Al Jazeera's sympathetic coverage, in both Arabic and English, of the past year's Arab upheavals signaled to many that Americans may finally let the network in from the cold. It was a view the Obama administration—eager to drain the bad blood of the Bush era—readily encouraged.
"Al Jazeera has been the leader in that they are literally changing people's minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective," Secretary of State Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March. AJE, she said, is "must watch, real journalism." Dana Shell Smith—the first deputy assistant secretary of state for international media engagement and an Arabic speaker—described Al Jazeera Arabic as a "really important media entity" with which the administration has a "really great relationship."
The thaw has been bipartisan with Republicans as wary as Democrats of slighting a network riding a worldwide wave of popularity—AJE now reaches a quarter of a billion people in 130 countries—and perceived as siding with freedom and democracy against dictatorship.
"It's like Rip Van Winkle—you wake up and, my God, it's a different world," said Tony Burman, at the time AJE's chief strategic adviser for the Americas. "Hosni Mubarak did in eighteen days what I thought it would take two years to do." Walking through the State Department, Burman said, he sees his station playing on virtually every computer and television screen.
Judea Pearl is a celebrated University of California computer scientist and cofounder of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding, created to honor his son, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and beheaded in 2002 by al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan. Since 2007, Pearl has been a lonely voice on the left warning against Al Jazeera's legitimization. "Their unconditional support of Hamas's terror in Gaza, the Hezbollah takeover in Lebanon, and the Syrian and Iranian regimes betrays any illusion that democracy and human rights are on Al Jazeera's agenda"—he wrote this year—"weakening the West is their first priority."
March Lynch, a commentator on Arabic media, accurately noted, "There has been a switch on the perception of Al Jazeera Arabic, simply because right now, the U.S. and Al Jazeera Arabic are more aligned in backing the democracy movements ... It's not like Al Jazeera or the U.S. have changed that much. The issues have changed."...No they haven't. The issues are the same--as are the players. It's still the same old Al Jazeera. It's still the same old Muslim Brotherhood. It's still the same old confounding gullibility of the ignorant, the lazy and the foolish.
And, oh yeah, it's still the same old Tony Burman, former Ceeb functionary, former A-J functionary, usefully idiotic now and forever.