Journalists’ crush on Al Jazeera English

Whether the “Arab Spring” will eventually bring the blessings of liberty and human rights to residents of the Middle East is still unclear. But we already know it has done wonders for Al Jazeera English (AJE), a “news” network owned by the ruling family of Qatar and funded by its government.

AJE’s coverage of the Egyptian and other Arab uprisings earned rave reviews from liberals and the mainstream media. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly applauded its broadcasts. Prestigious newspapers and high-profile journalists began to demand that cable companies nationwide find it a place on the dial, since it is currently available only on the web and in three U.S. markets. Next week, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism will bestow its highest award on AJE. Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) also ran a fawning article on the network in its May/June edition.

AJE is the “balanced, thorough, and cosmopolitan cousin of Arab-centric Al Jazeera Arabic,” purred CJR. Unfortunately, none of that is true. Many of AJE’s executives and editors came to it from Al Jazeera, making the two more like conjoined twins than cousins.

Thorough? As liberal Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart noted, AJE willingly ignored the brutal sexual assault on CBS’s Lara Logan in Tahrir Square by 200 men on Feb. 11.

Capehart confronted Heather Allan, head of news gathering for AJE, about an internal email in which she flatly stated the network wasn’t covering Logan’s attack. Allan lamely responded that AJE “believes, as a general rule,” that journalists “are not the story.” Capehart wasn’t buying it, and linked to an article on the AJE website in which journalists in Egypt were indeed the story. As of May 11, AJE’s website included a section demanding that Syrian officials release reporter Dorothy Parvaz, who’s been detained there since April 29.

Another example of AJE’s vaunted thoroughness: On March 12 in the Israeli settlement of Itamar, someone stabbed to death five members of a Jewish family as they slept. Among the dead were three children, including an infant. Despite public condemnations from the Palestinian Authority and the usual festive ululating and candy-slinging in the Gaza Strip, a search of AJE’s website finds no report on the murders themselves. They are mentioned in two stories — as the cause of Israeli oppression and violence.

Is it “balanced”? The opinion columns on AJE’s website are a diverse ideological mix of anti-Americanism, anti-Americanism and anti-Americanism, leavened with a dollop of anti-Israelism and a cup of anti-capitalism for good measure.

It’s like MSNBC with a beefed-up Middle East bureau. Except its man-crushes aren’t for messianic community organizers, they’re for child-killing terrorists.

In 2008, Al Jazeera threw a televised birthday party for Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, newly released from prison in a prisoner exchange. In 1979, Kuntar had shot an Israeli civilian in front of the man’s four-year-old daughter and then bashed in her head with his rifle. Al Jazeera felt Kuntar’s birthday merited cake and fireworks, and one of the network’s interviewers told Kuntar, “You deserve even more than this.”

But that’s Al Jazeera, not AJE. Surely there was a difference in coverage? There was. As in this report, in which AJE focused on the suffering of the family — Kuntar’s family, as they awaited the prisoner swap.