DM: In fact, the prospectus for the channel and the channel that I hawked, if you will, is different from the channel today. It is different infrastructurally and editorially, in that the original concept was literally cosmopolitan—the whole world covered from many points of view representing the whole world. That was the logic of having four news centers in Doha, London, Washington, and Kuala Lumpur. All four were supposed to be autonomous, to initiate their own assignment decisions and lineup priorities. And the sum total of the four points of view was to put a truly cosmopolitan, multipolar gloss on the world. Over the last nine months, in particular, bureau autonomy has almost completely disappeared and rather than being a multivoiced, multipolar news channel, I think Al Jazeera English is now an authentic regional voice, much in the manner of Al Jazeera Arabic, although they are in no way a translation of each other—they are two thoroughly different and independent channels. Just as Al Jazeera Arabic can rightfully claim to be a first-class news organization with high professional standards, but one that authentically represents the point of view and interests of the region defined by the Arabic language, less defined by but certainly involved in the Islamic faith, and most particularly the gulf region, I think that Al Jazeera English is a very competent, very professional news organization that does a particularly great job south of the equator, but tends to report almost everything from the point of view of either the Arabic-speaking world or at the very least what you might call the post-colonial world. And since I’m not authentically those things, I don’t belong there.

BC: What changed?

DM: I think that the world changed about nine, ten months ago. And I think the single event in that change was the visit to the gulf by Vice President Cheney, where he went to line up the allied ducks in a row behind the possibility of action against Iran. And instead of getting acquiescence, the United States got defiance, and instead ducks in a row the ducks basically went off on their own and the first sort of major breakthrough on that was the Mecca agreement, which defied the American foreign policy by letting Hamas into the tent of the governance of the Palestinian territories. This enraged the State Department and was one crystal clear sign that the Mideast region was now off campus, was off on its own. And it is around this time, and I think not coincidentally, that you see the state of Qatar and the royal family of Qatar starting to make up their feud with the Saudis, and you start to see on both Al Jazeera Arabic and English a very sort of first-personish, “my Haj” stories that were boosterish of the Haj and of Saudi Arabia. And you start to see stories of analysis in The New York Times where regional people are noting that Al Jazeera seems to be changing its editorial stance toward Saudi Arabia. I’m suggesting that around that time, a decision was made at the highest levels of [Al Jazeera] that simply following the American political leadership and the American political ideal of global, universalist values carried out in an absolutely pure, multipolar, First Amendment global conversation, was no longer the safest or smartest course, and that it was time, in fact, to get right with the region. And I think part of getting right with the region was slightly changing the editorial ambition of Al Jazeera English, and I think it has subsequently become a more narrowly focused, more univocal channel than was originally conceived.

BC: This doesn’t bode well for AJE as a credible journalistic operation.

Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.