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Al Jazeera Buys Al Gore’s Current TV

AlJazeera-Network-vert1

Arab news giant Al-Jazeera is buying Al Gore’s failing Current TV network, hoping to get a bigger presence in the US cable market.

NYT (“Al Jazeera Seeks a U.S. Voice Where Gore Failed“):

Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news giant, has long tried to convince Americans that it is a legitimate news organization, not a parrot of Middle Eastern propaganda or something more sinister.

It just bought itself 40 million more chances to make its case.

Al Jazeera on Wednesday announced a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore, a former vice president, and his business partners seven years ago. Al Jazeera plans to shut Current and start an English-language channel, which will be available in more than 40 million homes, with newscasts emanating from both New York and Doha, Qatar.

For Al Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar, the acquisition is a coming of age moment. A decade ago, Al Jazeera’s flagship Arabic-language channel was reviled by American politicians for showing videotapes from Al Qaeda members and sympathizers. Now the news operation is buying an American channel, having convinced Mr. Gore and the other owners of Current that it has the journalistic muscle and the money to compete head-to-head with CNN and other news channels in the United States.

Al Jazeera did not disclose the purchase price, but people with direct knowledge of the deal pegged it at around $500 million, indicating a $100 million payout for Mr. Gore, who owned 20 percent of Current. Mr. Gore and his partners were eager to complete the deal by Dec. 31, lest it be subject to higher tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1, according to several people who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the deal was not signed until Wednesday.

The move is a windfall for Gore. Surely, Current isn’t worth nearly $500 million as a pure business proposition; it’s a badly failed network. But the Qatar government has plenty of money and $500 million is cheap if it buys a spot in most American homes. Alas, there’s a wee snag:  Al Jazeera is quite controversial, viewed by some (incorrectly) as a propaganda network for Islamist radicals, and some carriers might balk.  Time-Warner  has already announced that it’ll drop the channel.

Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on Current TV just hours after news of the cable channel’s sale to Al Jazeera became official.

“This channel is no longer available on Time Warner Cable,” read an on-screen message where Current TV used to be found.

Al Jazeera took a major step into the U.S. cable market Wednesday by acquiring beleaguered Current TV and announcing plans for a U.S.-based news network to be called Al Jazeera America. But while the new channel will soon be available in 40 million households, Al Jazeera faced a setback when Time Warner Cable — which reaches 12 million homes — announced it was dropping the low-rated Current, which occupied a spot that could have been switched to Al Jazeera America.

Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with former Vice President Al Gore, told staff in a Wednesday night memo that Time Warner Cable “did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera.”

“Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC,” Hyatt wrote. “This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead.”

Interestingly, Time Warner already has the rights to broadcast Al Jazeera English but doesn’t do so.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve appeared on both the Arabic and English Al Jazeera networks. I’m by no means a regular viewer of AJE, even though it’s available to me via DirecTV; I just don’t watch much cable news. The exception was during the height of the Arab Spring, particularly the events that led to Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt. As HuffPo’s Michael Calderone notes, AJE ran circles around its competitors in its coverage:

Al Jazeera English received awards and acclaim for its comprehensive coverage of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, yet it has still faced an uphill battle in gaining cable distribution in the U.S., likely due to lingering fears of anti-American programming raised in the George W. Bush years. The Bush administration condemned Al Jazeera for its Arabic-language network’s coverage of the Iraq War and broadcasting of al Qaeda tapes, even targeting its headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Perceptions that the news organization, which is funded by Qatar’s government, is anti-American continue even as U.S. political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the network’s reporting abroad.

While major U.S. cable companies have refused to carry the network, it has made some progress in getting Al Jazeera English in front of American viewers. For instance, the Al Jazeera English broadcast is currently carried in New York City over the RISE network (Ch. 92), even though it doesn’t have its own place on the dial.

