Accuracy in Media

For years, Vice President Al Gore has worked in the shadows of President Clinton. This has been a mixed blessing. Clinton?s problems have probably hurt Gore in some sense. But they have also diverted media and public attention from Gore?s own controversial views on the issues. Now that the Lewinsky scandal has receded, Gore is getting more press. And it seems that the media are starting to pay more attention to some of his more wacky ideas.

Consider Gore?s appearance at a recent Department of Transportation event. He was supposed to unveil a $1 billion program to “improve daily life,” which sounds good, but one of the ideas was to establish a national three-digit telephone hot line designed to reduce traffic congestion. The Al Gore idea is to provide drivers with information about traveling conditions and transportation problems. But many reporters noted that people can get the same information from radio and TV stations in their own cities.

The media reaction was reminiscent of when the Vice President proposed spending tens of millions of federal dollars to take live satellite pictures of a rotating earth and put them on the Internet. Gore?s proposal was so wacky that it made it into the “Fleecing of America” segment of the ABC evening news broadcast. Gore came up with the idea in the middle of the night and asked NASA to figure out how to implement it. The idea was labeled a “vision of the earth” by the Vice President. Martin explained that the film would be made available to television and the Internet 24 hours a day.

Gore was shown saying, “This has tremendous value, scientifically, economically and in an intangible way.” There was no explanation of what he meant by that, but it could have been a spiritual reference. Gore, after all, seems to have this vision of all of us being global citizens. He writes sympathetically in his book ?Earth in the Balance? about a spirit of the earth. Perhaps he anticipates people meditating before this live picture of the earth and experiencing that spirit.

His program would have cost anywhere between $20-$50 million, and would have required sending a new craft into outer space to take film of the earth. The money was a problem because NASA was already over-budget, stemming from over-spending on a boondoggle known as the International Space Station. In any case, ABC?s John Martin noted that John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists said that similar pictures of the earth are already available on the Internet through existing weather satellites. Martin quoted another scientist as saying that because of the earth?s slow rotation, Gore?s proposal was the high-tech equivalent of watching the grass grow.

Now, in another major embarrassment for the Vice President, a scientific journal called the Skeptical Inquirer has taken Gore to task for using an Indian figure known as Chief Seattle as a source in his book, Earth in the Balance. Gore quoted at length from a speech supposedly delivered by Chief Seattle, which supposedly demonstrated the superiority of Indian attitudes toward the environment. The Skeptical Inquirer says the chief never made the speech attributed to him.

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