Current TV hasn't had much of a presence at the twice-yearly Television Critics Association gatherings since its initial presentation near the time of its launch at the Summer 2005 tour. That changed Friday with a panel featuring former Vice President and Current TV Chairman and Co-Founder Al Gore; Current TV President David Bohrman; former two-term governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm (host of the upcoming nightly talk show The War Room with Jennifer Granholm), and combustible Web and TV talk personality Cenk Uygur, who is bringing a version of his daily Internet talk show The Young Turks to Current. Thanks primarily to Gore and Uygur, this session came alive like no other at this tour since the CBS panel for 2 Broke Girls earlier last week.
The thrust of the session was to make clear that Current isn't what it was at the time of its launch -- a laid-back platform for user-generated videos exploring all aspects of our domestic and global societies. The focus since early last year is on news and politics, served up in a way that Gore repeatedly described as "politically direct." The big shift to politics began in earnest when the network hired former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann in 2011.
Gore is pleased with the early results of this new direction. "What we bring that's different [from other news outlets] is a consistent, progressive point of view, politically direct and hard hitting," he said, citing Olbermann's extensive coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. "Night after night after night [Olbermann] hammered away on it," haranguing the other networks for not covering it, he added. "Eventually they did, and now a few months later, the 99 percent/1 percent framework has become a key part of the political dialogue in America. You have Republican candidates in South Carolina accusing Mitt Romney of being a 'vulture capitalist.' The whole dialogue has changed."
The early takeaway from Gore's remarks was something that rang indisputably true: Americans are getting screwed by Washington and corporate America and news outlets are for a number of reasons unable or unwilling to report the truth about it. "There has been a dawning in America of a new awareness that the way our system is working today does not help the average American get ahead," Gore said. "There's a big shift underway out there: The concentration of wealth at the top, all the millions who are unemployed, in foreclosure. They watch the other networks, and they see discussions of why to eliminate the inheritance tax and further cut taxes on the wealthy and cut unemployment compensation and privatize Social Security, and they think it's nuts, and they're looking, many of them, for a place where they can see the dots connected in a way that makes sense to them and helps them participate in the conversation of democracy that must lead to better policies and solutions."
Uygur couldn't help but add to Gore's media critique, albeit with more unrestrained gusto. "If you turn on CNN [and] you're trying to figure out what's actually going on in politics, you're wasting your time," he exclaimed. "Such a great percentage of the decisions made in Washington are based on corporate donors. When do you ever see that on CNN? You never see it! You know what? Wolf Blitzer just wrote an article on CNN.com called A Salute to Politicians. That's the kind of drivel you have in the establishment media."
Uygur having taken aim at CNN, Gore decided to take a shot at another television news entity. "MSNBC has some liberal oriented shows in the evening, but their hosts have been told they have to put on the former chairman of the RNC, and they have to put on Tea Party hosts, and some of the hosts were not happy about that, but they have to do it," he said. "They start the day with a conservative show. They're all over the lot in the middle of the day, and then [they are] a prison channel on the weekend." Snap!
"These networks have some value," Gore said of CNN and MSNBC. "I don't want to just be critical of them, but I'm differentiating Current. We are politically direct. We do have a progressive point of view."
One critic in the room wanted to know why Gore and Co. were "ragging so much" on CNN.
Uygur welcomed the opportunity to fire off once again. "Look, folks, news is full of lies, and I think a great majority of the country understands that," he asserted. "They have, obviously, a very strong niche in which they make good money off of people who buy that crap. But I'm bothered by [CNN] because they're supposed to be the best. They're supposed to be objective, but instead they've become neutral. There's a gigantic difference. They're scared to death of actually telling you what's happening in the country.
"[The] New York Times just had an [editorial asking], 'Should we challenge politicians on the facts?'" Uygur was incredulous. "Of course, you should! The media's gotten to such a sorry state that they have to even ask that question."
"Let me just put a button on this," interjected a slightly more diplomatic Bohrman. "I spent over ten years at CNN, and some of the stuff that we did there was spectacular. I think the point of this, though, is overall, the mainstream media has this over-equalization sentiment to where [opposing points of view] are put on parallel, and they're not living up to the responsibilities of saying [that something] is absurd. They're saying it could be, but on the other hand it couldn't be. We think where we can differentiate ourselves is to focus on politics and call it the way we see it."
This column was originally published at MediaBizBloggers.