A Warming Trend

With a well-received environmental movie and a relaxed public manner, Al Gore is enjoying a personal renaissance these days. He may or may not be running for president, but he's sure enjoying the ride.

Newsmaker

June 11, 2006|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

You'd think Al Gore was running for office.

In recent weeks, the man who won the popular vote for the presidency in 2000 - only to vanish into political exile after the Supreme Court decided in favor of George W. Bush - has been everywhere, splashed onto magazine covers, interviewed on television and profiled in newspaper articles, the kind of exposure politicians usually only dream about. He even was the toast of the Cannes Film Festival.

Gore's re-emergence is being propelled by the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, in which Gore lays out the dire implications of global warming, a drum he has been beating for more than two decades. The film opened in Baltimore this weekend.

When asked, Gore is careful to deny any further political aspirations and insists on returning to the topic of climate change. Regardless, the reams of articles about the film lead almost invariably to the 2008 presidential race, some of them rife with speculation that Gore might be the only person able to stop Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's seemingly inexorable ride to the Democratic Party's nomination.

Gore is suddenly the Democrats' rising star, if the articles are to be believed. He has appeared lately on several magazine covers, including New York, The Week, Wired and Vanity Fair, the latter alongside fellow high-profile environmentalists George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times that Gore is "being hailed as the new Comeback Kid," a moniker first given to Bill Clinton in the "bimbo eruption" days of his 1992 presidential campaign. [mcr: I would say, "first given to Bill Clinton" at that time; it was applied repeatedly during his presidency as he bounced back after various stumbles ]More seriously, The New Yorker said Gore is "the living reminder of all that might not have happened in the last six years."

In a four-part series of stories titled "Making Sense of Global Warming," USA Today wrote June 2 that the former vice president's blending of Hollywood tactics with Washington savvy "could pave the way [mcr: the way? ]for a second Gore campaign for the White House" (although it would, in fact, be his third).

On its May 29 cover, New York magazine called Gore "The Un-Hillary" and described the "Gore boomlet" as being "driven by a sense of foreboding about Hillary" and his emergence, since Sept. 11, as "one of the Bush's administration's most full-throated critics."

After years of being viewed by the Washington establishment "with a mix of scorn and pity," John Heilemann wrote, Gore "no longer seems an entirely tragic figure but a faintly heroic one."

Also on May 29, Newsweek's Howard Fineman took up a similar theme with his opinion that Gore "has a certain aura of nobility about him these days - a mixture of rue, acceptance and lofty goals that makes him seem almost, well, endearing."

In journalistic terms, Al Gore's public resurrection is a classic "bandwagon" story, the kind that numerous media outlets, whether because of competitive zeal or simply a pack mentality, run almost simultaneously.

"There's often an echo chamber in the news," said Deborah Potter, a former correspondent for CBS News and CNN who directs the NewsLab, a nonprofit organization that promotes quality in local television news. "Some stories take on a life of their own and ricochet through the media. The hazard of that is that it begins to diminish original thought."

In Gore's case, the widespread coverage has been aided by a confluence of events, including President Bush's abysmal approval ratings, various scandals in the Republican Party leadership, the unrelenting chaos in Iraq and the media's apparent need to produce a positive profile in a miserable political environment.

"Gore is so old news that he's become new," said Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan media research organization in Washington, D.C. "Once you've dismissed somebody, you can start talking about his comeback. We don't know whether Gore is running or not, but you can be sure journalists will talk about it. Politics and speculation are the mother's milk of national news."

Meanwhile, the right is gearing up to pop Gore's bubble. The College Republican National Committee's Web site is urging followers to "freeze out cataclysmic environmental scare tactics" and "raise awareness on the falsities of the global warming phenomenon."

Duly inspired, the University of Oklahoma College Republicans gave out free snow cones to students for an event they called "Global Cooling Day."

Dan Gainor, a spokesman for the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, calls the media's apparent infatuation with Gore "ridiculous."

"The day that almost any conservative got this kind of treatment, I'd be stunned," Gainor said. "He'd have to die first. It's just so over the top."

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