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Olbermann hosts Al Gore on the abuses of 'mass media persuasion'
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Tuesday May 29, 2007
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On Tuesday's edition of Countdown, Keith Olbermann began by highlighting both the ignorance of General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concerning the number of American troops that have died in Iraq and Cindy Sheehan's withdrawal from her role as a leader of the anti-war movement.

Olbermann then turned to his guest, former Vice-President Al Gore, asking him whether he agrees with Sheehan. Gore hestitated before answering but finally said that he agrees in part, in that he believes our "national conversation" is dominated by trivialities and "very cleverly constructed propagandistic messaging that really doesn't take logic and reason into account."

When Olbermann pursued the point further, asking Gore to comment on Sheehan's sense that the country doesn't want change, and the broader sense that attempting to engage in a dialog is pointless, Gore responded by pointing to the Internet as something that is bringing back a "public marketplace of ideas that is more accessible to individuals"

Picking up one of the major themes of his book, The Assault on Reason, Gore stated, "The Internet does invite a robust, multi-way conversation that I think is already beginning to serve as a corrective for some of the abuses of the mass media persuasion campaigns that brought us the invasion of Iraq and the ignoring of the climate crisis."

Democracy, said Gore, is something that comes naturally to human beings, but when the conversation becomes one-way -- as it does when dominated by mass media like television -- and is diverted into propaganda, people come to feel they have no way to be heard. "We are more vulnerable to these kinds of sophisticated efforts to bypass reason and logic," Gore stated. The corrective to this, he insisted, is that "We the People must reclaim the integrity of our democracy."

Finally, when asked about the prospect of him seeking the presidential nomination, Gore answered as always that he doesn't expect to run, explaining, "I don't think I'm necessary very good at politics or at a lot of the things that our modern political system rewards and as a result I'm serving in other ways."

The following video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast on May 29.

RUSH TRANSCRIPT (via Closed-Captioning)

|- he doesn't care what you say, look at another, that's insulting to the integr li l gore now on "countdown." [captioning made possible by msnbc]

|- good evening in his rose garden news conference last week president bush having told americans to expect heavy fighting in iraq in the months ahead warning after quote, bloody, very difficult august. The month mr. Bush should have been warning about perhaps the one we are in now. Ten american soldiers dying in iraq on memorial day. Making may with three days still to go already the deadliest month of the year for hustfer u.s. Troops. It freezes the soul to wonder what mr. Bush madges august would look like in comparison. Mr. Bush's sixth memorial day as a wartime president, one of the costliest. Officials announcing the deaths of the ten american soldiers yesterday. Casualties for this month at 115 and counting the fer. At least one top u.s. Official having trouble keeping track of the death toll. General peter pace not even estimating the number of iraq dead in a memorial day interview.

|- we have more than 3,000 americans murdered on 11 september, 2001. The number who have died, sacrificed themselves since that time is approaching that number.

|- for the record, general, it has long since exceeded that number. As of yesterday morning, 3,456 americans had lost their lives in iraq and you, sir, have just lost a large measure your credibility. Cindy sheehan deciding she has lost too much to the war in iraq. In addition to the life of her son casey, she is tired of being smeared and ridiculed, particularly now by the left. In a memorial day resignation letter concluding it is time to get out, quoting her casey died for counsel a country which cares more about who will be the next "american idol" than how many americans will be killed in the next few months while democrats and republicans pay politics with human lives. I'm going to take whatever I have left and go home.

|- as promised, a pleasure to once again be joined by vice president al gore. The new book is "the assault on reason." cindy sheehan's point that this country cares more about a game show than the war in iraq so she's getting out of the whole process, do you agree with her? and is what she's saying kind of representative of what you've written about in the new book?

|- I don't agree with that sentiment as it was expressed. I think that our public airwaves and, more importantly, the national conversation of democracy, if you will, now is dominated by elements that were not features of the conversation that our founders expected that we would have. And a lot of the -- a lot of the public forum is taken up not just with triffyalts but also with very cleverly constructed 3r07 grand is particular me thinking that -- really doesn't take logic and reason into account. And there was never a golden age when everything was all logical in the past, of course not. But the relative role of facts and logic and reason used to be much larger than it has become in the age of 30-second tv ads and the multiscreen experience.

