The Al Jazeera television network has become a dominant force in Middle East communications as well as an expanding influence elsewhere, but up until now it has had trouble breaking through in the United States with a little watched English channel that is not widely available. No longer. With the sale of Al Gore’s Current TV cable network to Al Jazeera, the Qatar-government financed news giant will have a chance to reach an estimated 40 million American homes. Current TV has been a colossal flop in terms of viewership and quality, but its sale will make yet another fortune for the former vice president who has become wealthy through investments in so-called “green” companies.
In yet another example of the hypocrisy of wealthy left-wingers, Gore, who will receive an estimated $100 million of the reported half-billion-dollar sale price, made sure the transaction took place by the end of 2012 so as to avoid the higher taxes that went into effect as part of President Obama’s soak-the-rich fiscal cliff ultimatum. But there’s more to this story than the way the former Democratic Party standard-bearer parlayed a vanity project into a financial windfall. Rather, it is the way he will assist the plan of Al Jazeera, which has long been rightly dismissed by the American public as a platform for Islamist and anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda, to elbow its way into the U.S. media market and compete with cable news giants like CNN and MSNBC, if not the more popular Fox News. Though, as the New York Times noted, there is little evidence that there is any real demand among mainstream viewers for an English language version of the favorite network of Al Qaeda and other Islamists, the acquisition of Current and the creation of a new Al Jazeera English channel will mean the network’s biased outlook on the Middle East and the United States will be far more widely available here than ever before.
Though it is hard to imagine that the new Al Jazeera will ever be anything more than a niche network with little influence on the American political discussion, the key to the success of this very ambitious scheme will be in the marketing of its new incarnation. Gore, who will stay on as part of the board of what is tentatively called Al Jazeera America, will be part of an effort to mainstream the network:
In recent weeks, Mr. Gore personally lobbied the distributors that carry Current on the importance of Al Jazeera, according to people briefed on the talks who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Distributors can sometimes wiggle out of their carriage deals when channels change hands. Most consented to the sale, but Time Warner Cable did not.
Distribution is the key, since while few people watched Gore’s station, its availability via Comcast cable and Direct TV, outlets that had refused to carry Al Jazeera English since it was founded in 2006, made it valuable. That will mean that Al Jazeera America’s broadcasts emanating from New York studios as well as its headquarters in Doha, Qatar will have the chance to be watched by a vast American audience.
Al Jazeera won praise for its extensive coverage of the Arab Spring, but as it has become clear that Islamist hegemony rather than democracy will be the legacy of those protests, its hard to make the argument that the network has much to offer Americans. Though, as the Times notes, it will provide a “less parochial” outlook on the world than Americans are used to, its frame of reference about the U.S., Israel and Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas will keep it an outlier in American debates.
It’s not clear that the oil-rich magnates of Qatar will make their money back on this deal. Nor is it likely that Al Jazeera’s news with an Islamist and anti-American and anti-Israel slant will transform the discussion of the Middle East. But it may provide a bully pulpit to voices that have heretofore been confined to the fever swamps of U.S. politics and become another beachhead into the U.S. for those seeking to heighten international isolation of the Jewish state.
As for Gore, his role as a well-paid enabler of Al Jazeera will mean that his descent from a respected Scoop Jackson Democrat to a profiteering leftist huckster will be complete.