W hen talk-show host Joy Behar visited The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last week, she was asked about Al Jazeera's intention to buy Current TV, the network that hosts her show, for a reported $500 million.
Many media observers believe former Vice President Al Gore, who formed the network with partner Joel Hyatt in 2005, will pocket as much as $100 million from the sale. Not bad for a low-performing network that could only potentially reach 40 million homes on its best day. Competitors lsuch as CNN, Fox and MSNBC reach 90 percent of the 100 million cable and dish subscribers in the country.
Osama bin Laden is your new boss? Mr. Leno asked Ms. Behar, echoing the ignorance of those who continue to maintain, contrary to all evidence, that the pan-Arab news network is a terrorist front. Because it has been maligned for years as an anti-American news-gathering operation, domestic cable and satellite carriers have been reluctant to do business with the Qatar-based network.
Although it can be seen in markets such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Toledo, Ohio, Al Jazeera's attempts to build a solid media presence in the United States have met with little success. Americans outside those markets who saw the value of checking out Al Jazeera's coverage of the Arab Spring, for instance, had to be content with accessing the network via the Internet.
Those who tuned in were pleasantly surprised by the depth, sophistication and evenhandedness of a news network U.S. politicians have demagogued for years. At a time when U.S. news networks are shutting down foreign bureaus and reducing the airtime devoted to international news, Al Jazeera is expanding its coverage of the Middle East, Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
Once Americans are exposed to credible alternatives to news coverage of international events, there might be pressure on their homegrown media to take other perspectives seriously. The world is a very complex place.