In a recent piece for Commentary Magazine, conservative blogger Jonathan S. Tobin lambasts the sale of Al Gore’s Current TV to Al-Jazeera as a blatant example of liberal hypocrisy. The article is a good summation of what is actually a wider campaign of attack from conservative pundits, directed at the former Vice President’s recent transaction involving his fledgling cable station and the Arab news source.
As with most right wing critiques of Al Jazeera, the rhetoric is more a matter of biased perception than fact. During the height of the Iraq war, AJ’s coverage was seen in many circles as being anti-American. But as public opinion of the war soured, they were somewhat vindicated as having brought a much-needed perspective to a poorly-planned conflict that eventually spiraled into a sectarian civil war. Now, with their unbridled approach to covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, “anti-Israel” is the more common label lobbed at them from the right.
Al Jazeera is funded by the oil-rich government of Qatar, and as inconsequential as this dynamic may be, it’s probably the most resonant attack on Al Gore’s credibility since he’s known for his fierce polemics against fossil fuels, along with being quite a militant environmentalist.
But this unsteady narrative (not to mention the tax dodge Gore took in the transaction) has taken a back seat to the alarmist rhetoric of AJ’s alleged anti-Israel/Americanism, along with other completely false claims. In the Commentary piece, Tobin suggests that AJ has promoted 911-Truther myths, but that is categorically false. AJ has covered the phenomenon of 911 Trutherism and even analyzed its theories, but never “promoted” them.
Some opinion pages have suggested that the Emir of Qatar who is responsible for AJ’s financing, may have provided support to terrorist groups operating in Syria. But this is a slightly spurious claim, since very little is known about the different factions operating against Syria’s Assad. Regardless, the idea that Al Jazeera might be catering to the policies of Qatar’s government is dubious because it has provided some of the most enlightening coverage of the Syrian conflict the worldwide media has seen. AJ was out in front when it came to reporting massacres committed against Syrian government troops in captivity. If your goal is to undermine the Assad regime at the behest of your financier, exposing atrocities committed by Rebel forces is a poor way of doing it.
“In the Middle East, where good, independent journalism is hard to find, Al Jazeera has distinguished itself by its thorough and smart coverage of many important stories, particularly the Arab Spring. In the early days of the revolution in Egypt, many people in America and around the world turned to it because it did a much better job on the ground than many of its international peers.
Al Jazeera often brings a nuance to international stories that can be lacking on American networks, because it has more foreign correspondents and overseas bureaus than many established Western networks. Its coverage of the Arab Spring won a George Foster Peabody Award and its English-language service is broadcast to more than 250 million homes in 130 countries, including Britain, South Africa and India.”
In summary, there is no controversy here, except only in fringe right wing circles. The narrative of Al Jazeera being a network disseminating anti-American propaganda has long ago been discredited. The false notion that journalism should only promote American foreign policy and anything contrary is suspect, should flounder with the Michelle Bachmanns, the Sarah Palins, and Bill O’Reillys of the world.