(Image credit: Peter Rejcek.)
I witnessed the kerfuffle between Al Gore and filmmaker Phelim McAleer last week at the Society of Environmental Journalists Q&A session in Madison, Wis. At the time, I was standing in line to ask Gore a question of my own. (Full disclosure: I am an SEJ member.)
Phelim McAleer is the producer of “Not Evil Just Wrong,” an anti-Gore film. At the Q&A session, McAleer challenged Gore about errors in the film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore gave a brief response, but the exchange quickly devolved into a back-and-forth about whether polar bears are endangered. SEJ member Tim Wheeler asked McAleer to sit down, but he refused, and his microphone was cut off. (You can listen to a recording here.)
After the incident, McAleer accused moderator Andrew Revkin and other SEJ members of shutting him down in favor of protecting a politician. Since then, he’s become a minor hero on conservative blogs, which have portrayed the incident as the latest example of Gore’s nefarious deeds. He had appearances scheduled today on Fox & Friends, the Glenn Beck Radio Show and the Neil Cavuto show.
But did SEJ censor a fellow journalist for asking difficult questions? Tim Wheeler, the SEJ member who asked McAleer to sit down, says he did so out of courtesy to other journalists who, like me, were waiting ask a question:
I spoke to McAleer, wanting to be sure he understood why he’d been cut off…I responded that he had been free to ask his question and even got a chance to follow it up, but that he didn’t have a right to monopolize the Q&A. He said he was simply trying to get Gore to answer his question. I told we gave him a chance to ask it, but we couldn’t guarantee an answer to his satisfaction, and with both Gore and him simply repeating themselves, fairness dictated that he yield the mic to others waiting to pose their questions.
I believe that journalists should ask tough questions. Obviously. That is our job. But no new information was being yielded by the McAleer-Gore exchange, and I think the moderators were right to try to move the session along as quickly as possible.
As it turned out, I didn’t get to ask my question. I was next in line when Andrew Revkin announced that the Q&A period had expired. At least a half-dozen others were waiting behind me.
Did I feel that Revkin had censored me by cutting off questions just as I stepped up to the microphone? No, because I understood that asking a question in that forum was an opportunity, not a right. But I doubt that McAleer, with his new-found celebrity, will see it that way.
P.S. Here’s the question I’d prepared:
“Mr. Gore, you’ve encouraged young people to engage in civil disobedience to halt the construction of new coal-fired power plants. What are your reasons for not participating in civil disobedience yourself?”
Further reading: SEJ Accused of Protecting Gore.