"Al-Jazeera America": The very name gives me the heebie-jeebies. What does Al-Jazeera have to do with America?
Everything, if the cheers and happy talk of the American press corps are any measure. Entranced, media critics have greeted the rollout of "AJA" as that of just another news company, not the propaganda arm of monied Qatari despots. But no matter how many American journalists "anchor" Al-Jazeera America's news desks, a 24/7 Muslim Brotherhood channel is now beaming into living rooms across the country. There is no changing the fact that Al-Jazeera's leading personality is the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
In dispensing Islamic clerical wisdom, Qaradawi has called for the murder of U.S. soldiers and Jews. Earlier this year on his own popular Al-Jazeera show, Qaradawi also affirmed the Islamic penalty for "apostasy," or leaving Islam: death. Qaradawi, meanwhile, isn't just a big man with the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jazeera. He is also a prized personage in Qatar. In a public ceremony in June, Qatar's new emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, "planted a kiss on Al Qaradawi's head and then his shoulder," Gulf News reported.
But you could have fooled the U.S. press corps. The headlines this week read like Al-Jazeera press releases: "Al Jazeera America Promises a More Sober Look at the News" (New York Times); "Al Jazeera Promises Meatier News" (Associated Press). "To be sure, the network has a handsome look," The Washington Post critiqued.
NPR is about as close as we get to hard-hitting on the network's launch, which is already a bad sign. "Critics say Al-Jazeera will have trouble shaking its image in the U.S. at least, as a news source with terrorist ties," Celeste Headlee said by way of introducing Brian Stelter, the media reporter for The New York Times. Was she talking about Al-Jazeera's terrorist tilt -- or maybe the 2008 on-air birthday party Al-Jazeera threw for Palestinian terrorist Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 killed four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl whose head he bashed against a rock until she was dead?
We don't know. "Terrorist ties" don't come up again.
"This is going to be a straightforward, down the middle, just-the-facts-ma'am style of television news," Stelter explained. Of course, if terrorism didn't come up in the NPR interview, the "diversity" of the on-air talent did. Stelter said, "One of the (Al-Jazeera America) primetime anchors, Joie Chen, said to me when I interviewed her last week, 'I would challenge you to find any television news operation that's more diverse than we are.'"
The perfect metaphor for all of the skin-deep analysis.
This latest installment in the long fall of American journalism began last year when Al Gore sold his Current TV network for $500 million to Al-Jazeera -- instead of to Glenn Beck. The price tag, of course, was even higher than the $400 million the last emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani (father of the Qaradawi-kissing new emir) pledged to Hamas, also last year. But who's counting -- at least in the media?
Beneath any veneer of luxury, Qatar is a brutal dictatorship where a poet who criticized the emir was sentenced to life in prison. Al-Jazeera's coverage of the sentencing, by the way, was practically non-existent. (The poet's sentence was later commuted to 15 years.) Naturally, emirate-owned media protect the emirate. Come to think of it, it's against Qatari law to criticize the emirate or Islam. Meanwhile, it is a 21st-century fact that tiny Qatar spends large sums of money to combat its image problem in the rest of the world. It spends even larger sums on war to shape the world itself. Al-Jazeera America and Hamas, in other words, are only part of the picture.
Other attempts to buy influence would include donations to the Clinton Foundation (between $1 and $5 million, as of 2008) and the Brookings Institution (between $2.5 and $5 million in 2012 alone).
War is far more expensive.
In Libya and in Syria, we have seen influxes of Qatari cash adding up to billions of dollars to bankroll not "seasoned" American anchors but al-Qaida-linked jihadists. In Egypt, Qatar has backed Muslim Brother Mohammed Morsi from the start. Such interventionist advocacy, of course, meshes perfectly with President Obama's support for these same "Arab Spring" movements -- part of the reason Americans don't seem to know which end is up anymore.
I'm sure Al-Jazeera America will be happy to explain.
(Diana West's new book is "American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character" from St. Martin's Press. She blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.)