The still unanswered question with regard to Al-Jazeera America is why? Why would Qatar’s rulers—who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to launch Al-Jazeera America—want to compete with other American cable networks such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC and over-the-air networks including ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS?
An explanation may be starting to emerge, in part suggested by Temple University journalism professor Christopher Harper (“Al-Jazeera Due Some Criticism”, The Washington Times, Oct. 10, 2013), in part revealed by three Israel-bashing segments and a Web posting.
Says Harper, “Al-Jazeera America, the new network bankrolled by the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar, has criticized other U.S. news organizations for their coverage of the budget battle, despite providing little significant insight itself about the [budget] conflict.” He charges that “Al-Jazeera’s television coverage… provided a superficial view to what’s going in Washington.”
Harper, a veteran of the Associated Press, Newsweek and ABC-TV, says “everyone should know where AJAM stands—right under the thumb of the Qatari princes. The agenda is to get a seat at the political table through the network, which aims at focusing mainly on the failures of the United States rather than its success, with a bias now made plain for all to see.”
And perhaps not just to highlight American problems, but also to undermine a certain American ally in the eyes of viewers.
On October 19, between 3 and 4 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), and on October 20, from midnight to 1 a.m., Al-Jazeera America aired a segment called “Hard Crossings,” which followed a few West Bank Arabs as they attempted to pass through checkpoints to work in Israel. The heavy-handed report alleged arbitrary and humiliating treatment by Israeli security forces of Palestinian workers and appeared to justify Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels on economic and humanitarian grounds.
Viewers learned next to nothing about the necessity or effectiveness of the checkpoints in helping reduce anti-Israeli terrorism, about the large and growing numbers of Arabs allowed to work in Israel or the extent to which Palestinian grievances have resulted from Palestinian actions. These included rejection by the Palestinian leadership of “two-state” peace proposals in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and the bloodshed of the second intifada from 2000 to 2005.
On October 17, at 9:48 a.m. (Eastern) the channel broadcast a completely one-sided, tear-jerking segment, by veteran Al-Jazeera reporter/producer Nadim Baba, about a Palestinian woman who turned empty tear gas canisters into planters for a memorial garden to two of her children killed allegedly while protesting Israel’s security barrier. No Israeli descriptions of the protests or what actually might have caused the children’s deaths. No mention of Palestinian terrorism that spurred construction of the barrier or continued attempts to breach it, no reference to Palestinian dismissal of Israeli offers of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state in exchange for peace. Just an emotional Al-Jazeera America dollop of “Palestinians oppressed, Israelis oppressors.”
Also on October 17, Al-Jazeera America’s Web site featured as one of its lead articles a long report by Sarah Posner headlined “Jewish Americans see generational split on Israel-Palestine; Establishment leadership refuses to change tactics despite younger generation’s skepticism of Israel’s peace commitment”.
On October 16, at 9:26 a.m. (Eastern), Al-Jazeera America aired a video, with eight paragraphs of audio text, reporting attacks by Jewish settlers in the West Bank against Arabs and their property. Also by Baba, the segment lacked specifics—no names of individuals or places, no dates. It did include one paragraph quoting Israeli police on arrests of juveniles allegedly involved in some attacks.
Although less unbalanced than either of Baba’s videos, Posner gave uncritical play to the Israeli group “Breaking the Silence” and the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street organization. She failed
to report the exposure of
“Breaking the Silence’s” abuse charges against the Israeli military (see, for example, “Asa Kasher on NGO’s
and Cast Lead Media Coverage,” May, 2011) or J Street’s role as a George Soros’-funded tool to undermine the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest and most effective pro-Israel lobby (see, for example, “J Street’s Spin
Reversed by CAMERA Op-Ed,” May 23, 2013).
Regardless of the merits of Washington’s budget battles, perhaps as Harper believes, Al-Jazeera America’s reporting on that battle sheds light on its reason for being. A steady diet of anti-Israel propaganda certainly will make a hash of the channel’s promotional slogans “There’s more to it” and “Know More News, No More Noise.”
For more on the new cable news outlet, see CAMERA’s Backgrounder, “Al-Jazeera America and the Sheikdom Off Camera”.
— by Lee Golan, CAMERA’s Washington research intern, and Eric Rozenman, CAMERA’s Washington director.