|- the sense of defeat in her statement, that the country doesn't want change that she's beating her head against the wall. Take out the stesks of her and her situation, it does seem to be symbolic of what we're talking about. How on earth do you change the broader sense that protest that dialogue that involvement is meaningless or pointless?

|- well, first of all, my heart goes out to all those americans who have lost loved ones, be it children or spouses or partners or brothers and sisters in the war. And of course mrs. Sheehan is one of those who has tried to also play a role in our national dialogue. And i'd like to separate those two things. I think that it is difficult for any individual to gain access to the public forum in the same way that was the case when the printed word was dominant. I think that the internet is bringing back not only the printed word but a public marketplace of ideas that is more accessible to individuals. And for all of its excesses and bad features, the internet does invite a robust multi-way conversation that I think is already beginning to serve as a corrective for some of the abuses of the mass media persuasion campaigns that brought us the invasion of iraq and the ignoring of the climate crisis and the other serious mistakes that we've been making over the last few years.

|- put in context with me on this, and I want to get back to the internet because obviously it's vitally important to any kind of feedback. But in terms of this public perception that it can or cannot effect change in this nation, the democrats' agreement last week to continue to fund the war in iraq basically on president bush's terms, do you see one as representative of the other? fit them together for me.

|- well, I think that it might have happened even without it, even without these trends, because the tools available to the legislative branch of government are less precise and often more difficult to wield than those available to the executive branch. The power available to the executive branch has increased in the television age. And the use of symbols is something any president has the upper hand with over a congress by and large. And when the congressional leaders didn't have the votes to override the president's veto, then their options were diminished. I have a lot of faith in nancy pelosi and harry reid and the new leaders of the committees, but they didn't have the votes and so I understand that their options were reduced sharply. But there's no doubt that a lot of people who felt that they would just instantly change the course of the war may not give them as much credit as they should for trying as hard and effect I feel as they have. And they're not done yet.

|- to one of those points in there, I was intrigued by the you made in the book about congress should hold its key votes in primetime. That would get theoretically some of the public momentum back. At least people might initially mistake it for some sort of live action series or reality show. But why is it that you or I can check on the minute-by-minute progress of a football game or a basketball game or a baseball game or an "american idol" show on the internet, on a blackberry, on your cell phone but last week during those votes in the house and the senate, I couldn't get a representative by representative vote or senate by senate vote, senator by senator vote anywhere on the internet. What happened there?

|- I think that's an excellent point, keith scompshes it should be remedied. And I have a list of specific recommendations for a lot of the institutions of our society, including the congress, and that's one of them. I think that we should have the most important debates in primetime so that the american people could watch if they choose to. And I think that the congress and all parts of the government should be transparent to those citizens who wish to contact them over the internet and get a minute-by-minute, second-bi-second account of what's going on and give their own opinions during the process.

|- and on the subjects of transparency, you also argue in the book, "the current white house has engaged in an unprecedented and sustained campaign of mass deception, especially where its policies in iraq are concerned." should that not be put in the present tense? isn't the administration still using propaganda and disngs on iraq? and what are the immediate steps to try to remedy that?

|- well, they have -- the president himself has changed his rhetoric slightly on the implied linkage between saddam hussein and osama bin laden. But the vice president has not. And overall, more than half of americans still have the opinion that saddam was involved in that attack. At the time the congress voted, 70% pleefed that saddam hussein was primarily responsible for the attack of 9/11. And I think that impression did not come about accidentally, I think that there was an organized effort with all of these administration spokesmen in the same week going out and using the same phrases, a mushroom cloud over an american city, the uranium from africa that saddam was supposedly using to make a bomb that he would then give to osama, it was all false, it was all nonsense. But the fact that it was conveyed so skillfuly and so effectively that more than two-thirds of the american people had it firmly in mind as the principle reason to support the invasion of iraq, that's an indictment of the integrity of this national conversation of democracy that our founders assumed would take place with a well-informed citizenry that would hold our elected officials accountable. And the fact that that's not working is not so much an indictment of president bush and vice president cheney, although it is, but much more serious, in my view, is that our nation was so vulnerable to such crass efforts to manipulate opinion and drive the country in directions we would never have chosen if we had a full and open debate.

