But beyond wondering in which gulag the producers who failed to research Kirchick now reside, for me the Kirchick-RT episode — as well as the launch last week of Qatari-owned Al Jazeera America — suggests a more intriguing story: How do these government-owned media outlets actually pull off controlling their message in an age in which so much of what they do is live and sent through channels ranging from multiple websites, to YouTube, to multiple cable and satellite broadcasts? Controlling the message, assuming they seek to do so, has to be a lot of work.
Al Jazeera America, of course, protests that its reporting will not be influenced by its Gulf State owners. A definitive story about the background and operating methods of its American chief executive officer Ehab Al Shihabi, which I have not seen anywhere, would shed light on that. Where has he worked in the past? What are his political affiliations? To whom does he report? What independent authority does he have? How is he compensated? What ties do he or his family have to the government? In what ways does he interact with his leading editors? How are they compensated? Do the owners have to approve any bonuses they get?
Equally important would be stories detailing the channel’s internal reporting guidelines and its internal editorial meetings. Better yet, I hope one or more of its new hires is keeping a journal of everything going on behind the scenes. For inspiration he or she should check out this article in The Atlantic by a young reporter recounting his year of doing “journalism” at the state-owned China Daily.
Of course, if Al Jazeera really is playing it straight, that would be a better story, as would a diary in which, for example, a journalist is told to go hard after a story the Qataris will hate.
I’m assuming that RT’s thumb-on-the scale practices are less subtle than whatever we might find out about Al Jazeera America. But given its growing presence, I’d love to see an inside story about how RT operates. I assume Larry King and his harmless interviews are left alone. But what about making sure that the hard news is given “an alternative perspective?” For those of us who think straight news is as important as safe food, that kind of inside report might be like reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.