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Opinion

January 11, 2013

Column: Al Gore sells out to enemies of freedom

A few years back, I was interviewed by a reporter from Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned television news channel. Afterward, we sat for a while and talked journalism. He mentioned that he had previously worked for Al Jazeera. I asked why he had left. “Too many Islamists,” he said. “They made me uncomfortable.”

We used to know a lot about Al Jazeera. At what point did amnesia set in? The station was launched in November 1996. Two months after al-Qaida’s attacks on New York and Washington, Fouad Ajami, the Lebanese-born American scholar analyzed its product in the pages of The New York Times Magazine.

Al Jazeera, he wrote, “may not officially be the Osama bin Laden Channel, but he is clearly its star ... A huge, glamorous poster of bin Laden’s silhouette hangs in the background of the main studio set at Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.”

Ajami added: “Although Al Jazeera has sometimes been hailed in the West for being an autonomous Arabic news outlet, it would be a mistake to call it a fair or responsible one. Day in and day out, Al Jazeera deliberately fans the flames of Muslim outrage.”

Five years later, Al Jazeera launched an English-language version. To be fair, it is editorially distinct from AJ-Arabic. But, also to be fair, two questions must be asked: Are there serious disagreements between these sister stations? Or do they have what Ayman Mohyeldin, once AJ-English’s Cairo correspondent (and now a reporter at NBC), called a “shared vision,” with the Al Jazeera Network’s owners understanding their various audiences and what is required to influence each of them?

The Al Jazeera Network is owned by the royal family of Qatar — an emirate that is rated by Freedom House as “not free.” Qatar’s Wahhabi religious establishment is hard-core, but more indulgent of foreigners than are the clerics of Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism also is the state religion. The sale of oil keeps Qatar’s rulers fabulously wealthy so AJ will never need to turn a profit. If making money is not AJ’s purpose, what is?

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