NEW YORK TIMES media reporter Brian Stelter greeted the August 20 debut of Al-Jazeera America by gushing that it was “the most ambitious American television news venture since Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes started the Fox News Channel in 1996.” Conservative columnist Diana West lamented that “a 24/7 Muslim Brotherhood channel is now beaming into living rooms across the country.” But when I tuned in for some of the network’s inaugural programming, I found myself unable to muster either enthusiasm or alarm. West’s supposition about Al-Jazeera America’s ideological slant was based, of course, on the history of the original Arabic-language Al-Jazeera, which first hit the airwaves November 1, 1996, just three and a half weeks after Fox. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera was not all bad. It was known for its willingness to air dissenting views, a rarity in the repressive Arab world, and it even broadcast interviews with Israelis. But Americans learned about its dark side in the aftermath of 9/11, when it aired messages from Osama bin Laden and reports harshly critical of the war on terror.
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