Cliff May

A few years back, he issued a fatwa saying that the “abduction and killing of Americans in Iraq is a [religious] obligation.” Qaradawi favors the “spread of Islam until it conquers the entire world and includes both the East and West [marking] the beginning of the return of the Islamic Caliphate.” He has extolled Hitler, saying the Führer “managed to put [Jews] in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers [Muslims].”

In June, Sheikh Hamad abdicated, turning power over to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The new emir, 33 years old and British educated, may be quite different from his 61-year-old father — but it’s too soon to know.

What we do know: Qaradawi has not been given his walking papers. Last month, 22 Al Jazeera staffers in Egypt resigned over their employers’ “biased” pro-Brotherhood coverage. And earlier this month, a former Brotherhood official was given time on Al Jazeera to claim that Egypt’s current strongman, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is Jewish, and that the crisis in Egypt is a Zionist plot based on the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The interviewer did not challenge those claims.

Al Jazeera America’s reporters, producers, and publicists will protest that their operation is completely separate from that of Al Jazeera Arabic. You decide: The two Al Jazeeras have the same owners (formally the Al Jazeera Media Network) who also provide the funding. Imagine an American corporation that exploited workers in some third-world country telling reporters: “But that division is completely separate from the division in the U.S.!” (Actually, you don’t have to imagine — but more on that in a moment.)

I’m not suggesting Al Jazeera America will be an echo of Al Jazeera Arabic. I am suggesting that, like its sister station, AJAM — as it’s affectionately called – will have a mission, drive specific messages, and observe certain prohibitions.

Soledad, Joie, Sheila, John, David, Ali: I’m sure you’ve heard the persistent rumors that Qatar is financing al-Qaeda groups in Syria. What would your employers say if you proposed to investigate? And how about the treatment of foreign workers in Qatar? Are you not curious to learn if reporting on that situation would be considered out of bounds?

I suspect Al Jazeera America will be subtle television. Christopher Harper, a longtime print and broadcast journalist, now a professor at Temple University, spent many long hours watching AJAM’s first week of broadcasts — which were widely advertised in other media, e.g.: “Support for NPR comes from Al Jazeera America.” He found the coverage had “an anti-American undercurrent.”

For example, there was a story on the force-feeding of hunger strikers at a California prison (to make a point about the hunger strike taking place at Guantanamo?), and one about “Bangladeshi workers in allegedly substandard conditions making pants for Old Navy, which again allegedly ended up in the United States” (an example of Muslims being oppressed with Americans to blame). And, yet, if Old Navy’s executives in the U.S. had said: “But our Bangladeshi division is completely separate from our division in the U.S.!” would AJAM’s reporters have bought it?

Also noteworthy: AJAM’s first guest was Stephen Walt, the Harvard professor who, in the words of The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “makes his living scapegoating Jews.” What he said on this occasion — that the situation in Egypt is “a triumph of stupidity” — struck me as unobjectionable, but I expect he will be a frequent AJAM talking head on a range of topics.

AJAM was available last week in about 48 million households via Comcast, Verizon, FiOS, DirecTV, and Dish Network. We customers don’t get to decide which networks we receive (a situation I wish Congress would address). But AJAM’s executives also don’t want providers to decide. So last week, their attorneys filed a lawsuit to compel AT&T to carry the network, in order to “enforce Al Jazeera America’s rights.”

A media operation owned by a foreign dictator now has the “right” to be in your living room? What an innovative new form of “lawfare” — the use of American laws and courts to restrict Americans’ freedoms.

In recent years, the number of lawsuits and threats of lawsuits directed at journalists, researchers, and publications has been increasing, chilling inquiry into a range of questions pertaining to some of the most powerful figures in the Middle East. This trend has received little coverage.

Soledad, Joie, Sheila, John, David, Ali: You’ve all done serious reporting in the past. Wouldn’t now be the time to find out whether your employers see you as real journalists free to go where the stories take you — or just instruments of Qatari foreign policy?

Cliff May

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