Former Vice President Al Gore appears at a book signing in New York on Wednesday.… (Rob Kim / AFP/Getty Images )
Former Vice President Al Gore is used to taking pot shots from the right, and he's getting peppered with them lately following his decision to sell his unpopular Current TV network to Al Jazeera, the Middle Eastern news channel still vilified by many conservatives as the voice of the Taliban. Gore doesn't have much trouble dismissing that canard -- Al Jazeera's international coverage has in recent years become competitive with the best in the world -- but the grief he's getting from the left clearly makes him a lot more uncomfortable.
Al Jazeera is partly owned by the royal family of Qatar, a strong U.S. ally that is also a hugely wealthy petro-dictatorship. In other words, after spending his post-presidential career exposing the evils of Big Oil and the havoc it's wreaking on the planet's climate, Gore's roughly $100 million in profit from the Current TV deal is figuratively dripping with carbon coffee.
As he makes the interview circuit for his latest book, Gore has been posed tough questions on the deal from the likes of Jon Stewart and the "Today" show's Matt Lauer, and to all he has given essentially the same answer: Yeah, I understand it looks bad, but hey, Al Jazeera has covered the climate change issue better than any other channel.
It's a pretty lame explanation, not only because it doesn't really address the fact that Gore sold out to a huge oil interest but because it makes some unwarranted assumptions. If the world ever does become serious about a severe crackdown on oil use, Al Jazeera's Qatari owners might decide to add a little spin to the channel's climate coverage, or tone it down.
For Gore, there's no escaping the fact that his decision has disillusioned his followers and provided ammunition for his critics. Yet it's not entirely indefensible. Fighting climate change is going to be a long, expensive process. We aren't going to wean ourselves off oil overnight; it will, in fact, take decades, by which time the oil fields of Qatar may have dried up and the country may have switched to the business of building solar power plants in the desert. The idea is to reduce our reliance on oil and gas by coming up with alternative fuels and more efficient engines; until that process has gotten a lot further than it has to date, we'll still need crude from Qatar -- and Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, and a lot of other places we'd less like to do business.
I'm not bothered by the sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera because I think the latter channel will provide some perspective on world news that's currently lacking. As for Gore's crude-soaked cash, it's a minor, if disappointing, distraction.
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