RICHARD BAEHR: AL JAZEERA BUYS ITS AMERICAN AUDIENCE
Al Jazeera buys its American audience
Al Gore is one of the world’s greatest hypocrites. The man who shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on alerting nations to the climate threat resulting from increased greenhouse gas emissions, has just helped to sell his Current TV network to the Al-Jazeera network for $500 million, a fifth of which will go to Gore himself. Al-Jazeera is owned by the family of the emir of Qatar, a nation that derives half its gross domestic product from selling fossil fuels.
Hypocrisy is of course nothing new to the former vice president. The man who told Bill Clinton to stay away from his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the White House in 2000, desiring to protect his clean family man image from Clinton’s sordid affair with Monica Lewinsky, later divorced his own wife Tipper Gore, and was accused of sexual assault by a massage therapist in Oregon.
Gore also pushed to have the sale of the network completed before the end of 2012. That way he could pay a 15% capital gains tax rate on his profits from the sale of the network, instead of an effective rate of 23.8% that would apply in 2013 after tax rates were raised by the fiscal cliff deal and the new Obamacare tax on investment income. The vice president has been a full-throated class warrior on the need to raise taxes on the wealthy, but he worked to exclude himself from bearing the burden of higher tax rates. His motto seems to be: higher taxes for thee, but not for me.
Gore was approached by conservative media star Glenn Beck, who also expressed interest in buying Gore’s Current TV network. Gore stated that Beck’s politics made it impossible to consider his offer. The Al-Jazeera network and its owners were obviously more in sync with the politics of the King of Green Energy.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore have both proven that serving at the highest levels of the U.S. government can be very, very good for one’s net worth after leaving office. Each has an estimated net worth today of over $100 million, all obtained in the decade since they left the White House. Gore’s net worth is now estimated at $200 million after the sale to Al-Jazeera. Some members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have demonstrated that one need not wait until one is retired from government service, to get rich off of the contacts one makes in office, and the votes one casts. But Reid’s government-assisted wealth is small potatoes compared to Gore’s financial successes.
Gore’s Current TV was a largely unwatched left-wing news network that at one time employed misogynist Keith Olbermann as a host and after that New York State’s former Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was forced to resign after the news broke that he was using part of his family-supplied fortune to pay for very expensive call girls. Given the charges against Gore by the Portland massage therapist, there seems to be a pattern to the hires.
In any case, Al-Jazeera was not buying Current TV for its pitiful average audience size of 42,000 per night and the miniscule amount of advertising revenue associated with that audience size, but for access to tens of millions of homes on a preferred viewing tier with cable and satellite TV networks. Gore had helped negotiate favorable rates in multiyear contracts with the two big satellite providers — DirecTV and Dish Network, and with the biggest cable providers — Comcast and Time Warner Cable. These providers were paying Current TV between 5 cents and 12 cents per month per subscriber. Assuming an average of 10 cents per month, or $1.20 per year, per subscriber, Current TV was receiving tens of millions of dollars per year for the tiny audience that it was delivering to the cable and satellite systems.
Al-Jazeera will surely be happy if these fees continue, but even more, it has to welcome its first opportunity to presents its English language version of the network to new American audiences. Perhaps Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, and the man who appointed them, can take a peak at night at news anchors who, even more than the MSNBC team, think like them on foreign policy issues. The network may also find a receptive audience on college campuses where anti-Israel and anti-Islamophobia themes are politically fashionable.
With the change in ownership one big cable network, Time Warner, announced that it was terminating its relationship with Current TV and its new owner. Dish Network, which has dropped channels before, was also considering such a move. A campaign of sorts was begun by some subscribers to some of the other pay TV systems, to get their providers to drop Current TV/Al-Jazeera.
Part of this is due to economics (to save $1.20 per year). But part may also be due to Al-Jazeera’s broadcast history. The network, in both its Arabic language and English stations, has advanced an Islamist agenda, consistently hostile to U.S. policy, and Israel, but worse, routinely taking the side of terrorists who have killed Americans or Israelis. The emir himself has recently been in the news for donating $400 million to Hamas, the Islamist terror organization that runs the Gaza Strip, and became the first head of state to visit the enclave.
One notable Al-Jazeera program was the “birthday party” thrown for Samir Kuntar, the Palestine Liberation Front killer who was released in a prisoner exchange between Hezbollah and Israel in 2008.
“To the sound of festive music, Al-Jazeera presented Kuntar with a huge scimitar to slice the cake on which was printed a picture of Kuntar with various terrorists, including Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.”
In another choice programming decision, the network featured Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who offered these “pearls” of wisdom: “Oh, Allah, take this oppressive Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers and kill them, down to the very last one.”
Al Gore and his partners in Current TV wanted to make a lot of money. There is nothing wrong with that. Al Gore is a committed capitalist at this point. But the emir and Qatar may have different ambitions and making money in the short term may be less of an objective. Islamist “hasbara” designed to make Americans think more like Europeans when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, or to soften Americans’ view of Islam, may be the operative goal.
When the Fox News Channel, now the dominant prime-time cable news network in the United States, was created in 1996, News Corporation, the network’s owner, may have paid some cable systems and satellite broadcasters to include the network, rather than being paid for providing content on a new channel. Al-Jazeera could do the same, inducing some of the TV systems on which it wants to appear, to continue showing the network on the channel reserved for Current TV. Time Warner has already walked back a bit its decision to terminate the network. Maybe instead of paying 10 cents a month per subscriber to Current TV, the cable system may soon receive compensation for showing Al-Jazeera.
Clearly, the current volume of nightly viewers of Current TV does not justify a $500 million purchase price for the network. If instead of receiving monthly subscriber fees, Al-Jazeera has to pay them, that will only add to the investment cost. But if there were ever a deep pocket, it is the Gulf states that have few people and billions of dollars from their oil sales priced at $100 per barrel. The emir and his family are likely playing the long game in their effort to change American minds.
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