Goodbye to Al Jazeera America by Hugh Fitzgerald

Perhaps you, too, have been feeling a bit forlorn lately. After all, the news that greets you every day goes something like this: an attack, or two, using bombs or guns or machetes or knives, by Muslims, somewhere in the world, from Jakarta to Mumbai to Paris to San Bernardino, with lots of stops in between, and the killers, if they say anything at all, explain that they are dutifully following the dictates of Islam, as found in Qur’an and Hadith and Sira, and then, of course, there follows a mind-dizzying display of official denials, all over the Western world, denials that any of these many attacks by Muslims, that any of that allahu-akbaring and citing of Islamic texts could possibly have anything to do with Islam. But you’ve read, and studied, and correctly concluded otherwise — sufficient unto the day is the Muslim evil thereof — and so upon you a kind of despair descends.

Now comes news of something that I think will cheer you up. Al Jazeera has just announced that it will shut down entirely its American operation — Al Jazeera America — in April. You’ve heard about Al Jazeera America when it bought out the cable channel Current TV, and took over its American subscribers. One of the owners of Current TV was that famous environmentalist Al Gore, who stood to make $100 million from the sale. He claimed that the sale was a Good Thing, that far from being a propaganda organ of the waddling emir of little Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Al Jazeera America “gave voice to those who are not typically heard,” and what’s more, “spoke truth to power.” He continued to praise Al Jazeera for quite some time, as a “really distinguished and effective news organization” in 2012, but by 2014, he didn’t quite see the station the same way, and he was now suing Al Jazeera for being “underhanded” and guilty of fraud, because, you see, Al Jazeera didn’t pay Al Gore all that Al Gore thought he had coming to him.

Apparently the American public did not agree that Al Jazeera was a “distinguished” and “effective” news channel that “spoke truth to power,” and Al Jazeera continuously lost money and audience. News reports about AJAM did not inspire confidence. The latest is a lawsuit by Shannon High-Bassalik, AJAM’s former senior vice-president of programming and documentaries, who said that she “witnessed the channel abandon ‘journalistic integrity’ in order to ‘advance a pro-Arabic/Middle Eastern agenda often at the expense of Jewish people.’” She further charged that “AJAM management invoked the conspiracy theory that the 9/11 terror attack was a CIA plot,” and in her suit detailed “what she said were blatantly discriminatory practices against women and non-Arab employees.”

And the lawsuits, and the firings, continue apace. From Wikipedia: “On April 28, 2015, Matthew Luke, Al Jazeera America’s former Supervisor of Media and Archive Management, filed a US$15 million lawsuit against his former employers over unfair dismissal. Luke alleged that he had been unfairly dismissed by the network after he had raised concerns with the human resource division that his boss, Osman Mahmud, the Senior Vice-President of Broadcast Operations and Technology, discriminated against female employees and made anti-Semitic remarks…. In an unrelated development, two female Al Jazeera America employees—Diana Lee, the Executive Vice-President for Human Resources, and Dawn Bridges, the Executive Vice President for Communications, had resigned that week.” Just google “Al Jazeera and lawsuits” for much more.

Perhaps this every-which-way degringolade at Al Jazeera America will put you in mind of BridgesTV, the other Muslim television channel that was aimed at an American audience. It was founded in 2004 by a Pakistani-American, Muzzamil S. Hassan. His wife Aasiya had urged him to develop “an American Muslim media where her kids could grow up feeling really strong about their identity as an American Muslim.” BridgesTV, according to an early press release, “gives American Muslims a voice and will depict them in everyday, real life situations…..Every day on television we are barraged by stories of a ‘Muslim extremist, militant, terrorist, or insurgent.’ …But the stories that are missing are the countless stories of Muslim tolerance, progress, diversity, service and excellence that Bridges TV hopes to tell.” Those were the heady days of 2004; by February 2009, Muzzammil S. Hassan had decided that Aasiya just wouldn’t do, and he decapitated her right at the station while their two small children, strapped into their car seats, waited outside. BridgesTV shut for three months, then reopened and limped along for a while without its founder and CEO, but finally shut down for good in 2012.

Nothing quite so dramatic explains the demise of Al Jazeera America. Not Al Gore’s claims of its being “underhanded” and a “fraud,” not Shannon High-Bassalik’s claims that the station’s management “advances a pro-Arabic/Middle Eastern agenda often at the expense of Jewish people” and “invoked the conspiracy theory that the 9/11 terror attack was a CIA plot” and employed “blatantly discriminatory practices against women and non-Arab employees.”

Possibly the explanation for AJAM’s closure is to be found not in the failure of the station to attract much of anything except lawsuits, but in the colossal drop in the price of oil, and a slightly-less-colossal drop in the price of natural gas. Even rich little Qatar is affected. Whatever the reason for AJAM’s closing now, the news of that closing is something that I think — as I wrote in the second paragraph above — will cheer you, as it did me, up. God knows we all deserve it.


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