Qatar is a tiny peninsular kingdom (the precise term is ‘hereditary emirate’) located between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Although it has a population of 2 million, less than 250,000 are citizens — the rest are foreign workers, who are treated abominably. But those 250,000 have the highest per capita income in the world, thanks to huge reserves of natural gas and oil.
It may sound like just another crummy little Arab petrocracy, but there are several notable things about Qatar. One is that Qatar is a major supporter of Hamas, one of the few organizations of any significance that is out-front about wanting to exterminate the Jewish people. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal lives in Doha, Qatar (he formerly resided in Damascus), and the previous Emir visited Gaza last year and pledged $400 million to the terrorist group.
The other thing about Qatar is Al Jazeera.
The Al Jazeera satellite channel, owned by the government of Qatar (i.e., the al-Thani family) has enormous influence in the Arab world. It covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more closely than any of the US or European networks, and was instrumental in stirring up worldwide condemnation of Israel during the 2008-9 war in Gaza when it presented continuous footage of bleeding and dead children, much of which was from other times and places.
It is openly partisan, almost never showing Israeli deaths or injuries. It is also provocative and upsetting in a way that looks nothing like news in the West. Their broadcasts routinely feature mutilated corpses being pulled from the scene of an explosion, or hospital interviews with maimed children, who bemoan the loss of their siblings or their parents – often killed in front of their eyes. Al-Jazeera splices archival footage into the live shots, weaving interviews and expertly produced montages into a devastating narrative you can follow from the comfort of your own home.
This is news without even the pretense of impartiality. After several days of following the Al-Jazeera coverage of Gaza, I’ve never seen a live interview with an Israeli, neither a politician nor a civilian. In the Al-Jazeera version, the Gaza conflict has only two participants: the Israeli army – an impersonal force represented as tanks and planes on the map – and the Palestinian civilians, often shown entering the hospital on makeshift stretchers. There are few Hamas rockets and no Israeli families. It’s not hard to see why Al-Jazeera is accused of deliberately inflaming regional enmity and instability.
Here is what Hillary Clinton said about Al Jazeera in 2011, when she called for more effective US outreach:
Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective.
In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock 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.
Although Al Jazeera has had an English-language service and website for some time, they had nowhere near the influence of the Arabic channel — until yesterday, when Al Jazeera America (AJA) went on the air.
Presently available in only about 40 million US households — some cable companies, like Time-Warner Cable, decided that it wasn’t in their best interest to support the network that brought us Bin Laden’s taped threats — AJA has fancy studios (including one in the Newseum in DC, not far from the White House), a plush headquarters in New York and 12 US bureaus. It is working to get more cable outlets.
Possibly it took Clinton’s advice, because the 24-hour channel will provide 14 hours of news, with only 6 minutes of commercials per hour (US cable channels have 15 minutes). It plans to do longer, in-depth stories on all kinds of national and international issues. You can bet that it will have a slant significantly different from that of Fox News, or even CNN or MSNBC.
AJA has hired some 800 to 1000 employees (sources vary), including big names like Soledad O’Brien, John Seigenthaler, Ali Velshi, Antonio Mora, Michael Viqueira, Joie Chen, Sheila MacVicar and others. Its president will be former ABC executive Kate O’Brian.
Probably none of these people would have gone to work for Radio Moscow during the Cold War, but they don’t seem to have a problem with Qatar — nor did Al Gore and his partners, who gave AJA a start by selling it the failing Current TV channel for half a billion dollars. Of course they are all ‘professionals’, which I think means people who will do whatever is necessary to make a buck.
I have often wished for an Israeli “Al Jazeera” that would tell Israel’s story, which is overwhelmed in the flood of anti-Israel propaganda from Al Jazeera, and (just a bit more subtly) from media in the US and Europe. But either Israel’s government thinks it can’t justify the expenditure, or its left-wing media establishment isn’t capable of producing pro-Israel material.
In any event, when Hizballah’s missiles begin to smash into Israeli towns and cities, and Israel’s air force takes out the launchers — which the humanitarians of Hizballah have built into bunkers under civilian homes in southern Lebanon — you will get close coverage from Al Jazeera America.
Get ready for it.