|- the premise of the book appears to be, in some, and if i'm wrong please correct me or someone will send in an email immediately, for democracy to work, people need to connect with each other, connect with the political system and actively take part in the democratic process. But at the heart of it, aren't you demanding first that people think? you can't force them to think.

|- well, I think that all of the activities of democracy that come natural to us as human beings, regardless of where we were born -- immigrants who come here from other countries take to our democratic processes like ducks to water because it's a universal desire for dignity and respect. But when the conversation is diverted to these trivial advertise and to these efforts to sway public opinion this way and that in a one-way dialogue, then people don't have a way to join the conversation. One of the reasons why so many americans feel as if their votes don't count, that their opinions aren't heard, and that they have no way of meaning fully participating in our democracy is because they know that, for example, in the last election in november, 80% of the campaign budgets and contested races were spent on these 30-second tv ads. Those are one way. They aren't based op facts and logic. And campaigns never have been entirely thus based. But, when the bulk of it is made up of these mass persuasion techniques that don't respect the facts and don't respect the people who are the objects of this persuasion, then we get the kinds of serious mistakes that we have seen with the climate crisis, with the invasion of iraq, with the mass, warrantless eavesdropping on american citizens, eliminating the prohibition against torture that general george washington laid down that's been respected by every president and both parties for more than 200 years. These things happen not just because one white house makes terrible decisions but because we are more vulnerable to these kinds of sophisticated efforts to bypass reason and logic to reach a preconceived policy that was decided before the facts were ever brought into play. It's like the old line from alice and wonderland, first the verdict, then the trial. If they decide to invade iraq, regardless of the facts, then there's no discussion of the facts that's going to matterment but we the people, without using the phrase in a way that inevitably sounds corny, we the people, must reclaim the integrity of our democracy by using the new tools that are now beginning to be available to us to insist on respect for reason and logic to a degree that our founders hoped would be the case.


|- the only reason al gore's
movie "an inconvenient truth" was in a position to win an oscar was because he had lost the florida recount. As plan b's go, mr. Gore's come back career has been hugely successful. But as he is finding out on his media tour for his latest book, questions about whether he's planning to take another shot at the white house are impossible to scape. Many cannot help but wonder if on any number of imperative issues, he could surely be more if he effective from inside the oval office than from the top of the bestseller list. More now on our conversation from efrlier today. One other topic while you're here -- nobody ever asks you about this, it's the prospect of you seeking the president deposition nomination next year am there's an item in "newsweek" that read he, and that he would be you, is 50-50 according to one of his closest friends and financial backers. What's your reaction to that item?

|- well, whoever it was doesn't reflect my thinking and I can't even answer that question, keith, without sounding repetitious, so you know my answer. I'm not thinking about running. I don't expect to run. Yes, I haven't ruled out the possibility at some point in the future but i'm not keeping that exception alive to be could i. I really don't expect to be a candidate get gren. But here we are, 500 days or so before the next election. I don't see why, you know, everybody has to close the doors and say, ok, let's narrow the field and make your bets. I'm an american citizen. I'm going to continue speaking out on my views forcefully and as best

|- -- is to actually become president of the united states?

|- well, I respect that argument and i'm under no ill luge that is there's any position as influential as that of president of the united states. I don't think i'm necessarily very good at politics or at a lot of the things that our modern political system rewards. And as a result, i'm serving in other case. I'm involved in a different kind of campaign, to persuade people to solve the climate crisis. And it's really as part that have effort that i've addressed the problems with our democracy. I'm convinced that we have to fix the foundations in our democracy in order to make better choices and solve the climate crisis.

|- all right. The one last topical or nontopical question, I guess we would view it as topical and you would view it as nontopical. You mentioned the door closing. When does the door close?

|- I don't know that.

|- you don't know that? that's still up in the air?

|- oh, I thought you were talking about deadlines and dates and so forth. I really don't know those dates.

|- that's where we'll leave it. The 45th vice president of the united states, al gore, whots new book is "the assault on reason." I hope you're as successful with it as you were with "an inconvenient truth." and that the results are as positive for all of us.

|- thank you, keith and thank you for your passionate involvement in your own way trying to address these same issues.

|- thanks for being so generous with your time. Well, I tried, more with al gore including the possibility that the internet might still save oir democracy, tomorrow night here on "countdown." now arc frightening health alert. They told him not to fly, he flew anyway. Now authorities scrambling to