Al-Jazeera America, the new network bankrolled by the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar, has criticized other U.S. news organizations for their coverage of the budget battle, despite providing little significant insight itself about the conflict.
In a column by former Washington Post editor and reporter Dan Froomkin, AJAM faulted journalists for failing to abandon neutrality in reporting. Mr. Froomkin argued Republicans must be blamed for the impasse.
“[H])olding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president’s signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act,” Mr. Froomkin wrote. “When the media coverage seeks down-the-middle neutrality despite one party’s outlandish conduct, there are no political consequences for their actions.”
I agree with Mr. Froomkin in his assessment the U.S. media usually hide behind claims of objectivity, fairness and balance to obscure many sins of inaccurate and incomplete news coverage — a subject I have addressed in an earlier column (https://bit.ly/XIYdf2).
Therefore, I welcome his challenge to news organizations to reveal their political viewpoints from the left to the right. Nevertheless, if journalists revealed their politics, I think he would find far more reporters advocating issues from a leftist point of view than a conservative one. Moreover, the right-leaning columnists and news personalities usually don’t hide their political leanings.
Turning to Al-Jazeera, I reviewed the website and watched several news programs, which had a decidedly anti-Republican point of view. I also found a lack of emphasis on the dynamics of the budget and the debt ceiling battles.
An engaging ad on AJAM television told me to check out the website. A graphic titled “Government Shutdown” led with a video package of President Obama complaining: “Congress needs to stop ‘governing by crisis.” The second story focused on Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who appeared on almost all of the Sunday talk shows, with a headline that read: “Congress ‘is playing with fire’ over debt ceiling.” Much of the website included stories more than a week old and not one focused on the Republican point of view.
Al-Jazeera’s television coverage wasn’t much better. It provided a superficial view of what was going on in Washington. One program, “Inside Story,” focused on the possibility of the United States defaulting on its debt.
The host, Sheila MacVicar, seemed rather nonplussed when one of the guests said he didn’t think the U.S. government would default. The other two guests basically agreed. It got even worse when the network’s own economics correspondent, Ali Velshi, said the same thing. But the GOP still got bashed for its resistance to sign off immediately on a deal to end the budget impasse and increase in the debt ceiling. Almost as an afterthought, the host herself at one point laid a little of the blame at the feet of the Democrats — but only after attacking the Republicans throughout the show.
Again, I applaud AJAM, which refers to its coverage as “fact-based and in-depth,” for listening to Mr. Froomkin’s diatribe in which he writes that journalists’ actions have led “to an insufficiently informed electorate, because the public is not getting an accurate picture of what is going on.”
Everyone should know where AJAM stands — right under the thumb of the Qatari princes. The agenda is to get a seat at the political table through the network, which aims at focusing mainly on the failures of the United States rather than its successes, with a bias now made plain for all to see.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @charper51