Thompson of Arabia

The case for an American Al-Jazeera

Complaints about Al-Jazeera programming have been steady and across-the-board. In its first year the Qatar government logged over 500: Libyan dictator Col. Gadhafi withdrew his ambassador after the station gave air-time to rebel leaders; Iraq complained when a report revealed the princely sum spent on Saddam's birthday celebration at a time when his people were starving; Algeria's "people's revolution" cut off electricity in several cities to protect its citizens from Jazeera "propaganda," accusing the Algerian army of butchering Algerians; Arafat was outraged by interviews with his Hamas foes, and Hamas was piqued by interviews with Israelis; Jews were mad because Arafat was always on camera, and Americans got upset when Danny Pearl's throat was cut on rolling tape . . . Saudi Arabia became Al-Jazeera's main critic, though, because it had spent hundreds of millions trying to keep all Arab broadcasting media "on-side," and the little Qatari operation was showing how the royal family had sold out interests to the U.S. while trying to pacify its increasingly militant working class with anti-American spin . . .

We haven't had journalism like that around here since Ramparts magazine, underground newspapers, and the old Public Broadcast Lab experiment on Public Television, the predecessor to the McNeil-Lehrer Snoozehour. Or since Hunter Thompson published a screed detailing how Rolling Stone, the paper that made him, had cashed in its credibility and begun devolving into what would one day become Wenner Media's Maxim.

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