Latest update: January 5th, 2013
Al Gore, former politician, “founder” of the Internet, and Global Warming Guru has just traded entree into 40 million U.S. homes for $100 million from the Qatari-Royal-Family-Owned Arab media conglomerate Al Jazeera. The operation will be called Al JazeeraAmerica.
The deal has left many questioning its kosher bona fides.
Perhaps the most traif aspect of the sale was the press release issued by Gore and his parter, Joel Hyatt, the co-founders of Current TV. They wrote: “We are proud and pleased that Al Jazeera, the award-winning international news organization, has bought Current TV.” But the rest of the release bordered on self-parody, given that two multimillionaires were selling their ownership to a royal family which controls its citizens, and whose estimated worth is in the range of many $ billions.
Gore and his partner claimed they were selling their ownership to an entity that shares their views. Glenn Beck disclosed on Friday, January 4, that he reached out to Gore in an effort to acquire Current TV, but was rejected by Gore who said he wanted to “wanted to sell Current to someone ‘aligned’ with his values.”
The release by Gore and his partner described their efforts at Current Media as having been driven by a few central goals:
To give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling. Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.
The idea that Current TV, which was created by, and peopled by and for the progressive left is “a voice that is not typically heard,” is patently absurd. The mainstream media in the United States is almost entirely by and for the “progressive left.”
But perhaps the claim that either Gore and Hyatt, or the Qatari royal family, will be speaking “truth to power” begs the question: who is “power” if not someone like Al Gore, a member of the metaphorical American Democratic Party’s royal family, or the Qatari Emirate and his family, who actually are royalty?
And then, of course, the stable of talent at Current TV ranged from left to further left, with “stars” like disgraced former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm – whose speech at the Democratic National Convention was so “animated” it set the twitter world aflame – and liberal lightening rod and former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann.
Gore and Hyatt may have been correct when they said they were selling to a like-minded outlet; but it is much harder to make the claim that the views represented on Current TV and Al Jazeera are either diverse or independent.
It should be noted that one former American reporter who worked at Al Jazeera said he left the network in 2008 because of “cultural issues.” Dave Marash, who had worked at Nightline, left al Jazeera in part because he said he sensed an ‘anti-American’ bias there.
And then there’s the outcry that such a public supporter of increased taxes on the rich as Al Gore closed the deal just before the end of the year, which means that Gore’s tidy profit will not be subject to the new tax increases those other “millionaires and billionaires” will have to pay.
But what is really inciting hysteria by critics of the deal is that a non-free non-Western media outlet will be pouring out its version of what constitutes news to a largely unsuspecting American public. The reason this is so objectionable is that Al-Jazeera, unlike other state-owned media outlets such as the BBC, FRANCE 24, and Voice of America, does not reveal the state-ownership and censorship by Qatar.
As Elliot Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations put it: “The answer is not censorship, but candor; if al-Jazeera were called Voice of Qatar, and clearly labeled as that nation’s international broadcaster, the situation would be clear to its viewers.”
While Gore and Hyatt have made out handsomely, Al Jazeera’s immediate payoff will not be financial. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, Current TV had been struggling with low ratings for quite some time.
Al Jazeera executive producer Robert Wheelock told the PBS Newshour that what the network was seeking was not financial rewards, but access to American viewers. “Access, access across this country, across the United States, something that we tried in various forms to gain.” Wheelock admitted that Al Jazeera management has aggressively pursued this kind of access, and they were willing to risk financial instability of the outlet in order to acquire it.
Still, it is possible the Al Jazeera management had not anticipated the extent of bad financial news it has received. After the announcement of the deal, Time Warner decided to drop Al Jazeera from its lineup. This loss is likely to lead to a severe decline in cash flow for the network in 2013, during which it may drop as much as 76%, according to analysts. Based upon this analysis, some say it is possible that Al Jazeera America will have to drop its license fees to $0.
But for an empire like Al Jazeera, whose finances appear limitless, the newly acquired access to the minds of tens of millions of American viewers is apparently priceless.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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