Al Jazeera will soon be opening its newest branch in the United States, Al Jazeera America. The company confirmed its future stake in the United States media industry when it purchased Al Gore’s seldom watched “Current TV” channel. The new network is projected to contain roughly 50% domestic coverage and the rest will be devoted to the network’s award winning international news coverage.
The $100 million dollar transaction has provided a field day for America’s conservative news pundits. Not the least of which being anti-Muslim hate group leader Pamela Geller, the sponsor of the bigoted New York subway ad campaign targeted at Muslims.
In conjunction with a handful of other like-minded anti-Muslim activists, Geller signed a letter to Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul demanding the Al Jazeera be labeled a propaganda tool and barred from operation in the United States.
The letter states that Al Jazeera “has served as a mouthpiece for terrorist groups ranging from al-Qaeda to Hamas and Hezbollah.” The document propagates a message of fear that conjecturally deems one of the world’s premier broadcasters of international news and investigative journalism a tool of propaganda.
Read the full letter here.
Additionally, Geller and her comrades argue that the network should have been sold to Glenn Beck of Fox News — the network whose propagandic attacks on Muslims led a man who claimed “I only know what I hear on Fox News” to burn down a mosque in Tennessee. That’s the same pedigree of propaganda that influenced a women to push an Indian man, who she believed to be Arab (and presumably Muslim), in front of a moving subway train in New York.
The letter carried a short list of key points, but if you dismiss zingers like Al Jazeera being “the largest Arab news network,” which some would argue is more of an objective fact than something intrinsically wrong with the organization, there are only few points remaining. The first, being that AJE spread the message of terrorist groups and the second being that it is “propaganda,” not news.
As for evidence of AJE being the “mouthpiece for terrorists groups,” the letter’s author cites an AJE interview with Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki has been accused of “inciting or ideologically influencing Major Nidal Hasan,” a military psychologist who shot dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas.
Pamela Geller and her colleagues criticized the interview for referring to Al-Awlaki as a “Yemen based religious scholar” rather than a terrorist. It was this diction that they say exposes the network’s pro-terrorist propagandist agenda.
However it is exactly this diction that makes the interview news, not propaganda. At the time of the interview Al-Awlaki had not been convicted of a crime. Immediately labeling him a “terrorist” would have been placing premeditated judgments of character on the interviewee. The interview was with a controversial figure and it operated with journalistic integrity: asking simple, short questions that avoided bias, and recording the answers exactly as they came. Interviewing a potential perpetrator of a crime does not make you propagandist; it makes you a journalist.
Second, the letter counters Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that AJE provides “real news” with the fact that it did not include the sexual assault of ABC reporter Lisa Logan during its coverage of the Arab Spring. This omission, it states, was a cog in Al Jazeera’s propaganda machine aimed at overthrowing the Mubarak regime and replacing it with an Islamist government. Aside from the fact that AJE did eventually report the assault, its coverage of the revolution never displayed a pro-Islamist propaganda.
During the revolution and beyond coverage of liberal opposition groups in Egypt like the National Salvation Front has been as prevalent as coverage of the Brotherhood regime. Not to mention, criticizing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi has been a favorite AJE pastime (click here, here, here, or here for a few examples.)
Covering all aspects, positive or negative, of the incumbent Islamist government does not make you a propagandist; it makes you a proper news organization.
Al Jazeera does not pose a threat to America. It does not threaten to incite terrorism or propagate acts of violence on American soil.
It does, though, pose a threat to American media. And it well should. It poses a threat to major “news” networks that thrive on sensationalism and stereotypes — news networks where the most informative segments are blithering debates between talking heads.
It poses a threat to Pamela Geller and her ideological colleagues who have built careers on misguided Islamophobic bigotry.
It poses a threat to biased story telling and superficial international reporting.
It threatens government policies built on foundations of ignorance and fear. It poses a threat to a government who relies on an uninformed populace to continue questionable policies abroad.
It poses a threat to American news organizations that profit on the dispersion of misinformation and anti-Muslim propaganda.
AJE is not the “mouthpiece” of America’s “Islamist enemies.” Rather, it is one of the world’s premier news organizations.
Al Jazeera English won the 2012 Roosevelt Institute Free Speech Award for its excellent coverage of the Arab Spring. Hillary Clinton explained viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because “it’s real news … instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”
The threat posed by Al Jazeera is one of real news, not one of propaganda. Pamela Geller and her colleagues are right to fear the organization because it will undermine their monopoly on misinformation by broadcasting reality. Al Jazeera brings a branding of news that Americans should welcome, not fear.By Ben Steiner, Aslan Media Contributor