It’ll be interesting to see what Al Jazeera America becomes. My guess is that it will never be a major player in the US market, which is simply too saturated with news outlets and unlikely to turn to suspicious foreign networks in any event.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    AJ English is on part with the BBC as the best 24/7 cable news channel out there, During the Georgia-Russian conflict AJE had the only correspondent broadcasting live on the ground as the Russians entered into Georgia. It’s Arab Spring coverage blew the competition out of the water. Its coverage of Pakistan is much more nuanced and thoughtful than any US network. And so on….. Analysts in the Intelligence Community have come to rely on AJE as the ‘go to’ network for breaking news.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  2. C. Clavin says:

    $500M to reach 1.5M Arab Americans?
    If the bigots couldn’t stand the idea of a Muslim Community Center 2 or 3 blocks from the site of the WTC…imagine how this is going to make their tiny little heads explode.
    Cue the comments…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Mr. Gore and his partners were eager to complete the deal by Dec. 31, lest it be subject to higher tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1, according to several people who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

    How many layers of political irony are embedded in that sentence? Ah, yes, leftism for thee, but not for me.

    In any event, spending $500 million not to have any viewers doesn’t exactly seem like a winning investment or business strategy, but by the same token you can say similar things about companies that advertise on CNN and MSNBC.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 14

  4. stonetools says:

    “Run Alice, the Moooslims are coming!!”

    I’ve watched AJ English. Its a decent alternative to CNN and the BBC, and a welcome addition to the American media scene. I wish them well .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  5. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    How many layers of political irony are embedded in that sentence?

    Zero, but then it doesn’t seem like you understand what irony even means. Don’t worry, few do.

    Ah, yes, leftism for thee, but not for me.

    Define “leftism” as you see it in this instance and how it is being denied to others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    I don’t have TV, so I have never watched AJE except a few times at airports. Their website is a great source for Middle Eastern news, but its also one of the best sources for east African news. Sometimes it is about the only major new source covering the decades-long crisis in Somalia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @ Tsar..
    Only an idiot would pass up an opportunity to save who knows how much in Capital Gains taxes.
    And only an idiot would condemn that effort as “politically ironic”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  8. Paul L. says:

    @mantis:

    Define “leftism” as you see it in this instance and how it is being denied to others.

    1) Taking money from filthy Climate change causing foreign oil.
    2) Not paying his fair share to the Government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  9. G.A. says:

    We should all kick in and start a crappy TV network and then sell it:)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. mantis says:

    @Paul L.:

    I asked what Tsar meant by leftism, but ok, let’s look at your stupidity.

    1) Taking money from filthy Climate change causing foreign oil.

    So selling something to Dubai is “leftism?” Please explain.

    2) Not paying his fair share to the Government.

    Making a sale in 2012 instead of 2013 and therefore paying 2012 taxes instead of 2013 taxes somehow denies other people the ability to sell things to oil producing countries (your definition of “leftism”)? How does it do that, exactly?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  11. mantis says:

    Bah, I meant Qatar, not Dubai.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I live in the San Francisco Bay area, several soviets south of what the locals, for some arcane reason, refer to as “The City”. One of the local Progressive (née Public) Broadcasting System stations, call-sign KCSM, airs a one hour Al-Jezeera English news program daily and has been for several years.

    I see bits and pieces of the broadcast from time to time and the whole on a more rare basis. To me, they don’t seem any worse than the normal PBS fare bias-wise, but some of that may be my proclivity to judge foreigners less harshly than Americans because, well, they’re foreigners.

    What’s caught my attention of late is that they seem to be following PBS’s lead in re-hyping the “climate whatever” boondoggle. And, of course, their interviewées tend to all come from the lefty- Araby-philic end of the crescent, I mean spectrum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  13. G.A. says:

    Harry! we need fat buck backer:)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  14. G.A. says:

    mantis, I am kinda becoming a pseudo leftist again:) Because I don’t give a crap anymore:)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. Paul L. says:

    @mantis:
    You convinced me.
    The left supports taking money from people who are destroying the planet selling climate change causing dirty fossil fuels and using every trick in the book to avoid paying taxes.

    Anything I hear about the left promoting green energy, getting off foreign oil and the rich paying their fair share is just propaganda from the Reich wing phony outrage and noise machine.
    Such as progressive outrage over Romney’s Swiss bank accounts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  16. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Paul L.: I realize that decades of dittohead indoctrination may have convinced that the “libtards” are one step away from idolizing Castro, so here’s a fact that will blow your mind:

    Liberalism is a political philosophy, whereas capitalism is an economic one. You can be – and many millions of people are – both.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  17. JKB says:

    @11B40: hey seem to be following PBS’s lead in re-hyping the “climate whatever” boondoggle

    What do you expect? Evil, American capitalists, probably Christians, have undermined the Obama’s plan to hobble American energy production by developing domestic energy sources outside of government controlled land setting us on a path toward energy independence.

