The media, particularly television, is strangling democracy by not allowing the average person to get more involved in the political conversation, former Vice President Al Gore told "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer.
As TV news becomes more and more obsessed with shallow topics such as Paris Hilton, politicians talk in sound bites recommended by media manipulators, Gore said, which causes democracy to lose its muscle as the public becomes virtually hypnotized by four-and-a-half hours of passive TV viewing every day.
"Democracy is a conversation, and what made American democracy in the first place over 200 years ago was a new way of communicating that involved average people in the conversation," he said. "People listen, but they don't have an opportunity to take part in the conversation, and one of the principal reasons why Americans feel they don't have a role to play, their vote doesn't count, their voice isn't heard is because it is mainly a one-way conversation over television. It's beginning to change, and that's the good news."
Gore even evoked chickens becoming paralyzed by fear and repetitive motion and said TV makes people passive.
"Being in the television business… one of the most valuable things you can have is a time slot following a hit show because even with a remote, there [are] millions of us who'll sit and watch a show and be sufficiently immobilized by it that you can't even move a thumb muscle," he said. "Anybody who has spent time growing up on a farm has probably had that experience [of hypnotizing chickens with repetitive movements], but the… point is larger than that. The point is that instead of engaging in a free and vigorous discussion that anybody can take part in, instead now candidates for office and those who want to influence public opinion use these sophisticated propagandistic techniques to try to give emotional impressions and sort of, you know, try and herd people this way or that."
Then Gore turned the tables on Sawyer, asking her the difference between news and entertainment.
She replied that news educates and illuminates.
"Wait a minute, this is the headline here, that you agree with what I'm saying," he responded.
Gore believes that what will return the conversation back to the general public is the Internet.
"The great virtue of the Internet is that individuals have open access to it, not only to take what they are interested in but also to contribute their own ideas," he said. "We've shut ourselves off from that source of strength that's made this nation the greatest nation on Earth, and instead we've been making a series of catastrophic mistakes that have left our troops trapped in Iraq, that have created this climate crisis that's so threatening to the future of civilization, and instead we're hearing these slogans and buzz words instead of looking at what the facts are."