After enriching Al Gore by a cool hundred million as part of their purchase of his dead-in-the-water Current cable channel, the rulers of Qatar are hoping to win the hearts, minds, and attention of U.S. viewers with their revamped Al Jazeera America slated to make its debut in 48 million domestic homes tomorrow afternoon. The problem for the owners of the channel is that most Americans still think of the network as al-Qaeda’s favorite propaganda source that promoted a noxious mix of vicious anti-American and anti-Israel opinion and biased news reporting that made even the most partisan American networks appear to be bastions of Olympian objectivity. How do you fix that? Easy. Convince everyone that your channel is just the opposite of what they expect. To that end, Al Jazeera has managed to coax the New York Times into writing a puff piece on their plans to rebrand themselves as being the most serious news network on television.
The Times obliged with a piece that claims the launch is the most ambitious journalistic project since the debut of Fox News because it will be a network dedicated to “fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news” along with “less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.” It will also have a lot fewer commercials but, as the Times points out, that has more to do with Al Jazeera’s inability to sell time to advertisers. Even so, it all sounds perfect, right? Maybe. We’ll judge them on their performance rather than their rather impressive PR efforts. But there’s still one lingering problem that ought to trouble even those liberal mainstream media types who are clearly rooting for it: this is the same media company that puts out the Al Jazeera seen around the world and that remains the antithesis of what they’re selling to Americans.
The latest example of the real Al Jazeera comes to us courtesy of Memri.org, the indispensable source of translations of the Arab media. Apparently, on Saturday the parent network of Al Jazeera America broadcast a rant from a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood accusing Egypt’s military leader of being a secret Jew and claiming that the new government is implementing the plan first revealed in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery. If its entertainment division producing a Hillary Clinton biopic embarrasses NBC news, it would be interesting to see what the supposedly “unbiased” journalists of Al Jazeera America think about that.
The point here is that despite all the talk from liberal figures in the media telling us about how essential Al Jazeera is and how hopeful their American beachhead will be for the future of journalism, it remains a place that can be counted on for the sort of incitement that gave the network the bad reputation its still trying to overcome. The Americans hired to work for Al Jazeera may be well intentioned and some of their work may be valuable, just as the coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings by the mother network. But Americans are not likely to trust a broadcaster that blithely promotes this kind of hatred and bias elsewhere. Insulating their American operation from its foreign owners is not as easy as the Times would have us believe so long as it answers to the same Qatari masters with a weakness for anti-Semitism. Any channel that calls itself Al Jazeera is going to have to prove that it won’t spew the same kind of prejudice. It’s not likely that a rightly skeptical American audience will give them much of a chance.