by Barry Rubin
What would you call it if a former vice-president of the United States had sold his television network to a fascist or Communist front group at a time when such forces threatened America? Nothing very nice. But now Al Gore has sold out his admittedly obscure channel to al-Jazeera and taken a position on its board. Here’s an interview of myself on this issue.
1.) Is Al Jazeera a news station a former American vice president should want to associate with?
Absolutely not. There are multiple reasons.
First, al-Jazeera was originally run by Arab nationalists but these people were replaced by Islamists about four or so years ago. It is thus a radical media outlet run by people who are anti-American, anti-Christian, antisemitic, and anti-Western. In other words, it is an instrument of extremist revolutionary movements. On a number of occasions it has lent itself to promote and be used by violent terrorist groups.
Second, while al-Jazeera is more open to dissenting views than previous state-controlled media this is misleading. It is more open in English than in Arabic but former staffers in the English-language section have spoken about how it is not a free agent but the news is slanted to please the Qatari government which owns it. (They wanted to moderate the tone but the management objected because the owners wouldn’t like it.) So al-Jazeera is also an instrument of concealed propaganda.
Third, when al-Jazeera does have on dissenting views it tends to follow a formula. On a discussion show there is a radical and a moderate. The host sides with the radical and the callers always seem to be 100 percent radical (this reflects reality but also very possibly a selection by the station staff). The moderate is insulted and threatened. Thus much of the nominal openness is used to create a frenzy of hatred. Incidentally, the former Berlin correspondent spoke up publicly about al-Jazeera’s lack of function as a free media outlet and dishonesty just a few days ago.
But there’s more! Qatar, except for the (possibly soon to be overthrown) Syrian regime, is the most pro-Iran Arab government. It brokered the Fatah-Hamas deal which soon led to the Hamas coup. Far from objecting to the bloody Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, Qatar supported Hamas to this day. It is also the leading supplier of arms to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. On every issue, Qatar has taken a more radical, anti-American positions than all other Arab countries except Syria. It also was a key financier of the overthrow of the Libyan regime. This was in line with U.S. policy but there are deep suspicions that it has its own candidates for Libyan leadership in future more radical than the current regime.
So Gore had every reason to know what he was doing.
2.) Do you think al-Jazeera is using Gore to gain legitimacy?
Of course. They did this before by setting up their own organization in the United States and hiring some legitimate journalists who ended up resigning in disgust–notably David Marash–when they saw what it was like.
Remember that as a station Gore’s property is worthless. No one watches it. The thing is being bought only to gain its access into American homes.
Finally, a speculative point. Who is going to watch al-Jazeera most? Presumably the kind of individual who will find its ideology and indoctrination to be congenial. It will make them hate America, the West, real democracy, and Israel even more. As they watch al-Jazeera’s exaggerations and fabrications of anti-Muslim violence as well as its glorification of terrorism, might they be more inclined to engage in violence?
3.) What are your thoughts on al-Jazeera? Do you consider it anti-Israeli or anti-American?
Of course. And again, Gore should know this. Therefore his behavior is disgraceful. But consider what it means in this case to say anti-Israel and anti-American. The same might be said of the BBC, for example, but saying that is based on the fact that it is often or usually so. al-Jazeera is always that way because it has a coherent political line that always must be expressed or the program will not be aired and the reporter will be fired. In other words, the former vice-president of the United States cannot tell the difference between a free media and a state-controlled propaganda organ, or–which is worse–doesn’t care.
Incidentally, there are even Arab television options to al-Jazeera. If he had sold to al-Arabiya for example it would have been much more acceptable since it is more moderate.
In former, sane, times, doing something like this would have finished Gore’s credibility forever. Needless to say, sanity has long since jumped out the window.
By the way, remember that al-Jazeera is controlled by an oil-producing state whose goals include maintaining the highest possible use of petroleum, a goal that is contrary to Gore’s obsession with what he says is the threat of man-made global warming to destroy the planet in the near future.
4. Finally, do you believe there should be a distinction between al-Jazeera Arabic and al-Jazeera English (the new network is going to be al-Jazeera America). Or are they all equally problematic?
Clearly, al-Jazeera English tries to be more moderate taking care not to offend the audience. But its main goal is to keep the home office happy by not compromising any Islamist principles so it is restricted. As the Big Bad Wolf said, “All the better to eat you with!” The Muslim Brotherhood’s website is also more moderate in English than in Arabic because of its purpose.
And the basic answer is no: he is giving credibility to a pro-terrorist, radical, anti-American enterprise which is only apparently more moderate in its English to better achieve its goals.
PS, for those interested (as some readers have requested) a bit more in-depth information.
First, as a businessman Al Gore can sell to the highest bidder. But Gore has never presented himself as a capitalist seeking to maximize profit but as an activist on issues he deems to affect the future survival of America and the planet earth. On this basis he received a Nobel Prize. He has also held high office based on the premise that he understands the value and importance of U.S. interests. In this context, for him to sell knowingly to an anti-American station that supports terrorist groups in informational terms and a front for a country whose (legitimate) interests require the maximum sale of oil and gas—in other words directly contrary to Gore’s supposed agenda—is, to put it politely, hypocrisy. Moreover, in the statement by his business partner the emphasis was on how this deal served the values of Gore and his enterprise and that he found the purchases to be politically congenial to his worldview. A purely profitmaking deal did not require such a statement. I argue then that the “just doing business” argument does not apply.
Second, do I exaggerate al-Jazeera’s radicalism? I explained at length that the English-language al-Jazeera is far more cautious than the Arabic-language version and that it has been more open than other historic state-controlled media. Nevertheless, as someone who daily monitors al-Jazeera and knows people behind the scenes, I repeat my contention that it is an organ with a political line. Of course, this is not present in every story or every minute. By way of full disclosure, I have rejected invitations to appear on al-Jazeera because they are always with one or two extremists and I have seen how the host slants the program in their favor. Former employees have also spoken out on this point. Subtle propaganda is still propaganda. Unlike other, Western mass media outlets (at least historically) al-Jazeera is not in business to make money but to purvey a political stance. That fact is certainly not a secret.
Finally, if you’ve read to the end you deserve a reward so here it is. Although I have to be vague here, responsible and reliable people in Israel have discovered in the past that al-Jazeera tried to send into Israel as staffers people with active connections to terrorist organizations. I have heard the names and details on this point and am satisfied that it is true. There’s more of this kind of thing than I’ve explained here.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.