Imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter last night to find that “Al Gore” was trending, considering I happen to follow him and he hadn’t really tweeted all day. Then imagine my surprise to click it and find the headline:
“Huh”, I think. “That’s interesting, and makes a bit of sense. It’s not too different from when Al Gore bought the old NWI network in the first place – effectively inheriting existing distribution deals. Al Jazeera has made zero inroads at penetrating the American market, while beIN Sport has been more successful, for certain definitions of “successful” (scroll about halfway down), suggesting their reputation might not necessarily be a deal-breaker given the right circumstances. It’d be interesting to see what sort of a splash Current could make with Al Jazeera’s financial and journalistic resources.”
Then I see the actual tweets:
Needless to say, this pretty much mirrors the reaction of the conservative blogosphere (along with accusing Gore of trying to push a deal through before tax hikes kicked in, ignoring the larger liberal justification for high taxes on the upper classes).
Alright, let’s set the record straight here. Oversimplifying Al Jazeera to “oil money” sells them short quite a bit, and accusing Gore of cashing out without regard for his principles seems to overlook the broader picture. First of all, on a basic and obvious level, Al Jazeera first became a dirty word for Americans with their release of Osama bin Laden’s tapes, so they have a history of running afoul of Republicans, making them and Al Gore good bedfellows. But more broadly, it highlights a sort of journalism it’s impossible to imagine today’s American “journalists” ever pulling off. As much as simply hearing the name (or even the “Al” followed by a word that triggers spell check) can cause some Americans to instinctively retch, Al Jazeera’s record really is top-notch; specifically, it’s clear that Al Jazeera isn’t a lapdog for Arab oil sheiks, given their record of reporting on the Arab Spring and other rebellions in the region, suggesting the prospect of a surprisingly smooth transition for Current, as Gore would himself point out. Given the state of American “journalism” these days, perhaps we could use Al Jazeera to show everyone how it’s really done.
It’s true that Al Jazeera is in fact owned by an Arab oil sheikh on behalf of the ruler of Qatar, but that brings us to the next point: as much as the oil-rich nations of the Gulf get rich off of selling us the fuel we need to power our cars, and as much as OPEC tries to make sure we continue to do so, they’re also well aware the oil river won’t run forever and have invested heavily in developing their countries to be economic powers even beyond their oil production, which news-watchers saw hints of in the Twitter-fueled response to the disputed 2008 Iranian election, and later in the more tech-savvy elements of the Arab Spring. In Qatar’s case in particular, said ruler has presided over, besides the launch of Al Jazeera, the institution of women’s suffrage, legalization of labor unions, and the introduction of a written constitution and Christianity; it’s hard to find another Arab nation quite so Westernized, certainly not one that hasn’t had Americans push “regime change” on them. (They’re still too small and hot to host a World Cup, though.) Admittedly, it has long been the single most polluting nation per capita in the world, but it’s easy to see that dropping faster than most other Arab nations.
It’s also true that Al Jazeera will be shuttering Current’s current (heh) format in favor of more of a straight news channel, bolstering the image of Gore abandoning his principles when someone comes calling with a multi-billion-dollar check. But it’s worth noting that since Gore bought NWI, MSNBC has become the liberal news channel Gore originally hoped to build, rendering Current superfluous; Current essentially lucked into taking up Gore’s original vision when MSNBC fired Keith Olbermann, but it was never going to measure up to MSNBC, certainly not after firing Olbermann itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gore had eventually sold Current to someone else for less. If anything, while Al Jazeera’s apparent plans to create another clone of its usual operations are noble, they might well betray a lack of understanding of the American news market, where people would rather hear people complain, preach, and bicker about the news than actually report it. At the very least, I’d strongly urge them to avoid the “Al Jazeera” name, which might well still be a poison pill for most Americans, if not for the name itself then certainly for its “foreign” connotations. (There’s a reason BBC News has a very limited American presence; indeed upon learning of the deal, Time Warner Cable couldn’t drop the channel fast enough.)
Discounting such questions on the wisdom and practicality of the matter, this court finds the prospect of a somewhat widely distributed network run by Al Jazeera to be a cause for unbridled hope for those fearful for the state of journalism on American television, assuming Al Jazeera can properly appeal to the American market. Given this, and given the long-term prospects of Current in its current form considering the rest of the marketplace, the court finds that despite unsavory appearances, there is no reason to believe that Gore’s sale of Current was done without regard to his own stated and personal principles, but rather was done out of genuine appreciation of their vision for the channel, and indeed the court suspects Gore would actually prefer their vision but was pessimistic about its practicality when he originally made noise about a liberal news channel. While he cannot be let completely off the hook for effectively selling to the ruler of one of the dirtiest countries in the world, the court has reason to believe that Gore can justifiably claim that it is not a betrayal of his own cause. This court rules in favor of Al Gore and Al Jazeera, with some reservations, including serious lingering ones regarding the timing of the matter vis-a-vis new tax rules.