I saw Al Gore on television last week. It seems as if he’s getting around more now than when he ran for president.
The program was “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” the place to find smart commentary. Stewart skewered both sides of the congressional aisle by using a little trick: reporting. Show the politician speaking today, show what the politician said before today, and wham! Instant laughs. Stewart ran a clip of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid applauding the progress of the Iraq war funding bill, which was passed without timetables for withdrawal, and then showed Reid calling a similar proposal by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., “very tepid” and “very weak, a cup of tea that’s been left on the counter for a couple of weeks.”
Gore was treated more regally and allowed to pitch his newest book. That “The Assault on Reason” lambastes the Bush administration is hardly surprising; to realize that Gore and Stewart didn’t touch that point was amazing. The court jester had the easy punch lines and didn’t use them.
Instead, Stewart focused on another theme: the way we make decisions as a country.
Gore’s argument, as The New York Times says in its book review, “is that ‘reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions’ and that the country’s public discourse has become ‘less focused and clear, less reasoned.’”
Logic and truth are, or should be, bedrock principles of journalism and of our democracy. They take courage, something that’s been in short supply since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It’s why I’m proud when the Missourian digs deep to find stories others would just as soon keep quiet. I worry, though, that journalists haven’t done enough to stand up to the avalanche of sound bites coming from Washington, and we citizens don’t demand enough from our politicians (including Gore) and our media.
I find it interesting that presidential candidate John Edwards is citing Mark Twain these days in honoring dissent as the highest form of patriotism. Protest is becoming fashionable again, and that’s a good thing, so long as the dissent doesn’t devolve into the same, fiction-based sound bites.
Otherwise, we’ll continue a public dilogue that is tepid, very tepid.