Television has always played a curious role in American politics.
If anybody understands this amorphous nexus, it's former U.S. vice president Al Gore, who was a reporter before he entered public office and has been parodied so many times by Saturday Night Live he should demand royalties.
One of the abiding myths south of the border is that liberals control the media. Of course, the rubes who prevaricate such folly are the conservatives who control the media.
But, whatever. You say "tomato," I say, "Bill O'Reilly should be turned into cattle feed."
During the surreal run-up to war and later, as "Operation Iraqi Freedom" shocked and awed us on live television, it was astonishing to watch the American networks transmogrify into hollow echo chambers and jingoistic organs of the U.S. military.
How and why this happened should be of great concern to all. Especially when you consider a recent poll that found one third of the American public now believes weapons of mass destruction were uncovered in Iraq. Another 22 per cent believe Iraq used chemical or biological weapons against coalition forces.
This would be mildly amusing if it wasn't so damn frightening.
So when reports surfaced that Gore is hoping to create a new cable channel devoted to "progressive" viewpoints, nobody should have been surprised.
As Time magazine reported, Gore has met with Hollywood power brokers and potential financial backers.
The plan, it seems, is to launch a station that could compete with Rupert Murdoch's conservative Fox News Channel, the cable station that beat CNN in the Iraq ratings game by waving flags and excoriating all things anti-war.
The magazine also reported that Gore has been acting as a conduit between high-profile liberal commentators and Sheldon and Anita Drobny, the Chicago venture capitalists who announced plans to fund a progressive radio network that would act as a tonic to the conservative elixirs served up by Rush Limbaugh and other idiots.
The irony, of course, is that prior to the Iraq war, the prospect for a new liberal cable station would have been about as promising as George W. Bush joining Greenpeace.
But since the war ended, evidence continues to mount that U.S. intelligence was torqued to justify the invasion. More importantly, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, something critics, including U.N. weapons inspectors, predicted long before the first bombs exploded in Baghdad.
(Help me out: If Iraq posed no threat, what exactly was being pre-empted?)
These stark realities have forged a new political climate and a fissure on the American right, where many card-carrying Republicans are now questioning the wisdom of the unilateral neo-cons who served as the war-mongering puppet masters.
"It was, after all, the neo-cons who sold the country on the notion that Iraq had a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq was behind 9/11, that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda, that the war would be a `cakewalk,' that we would be welcomed as liberators, that victory would bring democratic revolution in the Middle East," wrote Pat Buchanan, in this week's edition of The American Conservative.
"Should the cream go sour, the neo-cons will face the charge that they `lied us into war.'"
On Monday, in a front page story, the Washington Post interviewed Rand Beers, a top counter-terrorism adviser at the White House. He resigned five days before the war began and is now volunteering as a security adviser for Democratic Senator John Kerry, a presidential candidate.
As Beers told the Post: "The (Bush) administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure. As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done."
Which brings us, circuitously, back to Gore and his idea for a new progressive television station.
The timing, you see, couldn't be better. The war in Iraq has triggered new criticism and also a willingness to foster a broader debate. Just think, Mr. Gore, about all the gunslingin' liberals who could be convinced to assume new starring roles on television, including Bill Maher, Al Franken and Phil Donahue.
But, best of all, the conservatives are starting to second-guess one another. And since American viewers prefer things that aren't too complicated, they're probably getting ready to change the channel right about now.
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