In the wake of the terrible terror attack on two mosques that left nearly 50 dead in New Zealand, cable news outlets can’t seem to get enough of a certain very articulate man with a British accent who spits fire against Donald Trump and rails against Islamophobia and Israel.
Mehdi Hasan seems to be everywhere on TV these days. Reliably Trump-obsessed cable channels like CNN and MSNBC relish the opportunity to promote a foreign-born Muslim guest who, they believe, has the credibility to call the president and his supporters racists and white supremacists.
And Mr. Hasan, for his part, is relishing both the spotlight and the opportunity to make his case directly to an anti-Trump audience in the United States.
After spending the last several years claiming to be concerned about hostile countries interfering in American politics, though, it’s a bit jarring to see the employee of a state-run media outlet hostile to the United States appear so frequently on CNN and MSNBC.
By promoting Mr. Hasan, these cable news outlets are facilitating the insertion of foreign propaganda into the American political debate.
Mr. Hasan works for al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned media enterprise that advances the interests of the state and its royal family. When he speaks, he’s no less a government spokesman than Kellyanne Conway or Sarah Sanders.
But the government he represents — to millions of unsuspecting American viewers — has long promoted the Muslim Brotherhood, funds the bloodthirsty designated terror group Hamas, has helped al Qaeda and the Taliban fundraise, and is relentlessly hostile to American interests. In addition to supporting terrorism against Israel, Qatar uses its powerful media infrastructure to destabilize our Arab allies in the region by fomenting revolution inside their borders.
What these networks are doing is unwittingly participating in an information operation. Because CNN or MSNBC’s viewers agree with Mr. Hasan’s anti-Trump message, they’ll trust him on other issues as well.
Al Jazeera’s near-nightly presence on cable news represents an alarming example of how Qatar uses the infrastructure of American partisan politics and media to advance its interests, but it’s only one of many.
I appear in a new film on this subject, titled “Blood Money.” It details how Qatar buys cover for its malign activities by spreading money around Washington and funding and promoting sympathetic voices to advance its agenda.
Of course, there’s foreign lobbyist money — and a lot of it — but the film focuses primarily on Qatar’s information operations. Qatar is tiny in size but vastly wealthy due to its location above one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. Qatar is creative and ambitious in its funding of campaigns to manipulate narratives and perceptions using influential voices like Mehdi Hasan’s.
The sums of money are so large — and the effort to evade the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) and other disclosure laws are so comprehensive — that we don’t have anywhere near a complete picture of the scope of Qatar’s influence game. What we do know is worrying enough:
Qatar has spent tens of millions buying lobbyists to target key friends and allies of President Trump and his family. Qatar’s spending spree in Washington has brought dozens of law, PR, lobbying, and political strategy firms onto Qatar’s side. Qatar donates massive sums to prestigious think tanks like the Brookings Institute and the International Crisis Group. The goal? Making western elites either dependent on Qatari largesse or hopeful of becoming a recipient of it, softening American opposition to Qatar’s support for terrorism and Islamism, and pressuring lawmakers and the media to take up rhetorical arms against Qatar’s regional rivals, U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Blood Money” focuses on how foreign money corrupts the decision-making process inside the Beltway; more than that, it explains how the foreign influence game works.
The film also addresses a subject that’s gotten remarkably little play in the American media, especially since these developments have accelerated during the Trump administration: The emergence of a new, anti-Islamist Middle East and the partnering of the Arab states and Israel against Iran and Qatar.
The extent of Qatar’s influence and information operations is one of the least-covered and least-scrutinized stories of the last few years but with the release of “Blood Money,” that will hopefully change.
Despite its promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorists, its alliance with Iran, and its continued funding of Hamas, too few Americans understand that Qatar is a malign force not just in the Middle East but in our country as well. Qatar is spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep it that way.
• David Reaboi (@davereaboi) is senior vice president at the Security Studies Group (SSG).