All of a sudden, Al Gore is even more everywhere than before, crisscrossing the continent and jetting to Cannes to promote his global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. This month he appears on the covers of Vanity Fair and Wired, as well as this week’s New York magazine, and he opened Saturday Night Live on May 13 with a sketch that had him triumphantly addressing the nation as our current president.
The press is championing this impassioned “new Gore,” who says he’s not interested in a 2008 presidential run—he just wants to stump for his longtime cause by promoting the film, in which he argues that global warming is a real threat, an opinion now shared by most scientific experts. “I’ll get behind the popcorn stand if you want me to,” he reportedly told an audience at ShoWest, an annual movie industry convention, in March.
In New York, where the film opens on Wednesday, that translates to a panel discussion on Thursday at the Town Hall featuring Gore. Tom Cruise he’s not—a local publicity blitzkrieg isn’t on the agenda—nor does An Inconvenient Truth have the budget of a Mission: Impossible III, which is part of the reason why its marketers are employing an Internet-based campaign to help propel ticket sales.
One initiative, a sort of pledge drive, asks visitors to the Inconvenient Truth website, ClimateCrisis.net, to promise to see the movie on opening weekend. In support, MoveOn.org‘s Political Action Committee sent an e-mail encouraging its 350,000 New York and L.A. members to pledge to “see the truth,” and Facebook.com, a Friendster-esque social networking site for students, has set up a page asking its users to take the pledge. About 16,000 New Yorkers have promised to see it this weekend, according to Paramount Classics’ Andrew Lin; nearly 100,000 people across the country have pledged so far (the film opens in other cities on June 2). “We’re a small movie trying to be a big movie,” says Lin. “It’s very important to us to have a strong grassroots movement.”
Gore’s current media omnipresence and the attention he’s drawn to the problem of global warming seem to have inspired a preemptive strike from the right, led by Fox News Channel and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a D.C. nonprofit whose donors include Exxon Mobil and GM. Last night, Fox News aired its second documentary on the topic in less than a year—the first, The Heat is On: The Case of Global Warming, which aired in November, presented a more Gore-like stance. In Global Warming: The Debate Continues, Fox’s David Asman, whose on-camera interview style is reminiscent of Stephen Colbert in his Daily Show years, guides the viewer through a hodgepodge of arguments supposed to lead to the conclusion that the planet is warming up, but it probably isn’t that big a deal. (In response to testimony that climate models are just predictors, not “crystal balls,” Asman asked, “Is it really any better than a Ouija board?”) Asman and others refer to global warming “alarmists,” an echo of Sean Hannity’s assertion, made on his own Fox News show five days earlier, that Gore was a “fearmonger” who’d become “unhinged.”
Similarly, the two 60-second CEI television ads, which will air in 14 U.S. cities through May 28, warn viewers against alarmists. “Now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed,” one ad posits as images of a girl blowing a dandelion into the breeze and an erupting geyser appear onscreen, while the other ad wonders, “Why are they trying to scare us?” Both end with the tagline “Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life.”
So far, anti-Truth messages seem to have had little impact, at least not in New York, where shows were sold out at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, one of eight local theaters playing An Inconvenient Truth, as early as last week—almost unheard of for a movie of this scale, let alone an apocalyptic documentary about climate change. And the film’s website has received more than 400,000 hits since it went live on April 20; Lin says 60 percent of the traffic comes from people, their curiosity piqued, who type in the film’s title or just “Al Gore” and “movie” in search engines. Another 15 percent comes from blogs big and small, where the pro-Gore buzz crescendos.
But the best P.R. yet for An Inconvenient Truth may have come directly from the White House. The Associated Press reported Monday that George W. Bush was asked if he plans to see Gore’s new film. The president’s short reply: “Doubt it.”