these and other reasons, The US Press was recently found in a
comprehensive international study to be only the 27th freest press in
the world. And that too seems strange to me.

Among the other factors damaging our public discourse in the media,
the imposition by management of entertainment values on the journalism
profession has resulted in scandals, fabricated sources, fictional
events and the tabloidization of mainstream news. As recently stated
by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after
angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and
tarted up."

The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and
little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local
television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some
disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")

In fact, one of the few things that Red state and Blue state America
agree on is that they don't trust the news media anymore.

Clearly, the purpose of television news is no longer to inform the
American people or serve the public interest. It is to "glue eyeballs
to the screen" in order to build ratings and sell advertising. If you
have any doubt, just look at what's on: The Robert Blake trial. The
Laci Peterson tragedy. The Michael Jackson trial. The Runaway Bride.
The search in Aruba. The latest twist in various celebrity couplings,
and on and on and on.

And more importantly, notice what is not on: the global climate
crisis, the nation's fiscal catastrophe, the hollowing out of
America's industrial base, and a long list of other serious public
questions that need to be addressed by the American people.

One morning not long ago, I flipped on one of the news programs in
hopes of seeing information about an important world event that had
happened earlier that day. But the lead story was about a young man
who had been hiccupping for three years. And I must say, it was
interesting; he had trouble getting dates. But what I didn't see was

This was the point made by Jon Stewart, the brilliant host of "The
Daily Show," when he visited CNN's "Crossfire": there should be a
distinction between news and entertainment.

And it really matters because the subjugation of news by entertainment
seriously harms our democracy: it leads to dysfunctional journalism
that fails to inform the people. And when the people are not informed,
they cannot hold government accountable when it is incompetent,
corrupt, or both.

One of the only avenues left for the expression of public or political
ideas on television is through the purchase of advertising, usually in
30-second chunks. These short commercials are now the principal form
of communication between candidates and voters. As a result, our
elected officials now spend all of their time raising money to
purchase these ads.

That is why the House and Senate campaign committees now search for
candidates who are multi-millionaires and can buy the ads with their
own personal resources. As one consequence, the halls of Congress are
now filling up with the wealthy.

Campaign finance reform, however well it is drafted, often misses the
main point: so long as the only means of engaging in political
dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money
will continue by one means or another to dominate American politic s.
And ideas will no longer mediate between wealth and power.

And what if an individual citizen, or a group of citizens wants to
enter the public debate by expressing their views on television? Since
they cannot simply join the conversation, some of them have resorted
to raising money in order to buy 30 seconds in which to express their
opinion. But they are not even allowed to do that. tried to buy ads last year to express opposition to Bush's
Medicare proposal which was then being debated by Congress. They were
told "issue advocacy" was not permissible. Then, one of the networks
that had refused the Moveon ad began running advertisements by the
White House in favor of the President's Medicare proposal. So Moveon
complained and the White House ad was temporarily removed. By
temporary, I mean it was removed until the White House complained and
the network immediately put the ad back on, yet still refused to
present the Moveon ad.

The advertising of products, of course, is the real purpose of
television. And it is difficult to overstate the extent to which
modern pervasive electronic advertising has reshaped our society. In
the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith first described the way in which
advertising has altered the classical relationship by which supply and
demand are balanced over time by the invisible hand of the
marketplace. According to Galbraith, modern advertising campaigns were
beginning to create high levels of demand for products that consumers
never knew they wanted, much less needed.

The same phenomenon Galbraith noticed in the commercial marketplace is
now the dominant fact of life in what used to be America's marketplace
for ideas. The inherent value or validity of political propositions
put forward by candidates for office is now largely irrelevant
compared to the advertising campaigns that shape the perceptions of

Our democracy has been hallowed out. The opinions of the voters are,
in effect, purchased, just as demand for new products is artificially
created. Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, "the manufacture of
consent.was supposed to have died out with the appearance of
democracy.but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved
enormously in technique.under the impact of propaganda, it is no
longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy."

Like you, I recoil at Lippman's cynical dismissal of America's gift to
human history. But in order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans
must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum and
create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative
conversation about our future. Americans in both parties should insist
on the re-establishment of respect for the Rule of Reason. We must,
for example, stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science.
We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo studies known to
be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's
ability to discern the truth.

I don't know all the answers, but along with my partner, Joel Hyatt, I
am trying to work within the medium of television to recreate a
multi-way conversation that includes individuals and operates
according to a meritocracy of ideas. If you would like to know more,
we are having a press conference on Friday morning at the Regency

We are learning some fascinating lessons about the way decisions are
made in the television industry, and it may well be that the public
would be well served by some changes in law and policy to stimulate
more diversity of viewpoints and a higher regard for the public
interest. But we are succeeding within the marketplace by reaching out
to individuals and asking them to co-create our network.

The greatest source of hope for reestablishing a vigorous and
accessible marketplace for ideas is the Internet. Indeed, Current TV
relies on video streaming over the Internet as the means by which
individuals send us what we call viewer-created content or VC squared.
We also rely on the Internet for the two-way conversation that we have
every day with our viewers enabling them to participate in the
decisions on programming our network.

I know that many of you attending this conference are also working on
creative ways to use the Internet as a means for bringing more voices
into America's ongoing conversation. I salute you as kindred spirits
and wish you every success.

I want to close with the two things I've learned about the Internet
that are most directly relevant to the conference that you are having
here today.

First, as exciting as the Internet is, it still lacks the single most
powerful characteristic of the television medium; because of its
packet-switching architecture, and its continued reliance on a wide
variety of bandwidth connections (including the so-called "last mile"
to the home), it does not support the real-time mass distribution of
full-motion video.

Make no mistake, full-motion video is what makes television such a
powerful medium. Our brains - like the brains of all vertebrates - are
hard-wired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of
vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our
evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna a million
years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look
are not our ancestors. The ones who did look passed on to us the
genetic trait that neuroscientists call "the establishing reflex." And
that is the brain syndrome activated by television continuously -
sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason why the
industry phrase, "glue eyeballs to the screen," is actually more than
a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason why
Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a

It is true that video streaming is becoming more common over the
Internet, and true as well that cheap storage of streamed video is
making it possible for many young television viewers to engage in what
the industry calls "time shifting" and personalize their television
watching habits. Moreover, as higher bandwidth connections continue to
replace smaller information pipelines, the Internet's capacity for
carrying television will continue to dramatically improve. But in
spite of these developments, it is television delivered over cable and
satellite that will continue for the remainder of this decade and
probably the next to be the dominant medium of communication in
America's democracy. And so long as that is the case, I truly believe
that America's democracy is at grave risk.

The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the
Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any
limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they
wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect
to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must
be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of
corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television
marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace
as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.

We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy's
future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas
that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of
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