‘The Palestine Cables’: Al Jazeera is viewed in White House for Egypt coverage, but U.S. complained about its 08-09 Gaza coverage

Israel/Palestine
on 10 Comments

The Al Jazeera news network is not well liked by many governments.  It has the bravest, most consistent and unyielding reports from the front lines of Middle East turmoil, as the uprising in Egypt has shown.  Al Jazeera journalists have been among the victims of the Mubarak regime’s brutal crackdown on the media today in Egypt, events that the U.S. State Department have expressed concern about.  

Despite the fact that the Obama administration has been watching Al Jazeera to get the latest out of Egypt, the U.S. has a tortured history with Al Jazeera, as Jeremy Scahill of the Nation points out:  bombing its offices in Afghanistan, shelling a hotel in Iraq and killing the network’s Iraq correspondent and holding a network employee in Guantanamo Bay for seven years.  Recent WikiLeaks cables obtained by Counterpunch add more to the U.S.-Al Jazeera story.

According to a January 31 story authored by Kathleen Christison, the U.S. government, in the wake of the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza, held a meeting with Al Jazeera to complain about its coverage of the assault:

CounterPunch can show, through a Wikileaks-released cable from the U.S. embassy in Doha, Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, that U.S. officials were still ragging the network in February 2009 in the wake of Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza, because, alone of news networks the world over, al-Jazeera had actually shown what was happening on the ground to Gazan civilians besieged by an unrelenting Israeli air, artillery, and ground attack…

According to the cable from Doha, on February 10, 2009, three weeks after the Gaza assault ended, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Lebaron arranged a meeting with al-Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, to express concern that the network’s reporting from Gaza was harming the U.S. image “in the Arab street.” Lebaron’s contorted reasoning went as follows: al-Jazeera’s coverage “took viewers’ emotions and then raised them to a higher level through its coverage…”

Lebaron simply did not like the fact that al-Jazeera had shown what was happening in Gaza. With jaw-dropping illogic, he complained that al-Jazeera provided no balance in its reporting because on one side it showed Israeli talking heads, while “on the other side of the scale, you are broadcasting graphic images of dead children and urban damage from modern warfare.”

Alex Kane blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the United States at alexbkane.wordpress.com . You can read all of ‘The Palestine Cables’ reports here. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

10 Responses

  1. jawad
    February 3, 2011, 7:35 pm

    link to msnbc.msn.com

    Here Rachel Maddow lectures us media and repression while maintaining a complete blackout of Palestinian protests

    • Philip Munger
      February 3, 2011, 9:20 pm

      She’ll go far if she keeps doing that. It might scorch her soul, but she doesn’t seem to care.

  2. Avi
    February 3, 2011, 7:36 pm

    One of the most basic tenets of journalism is that the public has the right to know. Period. That Lebaron had better get used to it, because the world is changing.

    • Chaos4700
      February 3, 2011, 10:57 pm

      One might want to know what the look on his face was when this memo found itself leaked for the public to see.

      Who’s country is he supposed to be working for, anyway?

    • Philip Weiss
      February 4, 2011, 9:27 am

      well put

  3. annie
    February 3, 2011, 7:55 pm

    lol, i don’t know what to say. the absurdity!

  4. Jim Haygood
    February 3, 2011, 7:56 pm

    More on Lebaron’s view of Al Jazeera, from a Dec. 2010 article in the Guardian:

    ————

    [Al Jazeera] has been seen by many as relatively free and open in its coverage of the region, but government control over its reporting appears to US diplomats to be so direct that they said the channel’s output had become “part of our bilateral discussions – as it has been to favourable effect between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and other countries”.

    In February, the US embassy reported to Washington how “relations [between Qatar and Saudi Arabia] are generally improving after Qatar toned down criticism of the Saudi royal family on al-Jazeera”. In July 2009, the US embassy said the channel “has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters”.

    In one dispatch, the US ambassador, Joseph LeBaron, reported that the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, had joked in an interview that al-Jazeera had caused the Gulf state such headaches that it might be better to sell it. But the ambassador remarked: “Such statements must not be taken at face value.” He went on: “Al-Jazeera’s ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar, one which it is unlikely to relinquish. Moreover, the network can also be used as a chip to improve relations. For example, al-Jazeera’s more favourable coverage of Saudi Arabia’s royal family has facilitated Qatari-Saudi reconciliation over the past year.”

    Although LeBaron noted that the station’s coverage of the Middle East was “relatively free and open”, he added: “Despite GOQ protestations to the contrary, al-Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools.”

    link to guardian.co.uk

    ————

    Given his pragmatist views, Lebaron probably was just negotiating with Khanfar for coverage more convenient to US [government] interests. Principles such as freedom of information, much less human rights, are quite irrelevant in the rarified diplomatic world of bargained political expediency.

  5. piotr
    February 3, 2011, 8:04 pm

    Showing “Israeli talking heads” by itself may be enough to inflame many people (like me), so it is not exactly the balance for “graphic images of dead children”.

    I wonder if al-Jazeera is also showing the most annoying American talking heads. I could go a long way to explain why suddenly we have “days of rage”.

    Anyway, there is a line of Israeli comments that after translating to Arabic may cause genocidal urges. Very recently I stumbled upon a column in JP: Hezbollah-dominated government in Lebanon may be an opportunity for Israel. How so? Simple: during the next war with Lebanon we will be able to bomb them so much to push them back 30 years. Apparently, the most recent Lebanon war left the author deeply unsatisfied with a totally insufficient amount of carnage and destruction.

    Actually, a similar reaction to Cast Lead doomed Kadima.

  6. Citizen
    February 4, 2011, 3:34 am

    Hey, things are looking up; I read that a couple of US satelite TV agencies actually carry Al Jazeera, AND apparently people living in the Toledo, Ohio area can receive it. Is that because lots of Arab Americans live around there? Next access to Detroit? Interesting how our cable TV companies band together to lock out Al Jazeera and also–over the last year, have cut off critical discussions of the I-P conflict on the otherwise objective Washington Journal on CSPAN…

  7. Larry
    February 4, 2011, 6:05 am

    Quote: U.S. Ambassador Joseph Lebaron arranged a meeting with al-Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, to express concern that the network’s reporting from Gaza was harming the U.S. image “in the Arab street.”
    Someone should tell Ambassador Lebanon or Lebaron or whatever his name is not to worry. Nothing could harm the US’s image in the “Arab street.”
    There are zero degrees in weather only – not unpopularity.

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