It's a "news" outlet dedicated to coverage of the Middle East, but it ignores ongoing atrocities against Israeli civilians. Its Arab language sibling threw a lavish birthday party for a terrorist who infamously murdered a Jewish family, and its reporting during the Iraq War was called 'vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable' by the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The list of op-ed contributors to its website reads like a Who's Who of left-wing and Muslim anti-Americanism.
It's Al Jezeera English, and liberals and the U.S. media want to give it prestigious awards and greater access to the U.S. cable news market.
The "Arab Spring" that's swept the Middle East over the last few months has brought to prominence a new news source: Al Jazeera English. The fortunes of AJE got a boost when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sang its praises in a Senate committee hearing, which amplified calls from around the U.S. media to make the network more widely available in this country. By Clinton's and other accounts, the network's coverage of the uprising in Egypt and elsewhere in the region has been excellent, earning it, according to some, a spot on the dial from U.S. cable providers.
AJE's website helpfully provides a list of favorable articles from its media boosters. What it doesn't include are the assessments of critics like the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. There's no explanation of why AJE chose to ignore the public sexual assault of a U.S. reporter among the celebrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square at the very moment it was supposedly earning its new reputation. Nor does it have the apology Al Jazeera was forced to issue for staging a birthday party for a convicted child killer.
But the left and the journalistic establishment won't hold AJE to account. In fact, Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism is giving AJE its highest honor, the Columbia Journalism Award for "singular journalism in the public interest."
In its Columbia Journalism Review for May/June, Lawrence Pintak wrote, "the political skew that colors some stories on Al Jazeera Arabic seems largely absent from Al Jazeera English." Pintak gushed that, "with the Egyptian revolution, Al Jazeera English has come of age. The channel's 24/7 coverage had no English-language rival." CJR pushed Pintak's article as being about the "balanced, thorough, and cosmopolitan cousin of Arab-centric Al Jazeera Arabic."
'Balanced and Thorough' AJE-Style
Launched in 2006, Al Jazeera English is the younger sibling of Arabic-language Al Jazeera, which had been on the air since 1996. Both channels are owned by a member of Qatar's royal family and funded through loans from Qatar's government.
AJE is available in most of the world, but in the U.S., it can only be found in the Toledo, Oh, Burlington, Vt., and Washington D.C. markets. Would-be U.S. viewers must instead see AJE on YouTube or in streaming webcasts online.
AJE has reportedly been making a concerted effort to become more professional in recent years, hiring western journalists and producers from outlets like BBC and CNN. Perhaps that's why so many in the U.S. media are demanding the channel be carried nationally - journalists looking after their own. Because it's difficult to accept they're taken with the quality of coverage when faced with a glaring example of journalistic malfeasance.
As liberal Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart noted, AJE willingly ignored the brutal sexual assault on CBS's Lara Logan in Tahrir Square by 200 men on Feb. 11.
Capehart confronted Heather Allan, head of news gathering for AJE about an internal AJE e-mail in which she flatly stated the network wasn't covering Logan's attack. Allan lamely responded that AJE "believes, as a general rule," that journalists "are not the story." Capehart wasn't buying it, and linked to an AJE website article in which journalists were indeed the story in Egypt. And at this writing, AJE's website includes a section demanding that Syrian officials release reporter Dorothy Parvaz, who's been detained there since April 29.
Logan's wasn't the only story AJE has ignored lately.
On March 12 in the Israeli settlement of Itamar, someone stabbed to death five members of a Jewish family as they slept. Among the dead were three children, including an infant. The Palestinian Authority condemned the attack, but there was celebration in the Gaza Strip.
A search of AJE's website for the Itama murders turned up no report on the murders themselves, and just two stories about Israeli reaction to the crime - stories so one-sided as to make MSNBC blush. One told how Israeli troops arrested Palestinian women in a local village while hunting "the killers of an Israeli family from the illegal settlement of Itamar."
There's no telling whether Lawrence Pintak read the other story, "'Day of rage' poured wrath on Palestinians," before declaring AJE free of "political skew." That story began:
"Israeli settlers observed their own 'day of rage' last Thursday, launching reprisal attacks on Palestinians for the recent murder of a settler family in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, and the demolition of a settlement structure by the Israeli authorities.
"Over the years, Israeli settlers have carried out the much publicised 'price tag' policy of intimidation and violence against Palestinians and their property every time Israeli officials have demolished a settler outpost …
"A settler family comprising a mother, father and three children, including a three-month-old baby, were stabbed to death in Itamar, a settlement near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
"Suspecting the killer or killers to be Palestinian, without any evidence and despite rumours that Thai labourers involved in a pay dispute with their employers in Itamar could have been responsible, settlers attacked Palestinians and their property throughout the West Bank as their day of rage extended over the week."
