Cliff May

Al Jazeera America launched last week. The new television station features such broadcast luminaries as Soledad O’Brien, Joie Chen, Sheila MacVicar, John Seigenthaler, David Shuster, and Ali Velshi.

Paul Beban, a regional correspondent, told the Denver Post’s Joanne Ostrow that he “defuses suspicions about Al Jazeera America with ‘a little bit of humor and friendliness.’” For example, when asked whether he is required to wear a burqa, Beban replies: “You know what? They were out of 42 long.”

Such drollery notwithstanding, “Some of the viewing public is more than a little wary of the latest entry in the field,” Ostrow notes. Why do you suppose that might that be?

Perhaps start with the fact that Al Jazeera America, like its well-established Arabic-language sister station, Al Jazeera, is owned, lavishly funded, and operated by “the royal family of Qatar,” the politest way of describing the petroleum-rich emirate’s dynastic dictators — who also happen to be funders of Hamas, a U.S. government-designated terrorist group, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani had been the tiny nation’s ruling emir for only a year when he founded Al Jazeera in 1996. The network quickly became — in the words of Walter Russell Mead, the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College — Qatar’s “press poodle.”

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, observed: “Even as Qatar emerged as a key ally of the United States, Al Jazeera gave voice to Osama bin Laden.”

MacArthur Fellowship–winning professor Fouad Ajami came to the same conclusion in an appraisal of Al Jazeera for the New York Times. The network, Ajami wrote, “is not subtle television.” Among the examples he cited: a documentary that presented Che Guevara as a “romantic, doomed hero.” The point, he said, was to evoke a similar view of Osama bin Laden, “the Islamic rebel.”

For years, Al Jazeera has featured Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, star of the hit show Sharia and Life. Qaradawi has praised Imad Mughniyah, the terrorist mastermind behind the 1983 suicide bombings in Beirut, in which 241 U.S. Marines were killed.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.