Inside look at the internal strife over Al Jazeera America

Glenn Greenwald writes: When Al Jazeera last December purchased Current TV in order to launch its own “Al Jazeera America” (AJAM) network, it seemed clear they had two general options for how the new network’s brand could be built. AJAM could embrace the traditional attributes that has made Al Jazeera, at its best, an intrepid and fearless global news organization: willing to cover stories, air dissident views, and challenge power in ways that many other outlets, especially in the US, are afraid to do. Those excited by the entrance of a new Al Jazeera network into the US marketplace – and I included myself in that group – typically cited the urgent need for such an adversarial, bold and brave approach on the US airways from a large and well-funded TV news organization.

The alternative was that AJAM could try to replicate the inoffensive, neutered, voiceless, pro-US-government model favored by most US news organizations: as a way of appeasing negative perceptions associated with the Al Jazeera brand in the US. Those perceptions in some American precincts – that the network is “anti-American”, “anti-Israel” or even “pro-terrorist”- stem from the network’s coverage of US foreign policy (especially the War on Terror) that has been far more critical (in the best sense of the word) than most US news outlets were willing to be. For years, Bush officials fed this perception by accusing the network of being an anti-American source of terrorist propaganda. The US (accidentally, it claims) attacked al Jazeera bureaus on two occasions, killing its personnel. It even imprisoned an al Jazeera camerman, Sami al-Haj, for six years in Guantanamo without ever charging him with a crime.

Draining al Jazeera of its vibrancy and edginess and turning it into an imitation of CNN would be a way of trying to appease those negative views of the Jazeera brand. The target of such accommodation would be not only the parts of the US public which regard the network with suspicion, but at least as critically, cable carriers and corporate advertisers, whose willingness to be associated with the network is vital to its financial success, as well as US political officials, whom the network wants to appear regularly.

Because AJAM has not launched yet, debates over which course the new network has chosen have been mostly speculative. But one prominent Al Jazeera journalist, Marwan Bishara, the network’s senior political analyst and host of “Empire”, is insistent that the network has chosen the latter course of appeasement, fear and self-neutering.

Earlier this week, Bishara sent a scathing 1,800-word email to multiple Al Jazeera executives, directed particularly at those overseeing the new network. The missive, a copy of which was provided to the Guardian and whose receipt was confirmed by AJAM executives (published here), excoriates network officials for running away from the Jazeera brand due both to “the rush to act out of a personal ambition” and “to appease those who won’t, or don’t necessarily want to be, appeased”. Such a re-branding effort, he wrote, “insult[s] the intelligence of the American people”. [Continue reading…]

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1 thought on “Inside look at the internal strife over Al Jazeera America

  1. delia ruhe

    Tony Burman (former boss at AJE) is exactly right: these guys have lost their marbles. Placing AJAM in competition with Fox, CNN, and MSNBC is placing the bar far too low. They’ve got a bottomless well of financial support. They should just go with what they do best (I’d be lost without AJE, even if my provider has hidden it way down the dial, along with the Russians). AJAM may lose money sticking to their principles, but they’ll lose a hell of a lot more if they make it so it doesn’t matter which of the four mediocre channels a viewer chooses.

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