As we all know, Al Jazeera is not really a news organization; it is a terrorist group. At least that’s what former co-President Cheney insisted during the Iraq war, calling it “a platform for terrorists.” In 2003, a U.S. jet fired on Al Jazeera’s Baghdad studio, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub. So you wonder what Cheney was thinking yesterday afternoon when Al Jazeera America launched its daily cable television news program from New York City. Despite the Bush administration’s demonization, Al Jazeera has long had an international reputation for balanced, innovative and on-the-spot reporting. It was the only news channel to have live coverage of the outbreak of war in Afghanistan. It is known for airing dissenting, and often controversial, views on its Middle Easter stations. And both Salon.com and Hilary Clinton called its coverage of the 2011 unrest in Egypt superior to that of the American press.
Al Jazeera’s aim for its new channel is to “air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news.” Its competitors seem unfazed by a challenger offering 14 hours of serious news each day to an audience that is hooked on entertainment, celebrity sightings and reality TV. But the deeper question is whether a channel with an Arabic name and an imposed reputation for Islamic bias will have any appeal to an increasingly insular and nativist America. We live in a world bathed in American brands, from Coke to The Wall Street Journal, and in a country awash with Japanese cars and Chinese clothes – and yet remain disturbingly closed to “foreign” ideas.