Hoover Daily Report

Inconvenient Truths About Al Jazeera

via Wall Street Journal
Sunday, January 6, 2013

Al Gore and his co-investors just sold liberal cable channel Current TV to Al Jazeera, the network bankrolled by the emir of Qatar. How much in carbon offsets does Mr. Gore need to balance his estimated $100 million from the sale to an oil sheik?

But there's a more serious issue here than hypocrisy. Current's owners could have simply said they sold to the highest bidder, with the emir paying an estimated $500 million for a network with viewership of only 22,000. Instead they glorified Al Jazeera.

Writing for himself and Mr. Gore, co-founder Joel Hyatt, a lawyer and Democratic fundraiser, explained: "When considering the several suitors who were interested in acquiring Current, it became clear to us that Al Jazeera was founded with the same goals we had." Among them: "to give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the important stories that no one else is telling."

Mr. Hyatt also asserted that "Al and I did significant due diligence." He wrote that he spent a week at Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar and was impressed by the "journalistic integrity" he saw there.

More due diligence might have included a review of the close journalistic coverage over the years of Al Jazeera's Arabic and English broadcasts, which discloses the unsurprising fact that the network reflects the interests of the government that runs it—making it akin to Vladimir Putin's Russia Today and Beijing's Xinhua. The emir of Qatar, Hamid bin Khalifa Al Thani, appointed his cousin as chairman of Al Jazeera. The emir was last in the news for donating $400 million to Hamas, a terrorist organization.

Mr. Gore could have read the Middle East Quarterly profile titled "The Two Faces of Al Jazeera." The network gets good marks for programming in areas outside the emir's direct interests, but the article concludes that Al Jazeera continues "to inflame Arab resentments in its promotion of anti-Americanism, Sunni sectarianism and, in recent years, Islamism."

Founded in 1996, Al Jazeera became well known after 9/11. In a November 2001 New York Times Magazine NYT -0.46% article, Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami wrote that the network's staffers are "either pan-Arabists—nationalists of a leftist bent committed to the idea of a single nation across the many frontiers of the Arab world—or Islamists."

In 2007, the liberal Nation magazine said that "field reports are overwhelmingly negative with violent footage played over and over. . . . There's a clear underlying message: that the way out of this spiral is political Islam." Dave Marash, formerly of ABC's "Nightline," quit Al Jazeera's English-language station in 2008 when producers in Qatar ordered up anti-American programming.

In 2008, Al Jazeera threw an on-air party for Samir Kuntar when he was released from an Israeli prison. Kuntar led a Palestine Liberation Front terrorist team that kidnapped an Israeli family in 1979. He shot the father and killed the 4-year-old daughter by smashing her head against rocks along the beach. In footage available on YouTube, Al Jazeera's Beirut bureau chief hands Kuntar a scimitar to cut the celebratory cake and says: "This is the sword of the Arabs, Samir."

In 2009, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, host of the network's most popular Arabic-language show, "Shariah and Life," said on air (also available on YouTube): "Oh, Allah, take this oppressive Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers and kill them, down to the very last one." Perhaps Mr. Gore doesn't have access to YouTube.

Al Jazeera's coverage of the Arab Spring has been uneven, reflecting the emir's interests. Former Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem wrote in London's Guardian in April that government officials had "asked the channel to cover up the situation in Bahrain," Qatar's neighbor, where a Sunni monarch is brutally suppressing a pro-democracy uprising led by majority Shiite protesters.

Judea Pearl, whose son Daniel was the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and beheaded in 2002 by al Qaeda terrorists, once had high hopes that Al Jazeera would be more open than other Arab government media. But he has written that the network has "committed itself unconditionally and unabashedly to the service of Hamas and Hezbollah. . . . It is no longer a clash with journalistic standards but a clash with the norms of civilized behavior."

So it's no surprise that before buying Current, Al Jazeera managed to get access to only a few million cable households in the U.S.

News consumers understand that a former vice president justifying a big payday is not the best judge of "journalistic integrity." Arabs deserve and will some day have a network independent of any of their governments. When this happens, Americans may even watch.