Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Why Al Gore's Al Jazeera deal doesn't seem right

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
January 7, 2013 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Al Gore sold Current to al Jazeera and could net an estimated $70 million
  • Howard Kurtz: Gore's Current network failed to gain an identity or viewers
  • He says it's odd that the former vice president is selling to an oil-rich potentate
  • Kurtz: Al Jazeera may have a tough time getting traction with U.S. viewers

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- So Al Gore starts a liberal cable network, which turns into a complete and utter flop, then sells it to a Middle East potentate in a deal that will bring him an estimated $70 million.

Is America a great country or what?

There is something highly unusual -- OK, just plain weird -- about a former vice president of the United States doing this deal with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

Al Jazeera, owned by said emir's government, is trying to buy its way into the American television market by purchasing Current TV for a half billion dollars. The only thing stranger would be if Gore had sold Current to Glenn Beck -- oh wait, Beck did try to buy it and was told no way within 15 minutes.

So the sale was in part about ideology, which opens the door to examining why Gore believes Al Jazeera gives "voice to those who are not typically heard" and speaks "truth to power."

Bill O'Reilly, on Fox News, calls the network "anti-American." Fox pundit Dick Morris says Gore has sold to a fount of "anti-Israel propaganda." Such labels are rooted in the network's role during the height of the war on terror, when it aired smuggled videos of Osama bin Laden and was denounced by Bush administration officials.

Watch: How Lance Armstrong lied to me about doping

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



But Al Jazeera English, the spinoff channel launched in 2006, doesn't have the same reputation. In fact, no less a figure than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has praised it as "real news," and the channel has won journalism awards for its reporting on the Arab Spring and other global events.

To be sure, the main Al Jazeera network gives a platform to such figures as Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He's the Muslim cleric in Egypt who, The Washington Post gas reported, frequently appears on air to castigate Jews and America and has praised suicide bombings. But when I went to the home page of Al Jazeera English the other day, there was video of David Frost, the acclaimed British journalist who now works for the main network, interviewing Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Why Gore sold Current to Al Jazeera

That's not to say Al Jazeera America, the working name for the new channel, won't have its own biases. Al Jazeera English is sometimes determined to paint the U.S. in a negative light.

During a report on President Barack Obama signing a renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which entails a legitimate controversy over civil liberties, the reporter said flatly that the law "violate(s) U.S. constitutional rights in the name of national security."

Watch: Can Al Jazeera make it in the American market?

Dave Marash, the ABC News veteran who once worked for Al Jazeera English, told me the network has a "post-colonial" view of America and its stories can be infused with that attitude.

And there are real questions about how independent these channels are from the Qatar government that helps bankroll them. The director-general of Al Jazeera, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al-Thani, is a member of the country's royal family and has no background in journalism.

Such details add to the odd spectacle of the ex-veep, who would have been running Mideast policy had he won a few more votes in Florida, selling -- and some say selling out -- to the emir. Not to mention that the crusader against climate change is taking petrodollars from an empire built on oil, the bete noire of environmentalists.

Watch: Hey Fox, Hillary Clinton was sick after all

But what is Al Jazeera buying? The network is going to have a tough time cracking the American market.

Its earlier reputation makes the company highly controversial, and other cable carriers might follow the lead of Time Warner Cable (which is no longer owned by CNN's parent company, Time Warner) in refusing to carry it. These carriers agreed to air Current TV, after all, and contracts generally require them to approve a major change in programming.

Global politics aside, it may just be bad business. There's a reason Al Jazeera English, which will supply 40% of the content to the new channel, has barely gotten a foothold in the United States. Most Americans aren't lusting for a steady diet of international news.

Watch: Did Nancy Pelosi go too far in photoshopping picture of congresswomen?

There's no denying that Gore, a onetime newspaper reporter who had testy relations with the press during his 2000 campaign, presided over a lousy cable channel. No one quite knew what Current was during the years when it aired mostly low-rent entertainment fare and was famous mainly for North Korea taking two of its correspondents, including Lisa Ling's sister Laura, into custody.

Then Gore tried to relaunch it as a talking head channel to the left of MSNBC, hiring Keith Olbermann -- a relationship that ended with his firing and mutual lawsuits -- along with the likes of Eliot Spitzer and Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor. Gore himself offered commentary during major political events.

It was the utter failure of that incarnation of Current that prompted Gore and co-founder Joel Hyatt to put the thing up for sale.

Some detractors have slammed Gore for hypocrisy because, while he has advocated higher taxes on the rich, he tried to get the Al Jazeera deal done by December 31 to avoid the Obama tax hike. (The sale didn't close until January 2.) I don't see a problem trying to legally take advantage of changes in the tax code, no matter what your political stance.

Nor do I want to prejudge Al Jazeera America. The marketplace will decide its fate.

But there is something unsettling about Gore making off with such a big payday from a government-subsidized channel after making such bad television. Nice work if you can get it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT