No real surprise here. Nonetheless, this is an illuminating piece, despite hard-Left Politico’s predictably contemptuous tone toward Kincaid. “Once shunned, Al-Jazeera has fans in Obama W.H.,” by Keach Hagey and Byron Tau in Politico, April 17:
In the halls of American power, the Arab Spring has brought Al-Jazeera in from the cold.
Seven years after then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the broadcaster’s reporting “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” and President George W. Bush joked about bombing it, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised it as “real news” in her recent Senate testimony.
Not only that, her staffers, as well as those of the CIA and the Obama White House, were attending the Congressional Correspondents” Dinner as Al-Jazeera’s guests.
“They are a really important media entity, and we have a really great relationship with them,” said Dana Shell Smith, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for international media engagement, who speaks Arabic and has frequently appeared on the channel. “This administration has empowered those of us who actually do the communicating to be in a close relationship with Al-Jazeera. They understand that the relationship can’t consist of complaining to each other about the differences we have.”…
“The emir of Qatar come by the Oval Office today, and he owns Al-Jazeera basically,” Obama said in remarks recorded by CBS News”s Mark Knoller. “Pretty influential guy. He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform. You”re seeing it on Al-Jazeera.”…
“It’s like Rip Van Winkle “” you wake up and, my God, it’s a different world,” said Tony Burman, Al Jazeera English’s chief strategic adviser for the Americas. “Hosni Mubarak did in 18 days what I thought it would take two years to do.”…
Today, when he visits the White House, officials tell him they watch AJE to monitor the protests, and at the State Department, “when you go down the hallway, you see it on virtually every TV and computer.”…
Students and activists unaffiliated with the channel took up AJE”s campaign for cable and satellite carriage as a kind of political cause, organizing a national call-in day and setting up a Demand Al Jazeera Facebook page.
All of this scares the living daylights out of Cliff Kincaid, director of the Accuracy in Media Center for Investigative Reporting and president of America’s Survival, who organized a “Stop Al Jazeera”conference at the National Press Club in Washington earlier this month.
Kincaid said he organized the event “” headlined by Pamela Geller, the blogger best known for breathing life into the so-called ground zero mosque story “” in part, to counter the campaign to get AJE wider distribution throughout the U.S. and in part, to put pressure on Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) to include an investigation into Al-Jazeera as part of his House Homeland Security Committee hearings on homegrown Muslim radicalization.
“To Comcast, and other cable and satellite providers, we say, do not expand Al-Jazeera throughout the U.S. Otherwise you will increase the chances of Americans being killed by those manipulated by “˜Jihad TV,” the terrorist network, and you, Comcast, will have blood on your hands,” Kincaid told an audience of about 30 at the press club.
Kincaid pointed to a statement by Judea Pearl, father of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who called Al-Jazeera “the most powerful voice of the Muslim Brotherhood.”…
So far, neither Comcast nor King’s office has gotten back to Kincaid on his requests. A Comcast spokeswoman told POLITICO only, “We do not have a carriage agreement with Al Jazeera English,” though AJE programming does air on Comcast in the Washington market through MHz Networks.
Kincaid said he met with King and Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) seeking an investigation into, among other things, “the activities of foreign propaganda channels Al-Jazeera, Russia Today television and Iranian Press TV on American soil.”…
Even Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), the one Republican who was willing to speak to his concerns about AJE”s possible expansion in the U.S., framed his fears in the conditional.
“Dr. Broun has misgivings about an increased presence of Al Jazeera English in the United States,” his spokeswoman, Meredith Griffanti, told POLITICO. “If Al Jazeera English hopes to establish itself more so on American soil, it must prove to the United States that their intentions are primarily improving our relations with the Middle East “” rather than promoting anti-American rhetoric.”
Al-Jazeera’s brand problems in the U.S. were set in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, when the Arabic channel owned by the Qatari government ran video tapes of Osama bin Laden before anyone else got them, and its critical coverage of the Iraq War made it deeply unpopular with the Pentagon.
By 2005, the Bush administration’s displeasure with Al-Jazeera was so intense that it was straining the U.S.”s relationship with Qatar, an important ally in the region, and Qatari officials were considering selling off the station, The New York Times reported.
That same year, Qatar hired Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the lobbying and public relations firm founded by Haley Barbour, on a $300,000 contract to improve relations with the Bush administration, according to O”˜Dwyer’s PR Daily.
A person familiar with the Qatar contact confirmed to POLITICO that BGR and Al-Jazeera have a long-standing relationship, and that the network embarked on a PR push during the latter half of the Bush administration.
“The PR campaign, to a certain degree, was successful,” said Suhail Khan, who served in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Bush administration. “They just began booking Republican guests.”…
“There has been a switch on the perception of Al Jazeera Arabic, simply because right now, the U.S. and Al Jazeera Arabic are more aligned in backing the democracy movements,” said Marc Lynch, associate professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University and blogger at Foreign Policy, who was also at the forum. “It’s not like Al-Jazeera or the U.S. have changed that much. The issues have changed.”
The occupant of the White House has changed.