Al Jazeera’s newsroom in Doha, Qatar, June 15, 2005. (AP Wideworld)

It’s no secret that the Bush administration despises Al Jazeera, the popular Arabic television network. But would the U.S. government physically attack a foreign news source just because it offered a countervailing picture of U.S. foreign policy?


Both the Washington Post and the New York Times report today on a leaked British memo that contains the transcript of a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 in which Bush apparently suggests just that — bombing the Al Jazeera headquarters located in Doha, the capitol city of Qatar (which happens to be one of our allies). The Post’s article has much more detail and includes the suggestion, by one senior diplomat, that Bush might have been kidding, saying the remark, “sounds like one of the president’s one-liners that is meant as a joke.”

The two anonymous sources quoted in the Daily Mirror article that leaked the transcript offer conflicting accounts of whether the comment was made in jest, with one saying it was “humorous, not serious,” and the other saying, “Bush was deadly serious.”

Scott McClellan at the White House offered this tricky non-denial denial by way of rebuttal: “We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response.”

Joke or no joke, there is reason to pause. Al Jazeera has suffered two serious attacks at the hands of American forces in the last four years, both of which the U.S. military claimed at the time were accidents. U.S. bombs exploded in its bureau in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001. And in 2003, during the initial invasion of Iraq, a U.S. missile hit the network’s office in Baghdad, killing a correspondent, Tareq Ayub. This new revelation obviously casts those incidents in a potentially different light.

Love it or hate it, Al Jazeera is a news source for millions of people, and as the network put it in a statement yesterday, “if the report is correct, then this would be both shocking and worrisome not only to Al Jazeera but to media organizations across the world.”

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.