Though politics had been the family business, Al Gore's friends have always traced the awakening of his own interest in it to his senior thesis at Harvard: "The Impact of Television on the Presidency, 1947-1969." The small screen had created a new, unforgiving standard in politics, the young Gore wrote, one that rewards the smooth performer and dooms the stilted one. His 99-page paper turned out to be a prescient analysis of some of the forces that would conspire to deny him the White House three decades later. But while Gore's political career may be over, his fascination with television is taking a new turn. Gore has reincarnated himself as an activist entrepreneur and is about to mount what could be his most ambitious campaign yet: to transform the medium itself.
"I've never been particularly motivated by money," Gore told TIME last week, "but, you know, I like to make a good living, and I truly believe you can do well and do good at the same time." This week's launch of Current TV, his new 24-hour youth cable network, will test that proposition. The cable channel claims it will do nothing less than democratize television, giving anyone with a digital camera and a computer the kind of power that used to be enjoyed only by the mainstream media. Current TV will invite a young army of "citizen journalists" to submit edgy 15-second-to-15-minute video segments that the network is calling "pods." The idea is that no one knows better than young people what will hold the attention of the elusive, tech-savvy 18-to-34-year-old demographic.
In Gore's new office at the network's quasi-industrial San Francisco studio, there are no photos or other White House mementos to suggest that this is the man who, as he likes to put it, "used to be the next President of the United States." But anyone who knew him then would recognize the giant whiteboards he always kept handy for scrawling his inspirations on. Those much remarked-upon earth tones of his presidential campaign have been traded for the head-to-toe man-in-black look that passes for the uniform of the new media executive. But the Treo 650 still hangs at his belt in the fashion statement of the incorrigible techno-geek that he has always admitted to being.
Current TV is only one of the ventures that Gore has undertaken in the afterlife he created for himself as a businessman who is out to change the world. The former Vice President, 57, is chairman of Generation Investment Management, a London-based investment firm that he started last year with former Goldman Sachs Asset Management CEO David Blood. For a partnership that no one seems able to resist calling Blood & Gore, they have a serious and high-minded investment philosophy. Generation aims to find and invest in companies that will pay off by virtue of enlightened approaches on energy, the environment, employee relations and other policies that will benefit society as well as their bottom lines.