David Zurawik

Why the arrival of Al Jazeera America matters

I have been writing a lot about Al Jazeera since the Qatar-based news operation bought Al Gore's wreck of a channel in January to gain access to some 50 million U.S. homes.

And before you start saying crazy, uninformed stuff about Al Jazeera and terrorism, read this piece: "Of course, Al Jazeera has a bias, but it's not what you might think." If you don't know what Global South is, you definitely need to read this piece, and not say any more ignorant things about Al Jazeera America until you do.


And finally, read this piece that I wrote two weeks ago: "Al Jazeera promises something revolutionary: solid TV journalism."

I wasn't going to write about the launch today. I was going to watch for a couple of days and write a review.


But after reading an Aug. 18 piece in the New York Times, I couldn't hold my powder.

Once again, the Times allowed an unnamed source from another network or channel to trash the competition without attaching her or his name to it.

Here's the passage from the Times:

Would-be competitors at big broadcast news divisions like NBC and established cable news channels like CNN have mostly shrugged at the start-up. A senior television news executive predicted that Al Jazeera America would, at the outset, receive even lower ratings than the channel it is replacing, Current TV.

Last month the lame-duck Current had about 24,000 viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen data; Fox News had 1.3 million.

Could the attempt to marginalize this channel by the "senior television news executive" be any more obvious?

Maybe to you and me, but apparently not the reporter, media editor and public editor at the Times.

I guess, if the Times wants to be used this way, that is its right. But why not tell the "senior television news executive" that he or she has to be named or the quote will not be used? Or, how about telling us what network or channel they are a "senior television news executive" at, so we can judge?

CNN, for example, has a lot to lose if Al Jazeera America is even a little successful. The modest ratings gains CNN has managed to make in 2013 under new president Jeff Zucker are going to disappear pretty fast if Al Jazeera America splits or even takes a bite out of the audience on big, breaking news stories. And with CNN under Zucker favoring sensational trials over coups and riots in places like Egypt, Al Jazeera could find a breaking news audience very fast.


If this quote came from someone at CNN, which is owned by the Time Warner, the corporate giant that spun off the Time Warner Cable that is keeping Al Jazeera America off its cable systems, the New York Times should be ashamed of printing it without such disclosure. But we will never know because the paper gave the speaker anonymity so she or he could attempt to marginalize Al Jazeera America without accountability or risk.

Ditto for NBC News or Fox or anyone else at any other network. And why only one voice speaking for all "would-be competitors at big broadcast news divisions...and cable news channels..."?

Don't let such spin and dirty media gamesmanship trick you into not giving Al Jazeera America a chance. Check it out for yourself starting today. Its commitment to diversity and stories from Global South make it potentially one of the most important additions to the American TV landscape in years.

Don't let a "senior television news executive," with the help of the Times' irresponsible use of anonymous sources, scare you off.

Update: Comcast viewers can see Al Jazeera America on Channel 107.

Verizon FIOS subscribers will find it at Channel 114.


DirecTV subscribers can find it on Channel 358, while those with DISH can go to Channel 215.

Otherwise, if you had Current TV in your channel lineup, look for Al Jazeera America there starting today unless you are a Time Warner subscriber.