Saturday, January 5, 2013
The Al Jazeera Liberals
by Jonathan S. Tobin
The sale of Al Gore’s Current TV to Al Jazeera is apparently more than just a business deal in which the world’s most prominent critic of fossil fuels made a fortune with an oil-rich emirate. According to the New York Times editorial page, the creation of a new Al Jazeera America is a blow struck for diversity in journalism. The Times feels Time Warner Cable is wrong to drop the new channel from its broadcast lineup. The implication is that those who have expressed shock or outrage about the spectacle of a former vice president of the United States becoming not merely a business partner but an advocate for a network that is well known for its anti-American and anti-Israel bias are either narrow-minded or in some way prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims.
The idea that the general disgust about Gore’s $100 million Arab oil windfall is more evidence of American parochialism or prejudice is absurd. No one is trying to censor Al Jazeera. If there are enough American viewers who want to watch news broadcast from the perspective of the channel’s Qatari government owners, then cable providers will give it to them and they are welcome to it. But that doesn’t obligate Time Warner or any other distributor to give it valuable space on a list of available channels if there aren’t enough viewers to justify such a decision. After all, those who want to look at the world from the point of view of those who promote 9/11 truther myths and who sympathize with those who fought the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan can always watch Al Jazeera on the Internet or find other outlier niches to hold their attention.
The real issue here is not a false argument about diversity. It is instead one about what it means to be a liberal in today’s media environment. As Alana noted yesterday, Gore refused to sell his channel to conservative Glenn Beck saying that he didn’t wish to see his vanity project fall into the hands of those who disagreed with his politics. Fair enough. But the fact that Gore sees Al Jazeera as a good match for his brand of American liberalism speaks volumes about the nature of that set of beliefs.
Most Americans still think of Al Jazeera as the network that was Osama bin Laden’s outlet to the world in the years after 9/11. Since then, it has earned a reputation in some quarters as the best source of news about the Arab and Muslim world, especially during the Arab Spring protests. But its perspective remains one in which the United States and Israel are routinely pilloried and where terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are depicted as freedom fighters.
I don’t worry about Al Jazeera being able to persuade most Americans to buy into this skewed view of the world. What is worrisome is that Gore and other liberals such as the editorial writers at the Times seem to think there is a connection between this perspective and contemporary American liberalism.
Though the overwhelming majority of Americans reject this point of view and are strong supporters of Israel, polls have consistently shown us that liberals and Democrats are less likely to back the Jewish state than conservatives and Republicans. At the beginning of his career Gore was seen as the leader of the next generation of Scoop Jackson Democrats. That Al Gore would never have gotten into bed with Al Jazeera. But in his current incarnation as hypocritical environmental huckster and profiteer he seems to reflect the way the left has abandoned the principles that once united Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. While conservatives and liberals have plenty to argue about, one would have hoped that they would be united in their revulsion against the kind of bias that Al Jazeera exemplifies. If indeed there is a connection between Al Jazeera’s views and contemporary liberalism, there is a sickness on the left that ought to trouble all Americans.
Jonathan S. Tobin
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