Birthday Parties for Terrorists
But even pretending that AJE is "balanced, thorough," it's important to recall why (beyond commercial calculations) the network has the barest foothold in the U.S. market.
Arab-language Al Jazeera has a history of strident anti-Americanism, of acting as a willing vehicle for Islamist propaganda, and of coloring reports to enflame Muslim opinion against the West.
Ayman Mohyeldin, a reporter for both networks, told CJR's Pintak how Al Jazeera Arabic views its audience. "The Arab viewer doesn't want just news, they want something a little bit more polemic," explains Mohyeldin. "They want to feel they have someone who is fighting on their behalf."
And Al Jazeera does nothing if not satisfy its audience. In 2003, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called its Iraq War coverage "vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable."
In 2009, on the seventh anniversary of the videotaped beheading of his son Daniel by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Judea Pearl wrote
"The media have played a major role in handing terrorism this victory of acceptability. Qatari-based Al Jazeera television, for example, is still providing Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi hours of free air time each week to spew his hateful interpretation of the Koran, authorize suicide bombing, and call for jihad against Jews and Americans."
Pearl then noted an incident from 2008, when Al Jazeera threw a televised birthday party for Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, newly released from prison in a prisoner exchange. In 1979, Kuntar had shot an Israeli civilian in front of the man's four-year-old daughter and then bashed in her head with his rifle. Al Jazeera felt Kuntar's birthday merited cake and fireworks, and one of the network's interviewers told Kuntar, "You deserve even more than this."
"Al Jazeera," wrote Judea Pearl, "elevated Kuntar to heroic heights with orchestras, fireworks and sword dances, presenting him to 50 million viewers as Arab society's role model. No mainstream Western media outlet dared to expose Al Jazeera efforts to warp its young viewers into the likes of Kuntar. Al Jazeera's management continues to receive royal treatment in all major press clubs."
That was two years ago. Now Al Jazeera's receiving awards and fellow "journalists" are lobbying for expanded access to it.
The Envious U.S. Press
Examples of Al Jazeera's poisonous anti-U.S. and anti-Isreal bias, its anti-semitism, its tolerance of terrorism and its blatant misreporting abound. Accuracy in Media has made a cause of exposing and combating AJE, and even showed that many of the executives and editors from Al Jazeera have migrated to AJE.
But the truth is, U.S. journalists don't really care that Al Jazeera is a propaganda outlet. "Yes, the network has a point of view - its coverage tends to be skeptical both of non-democratic rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, and of American involvement in the region," editorialized the Boston Globe (one of Al Jazeera English's most fawning supporters) on April 3. "But many Americans share this same viewpoint, and even for those who don't the network can be deeply informative."
In a Feb. 14 Globe op-ed demanding her AJE, former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem wrote, "It may be that, given AJE's relationship with the Bush administration, cable providers fear it is merely anti-American propaganda. But the remarkable aspect of AJE is how little its coverage of the Egyptian crisis has been about the United States."
That's good to hear, because at this writing, in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the op-eds on AJE's website run the ideological gamut from anti-American to anti-American, with some anti-Israelism thrown in for balance: "Capitalism is bad." "Americans are evil for celebrating Bin Laden's demise at sporting events." "Obama equals Osama." "Capitalism is still bad." "Without Bin Laden, the U.S. no longer has an 'alibi' for the war in Afghanistan" "Americans are shallow and callous for celebrating Bin Laden's death." "Israel's Gaza blockade is evil."
But again, that's rarely a concern to mainstream journalists. In the Feb 13 New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote, "Too often, Americans scorn Al Jazeera (and its English service is on few cable systems), but it played a greater role in promoting democracy in the Arab world than anything the United States did."
Aside from the slight to U.S. sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kristof's statement gets at one of the reasons for the press' sudden admiration for AJE - the perception that it influenced events, rather than just reported them.
A week earlier, Kristof's colleague, Brian Stelter, described how a "sense of mission - and of opportunity - permeates the Al Jazeera compound on the outskirts of Doha," and wrote that, "Many observers believe that by televising the uprisings, Al Jazeera is influencing them - and tilting the Middle East toward a version of democracy in the process."
In other words, the supposedly neutral mainstream western media is celebrating Al Jazeera for its activism, not its journalism. Now that makes sense.