Wednesday, November 15, 2006

See No Opinion, Hear No Opinion, Speak No Opinion

Al-Jazeera, the Arab television network (funded by Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) has been unable to find a single U.S. or Canadian satellite or cable distributor. After more than a year of trying, the doors are still shut.

Seenohearnospeakno I wonder why it is that our government would have us afraid of information, points of view, hearing the other guy’s prejudices and finding out what is in the mind of foreigners—so scarily unlike us? See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil is a wonderfully efficient way to crawl under a stone and perpetuate our own misperceptions. It’s the same with opinion. Harden it quickly, before intelligent controversy and reasoned disagreement softens the structure of our correctness.
And so, Al-Jazeera, the Arab television network (funded by Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) has been unable to find a single U.S. or Canadian satellite or cable distributor. After more than a year of trying, the doors are still shut. Rush Limbaugh on what, 500 radio stations? Fox News dominating a big hunk of conservative TV programming? No one's got the time of day for an Arab sheikh? How bad can an Arab be, compared to Rush? The Sheikh has sunk a billion or so into the network, so money ain’t the issue.
Jenni Moyer, spokeswoman for Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, says: "We were in discussions with them, but a decision has been made not to carry them. Beyond that, we're not commenting."
A decision has been made. Now who do you suppose encouraged that decision and for what purpose. President Bush has Karen Hughes flitting around the world to espouse the administration position on why we and the Arabs just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye. Karen is all dance-parties and consumerism, out there among a mostly embarrassed Muslim population, beating the boss's drum. But blast away as we will with FOX News and CNN, for god’s sake don’t let an Arab opinion fog up the rose-colored glasses of Americans.
Sirdavidfrost Brits take a less paranoid view—Al-Jazeera’s biggest name thus far, Sir David Frost, will host a weekly public-affairs program. Former CNN and BBC journalist Riz Kahn will head up a Larry King-style talk show and a longer interview program from Washington. Jazeera's military-affairs analyst is Josh Rushing, a former Marine Corps captain who served as a military public affairs liaison at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha at the start of the Iraq war.
I suggest you balance that cumulative expertise against Karen Hughes and her worldwide experience fawning over George Bush. Plenty of gush-money for Karen, but the word's been put out to the cable-satellite guys and they know where their next FCC bread is likely to be buttered.
Donald Rumsfeld has told us Al-Jazeera is fomenting "vicious lies" and has "a pattern of playing propaganda over and over" in its coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Exactly that pattern finally caught up to the Republicans last week at the polls. Exactly that pattern finally caught up to Donald Rumsfeld as well. Rummy is out, fired (finally), but the fix is still in at cable-sat.  Maybe Nancy Pelosi can get the fix unfixed. Why do I doubt that?
‘Unnamed’ U.S. officials have been upset by footage of American military deaths and al-Jazeera's relentless coverage of the civilian side of the Iraqi war. Those same unnamed officials prefer our dead to come home with the press closed away from receiving airports as they have insisted. Americans musn't be upset during the dinner-hour.
Seenohearnospeakno2 Unnamed officials have blocked coverage of the war’s effect on civilians to the degree that Iraqi civilian deaths are said by the president to be 30,000 and by independent international organizations to be three to six times that number. The unnamed certainly have a duty to keep the home folks from knowing that.
It might be high-time to begin naming the unnamed. To say that U.S. media is co-conspirator to keeping a lid on just how bad things are (and have been) in Iraq is an understatement. Free press in America is as free as its next paycheck. Since de-regulation of the media, we have the best news coverage Wall Street can buy. Plus, as an added benefit, we have what you and I are allowed to see and read and hear in the smallest number of hands in history.
But not sheikh hands. Australian hands perhaps, but never Qatari. Small wonder that the Internet, with all its failings, is a force driving the news business nuts. That is the only bright spot on the dim horizon of American understanding of the world. It's not because Americans are dumbed-down, it's because they are prevented from news as it actually happens.
Newspapers no longer do investigative reporting. How many stories do we really want to read about Paris Hilton? In six years of the most controversial administration in recent memory--has there been a single instance of Watergate-type investigative newspaper work? In place of that, we have takeovers, downsizing (a new word for 'pillage and rape') and the constant closing of world news bureaus.
And Sulzberger wonders why his New York Times is in the toilet.
Davemarash Should it find a way to air its news coverage, Al-Jazeera has a first-rate broadcaster in Dave Marash. Dave became available when ABC News Nightline reconfigured itself and let Marash go. From Paul Farhi’s Washington Post article;
"Al-Jazeera is one of the most positive and significant cultural events in the Arab world in centuries," he (Marash) declares. Unlike state-controlled media throughout the Arab world, he says, al-Jazeera regularly broadcasts dissent and opposing points of view, providing "the broadest spectrum of argument" that many Arab viewers have seen.

"Do they broadcast hate speech?" he asks. "Yes, they do. Is it put in context and is it discussed as hate speech? Yes, it is. Hate speech is part of the dialogue of the Middle East. To censor or to exclude it would be to lose all credibility" among al-Jazeera's viewers, he says.
Marash describes something high-minded and almost stolid. Conflict in the Middle East will make it on the air, but so will water-rights battles in India or labor disputes in Mexico.

"Our pace will be slower," he says. "My motto is, 'News at the speed of thought.'
It's "liberating," he adds, "to be freed of the blonde-of-the-month story."
It remains to be seen how liberated Americans will be to actually see Marash balance the level of rhetoric.
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