Al-Jazeera seen as using Al Gore to bolster network’s legitimacy in United States

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Is Al-Jazeera trying to use former Vice President Al Gore to gain acceptance in America? Yes, say some experts.

On Wednesday it was announced that the Qatari-funded news station had purchased Current TV, the liberal cable channel co-founded by Gore, for a reported $500 million. Gore and fellow co-founder Joel Hyatt will join the advisory board of Al-Jazeera America, the network set to replace Current TV.

Al-Jazeera, which currently has both English and Arabic language stations, is seen by many as having an anti-Israel and anti-American slant. 

“I have a guess, an impression, that Al-Jazeera is looking for more respectability and more — not just more market outlets — but more of an image of being let’s say  ‘non-partisan’ or ‘mainstream,’ whatever you want to call it,” David Pollock, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has written on Al-Jazeera and often appears as a commentator on the network, told The Daily Caller.

“They did this before by setting up their own organization in the U.S. and hiring some legitimate journalists who ended up resigning in disgust when they saw what it was like,” Middle East scholar Barry Rubin told TheDC, referring to Al-Jazeera English.

Rubin said Al-Jazeera is a “radical media outlet run by people who are anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and anti-Western.” (RELATED: Gore reportedly hoped to sell Current TV before fiscal cliff tax hikes)

“[I]t is an instrument of extremist revolutionary movements,” he added. “On a number of occasions it has lent itself to promote and be used by violent terrorist groups.”

Rubin said by lending his imprimatur to Al-Jazeera – and potentially personally reaping a sum of $100 million, according to reports — Gore is acting “disgracefully.”

“In former, sane, times, doing something like this would have finished Gore’s credibility forever,” Rubin said. “Needless to say, sanity has long since jumped out the window.”

Pollock didn’t go quite as far as Rubin in his assessment of the network, but did say that Al-Jazeera English has a clear slant against the United States that he would call “anti-American government.”

“It is actually looking to highlight systematically the flaws, you know, the incompetence, the bad intentions, contradictions, whatever you want to call it, hypocrisy, double standards  … of American policy in what I would say is a deliberate and disproportionate way,” he said.

“I would say that Al-Jazeera English, in my opinion, it is OK to appear on it, but to be part of the management as it stands without changing it would be bad judgment,” Pollock said of Gore’s decision to remain on the advisory board.

Pollock added that if Gore attempts to influence the network for the positive and not be just “a kind of façade,” it might be acceptable.

Founded by the Emir of Qatar in the mid-1990s, Al-Jazeera first came to prominence as the go-to media outlet of al-Qaida.

According to Pollock, Al-Jazeera’s networks are subservient to the ideology and interests of the Qatari ruling family.

“I mean, the chief executive of the overall holding company is a member of the royal family of Qatar,” Pollock said. “I think that they have, you know, pretty clearly — although you can never document it — but they’ve pretty clearly shifted editorial direction on certain key issues, like the Syrian civil war, in response to changes in Qatari government policies. And sometimes they, you know, hire and fire their top talent for, I think, probably political reasons.”

At times, Al-Jazeera can be stunningly radical. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Islamic theologian considered the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, hosts a show on Al-Jazeera’s Arabic network.

In 2009, al-Qaradawi used this TV platform to declare that the Holocaust was Allah’s “divine punishment” on the Jews. (RELATED VIDEO: Top Al-Jazeera host said Jews deserved Hitler, Holocaust)

“Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers,” he said, pining for another Holocuast of the Jews.

While Al-Jazeera English “tries to be more moderate taking care not to offend the audience,” Rubin said “its main goal is to keep the home office happy by not compromising any Islamist principles so it is restricted.”

Gore “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,” he said.

It seems Gore and Hyatt are aware of the threat to their reputations their newfound association with Al-Jazeera brings. In an internal email to staff Wednesday announcing the sale of the network, Hyatt ostensibly tried to invoke Colin Powell’s name to help shield himself and Gore from anticipated criticism.

“Colin Powell told Al that Al-Jazeera is the only cable news network he watches,” Hyatt wrote.

A spokesman for Powell contradicted the claim in a statement to TheDC, saying Powell watches Al-Jazeera English as well as many other domestic and international cable news channels.

The threat to the reputations of Gore and Hyatt may also be responsible for the high premium Al-Jazeera seems to have paid for the struggling network.

“Al-Jazeera paid not only enough to overcome the bad press bound to attach to Al Gore for selling to what is often thought to be a staunchly anti-American voice, but they paid enough to keep Al Gore (and hopefully his clout) close to the station as a member of the new network’s advisory board,” media columnist Michael Wolfe noted in a column in the Guardian.

Al-Jazeera’s purchase has already caused Time Warner Cable to drop Current TV.

“Our agreement with Current has been terminated, and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible,” a statement from the company said.

Another statement from the company Thursday suggested Time Warner was open to reconsidering its position: “We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network.”

Jennifer Granholm, the former Democratic Michigan governor and host of a show on Current TV, announced on Twitter Thursday that she would be ending her show “due to the sale of the network.”

In a longer post on Facebook, she made it sound like her decision was motivated by technical reasons, rather than her wish not to be associated with Al-Jazeera.

“We were told today that Al-Jazeera is the buyer for Current TV. My agreement with Current was for the duration of the election (and the sale),” she wrote.

But Current TV correspondent David Shuster said that he admired Al-Jazeera and had no intention of ending his contract prematurely.

“I have no qualms at all about Al Jazeera’s TV news reporting,” Shuster told TheDC.

“I’ve known their team since 2003 when I was covering the Iraq war from Centcom in Doha, Qatar … the home of [Al-Jazeera English]. Their correspondents are talented and courageous. And their mission is something that all of us who care about journalism can be proud of.”

“Regarding my future,” he added, “I will continue at Current through the end of my contract. Beyond that, I’ve not made any decisions, nor has Al-Jazeera.”

Current TV host and current Democratic California Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsome did not return TheDC’s request for comment on whether he intends to remain with the network.

A Current TV spokeswoman also did not return TheDC’s request for comment on a wide range of issues regarding the sale of the network.

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