Although several foreign news networks can already be viewed in the United States on cable, from the BBC, to China’s CCTV, this is the first time an international broadcaster has taken over an American one (News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch is a naturalized American, though his company began as an Australian firm). But some analysts dismiss the purchase as just another reality of an increasingly globalized world, noting that the role of the Chinese government in the American economy, for example, is profound. Many questions remain about Al Jazeera’s American enterprise at this juncture, including whether the Qatari government will seek heavy involvement in its content, as well as about the news executives who will become the architects of this new network. “There is an enormous interest in Qatar to have a greater presence in the US, and having that blackout is very harmful to that interest,” says Everette Dennis, dean of the Qatar campus of Northwestern University, on the fact that Al Jazeera is mostly unavailable to viewers here.
Some are not willing to wait and see how this will unfold. The network has already come under fire from certain cable providers and several prominent Current TV staffers have already opted out, though Current TV remains on the air for a few more months. Eliot Spitzer, the politician turned host of Current’s main primetime current affairs show, Viewpoint, announced his resignation this week, stating that his relationship is with Gore and Hyatt, and not with Al Jazeera. (When it launched in 2005, Current’s mission was to provide a television portal to those Americans “who crave the empowerment of the Web,” Gore said at the time.) “Moving forward,” Spitzer said, “their mission will be different.” Two other Current TV hosts — former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom — also announced their resignations following the acquisition.
Time Warner announced the decision to drop Current TV almost immediately after the Al Jazeera sale was made public, but then said it would reconsider airing Al Jazeera America. A Huffington Post/YouGov survey of 1,000 adults published on January 7 found that 41 percent of Americans said they approve of Time Warner’s decision, while 22 percent said they disapprove of having any version of Al Jazeera available in the US. The acquisition was also criticized by conservative talk show host and FOX News veteran Glenn Beck, who had attempted to buy Current TV last year but was turned down.
“[Gore] didn’t sell to the highest bidder,” he said of the deal with Al Jazeera. “He looked for, ‘Who do I ideologically align with?’”
But some were quick to dismiss the news as just another day in show business. Asked by Tonight Show host Jay Leno how she felt about working for Osama bin Laden, Joy Behar, comedian and host of Current TV’s Joy Behar Say Anything! responded, “Al Gore, Al Jazeera, Al Pacino. It’s all the same thing to me.”