    Worse, this is happening not in cosmopolitan coastal areas but in the “fly-over” country where young people are foregoing the eternal debt servitude of a college education to do productive work that is of value to others.

    This development has the Saudis and other ME oil producers worried. It is also the greatest threat to Wahhabism and the Islamic Jihad. It is definitely a threat to the environmental death cult. Thus the PBS and Al Jazeera common cause.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 7

  18. Woody says:

    In the months prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, US media fell all over each other selling the war. Few challenges to the pro-war narrative were ever broadcast or distributed in the major US media.

    The decision by Time Warner to reject Al Jazeera exemplifies an important lesson, particularly to the readers here: corporate censorship as as repugnant as state censorship. If one doesn’t wish to be exposed to AJ’s news (won’t get into whether AJ’s news is pro-Arabic – not the point) then block the channel. The choice should be at a subscriber’s level, not commanded by a mandarin behind a polished desk.

    The next time the telecoms attempt to seize the internet through overt legislation or covert business practice, please keep this in mind (and anyone who chooses to cast this as a liberal/conservative issue is a fool).

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  19. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’m a lot more bothered that TWC has hamfistedly decided to block AJE than I am that Gore decided it was time to get paid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  20. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    I am in favor of this channel because it’s making Pamela Geller’s head asplode.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  21. Moosebreath says:

    @11B40:

    “To me, they don’t seem any worse than the normal PBS fare bias-wise”

    This morning, while driving in to work, I heard on Morning Edition two extended stories. One was a discussion of Boehner’s prospects for remaining speaker of the House with a reporter from National Review, and the other a look to future budget issues with the economics editor of the Wall Street Journal. So I am all in favor of removing the right-wing bias on NPR. What say you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  22. C. Clavin says:

    As I said above:

    “…”And here we are eleven years after the largest and bloodiest Islamic attack on America and Al Jizz is buying Gore TV. This is a major step in the network’s goal of expanding jihad propaganda further into the U.S. cable market and gives it a chance to brainwash millions of Americans. How much did those traitors sell us out for? Al Jazeera is a security threat to America. Demand investigative hearings.” – Pamela Geller.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  23. lankyloo says:

    @JKB: Ugh, this is what happens when you let others think for you. Imports have decreased in large part because demand has decreased in the US, due to that thing we call the recession. The only reason domestic production of shale has increased is because aggregate global demand has gone up, driving up prices, making what was once too expensive to drill now profitable. Even if domestic production didn’t increase, imports would have decreased anyways.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  24. 11B40 says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Greetings, Moosebreath:

    You have my apology. I failed to realize that PBS meant NPR. Acronyms, I guess are harder than I thought.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  25. andrew says:

    “Anything I hear about the left promoting green energy, getting off foreign oil and the rich paying their fair share is just propaganda from the Reich wing phony outrage and noise machine.”

    Ya gotta hand it to Al Gore, though. He found a way to makes hundreds of millions fooling the rubes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  26. Janis Gore says:

    @G.A.: Get your finger out of your nose, G.A. That’s just rude.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Janis Gore says:

    @Janis Gore: And happy new year, hon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Janis Gore says:

    @C. Clavin: Whatever brings the money in.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. mantis says:

    @Paul L.:

    You convinced me.

    I wasn’t trying to convince you of anything. I was asking you questions, which you don’t bother to answer, preferring to ramble on with more nonsense. I can see why your blog is nothing but link lists. Coherent thought clearly escapes you, and like most morons you have fashioned yourself an enemy (the left) that is both monolithic and can be anything you want it to at any time. How convenient for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  30. Al says:

    Oh no! A news organization with a conservative, nationalist slant? However will the republic survive?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. NickTamere says:

    @Paul L.: “and using every trick in the book to avoid paying taxes…..”

    Stashing your money in the Caymans or using “carried interest” accounting are considered “tricks from the book”, trying to close a deal before a well-publicized deadline is not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  32. Dave says:

    @mantis:
    You really are doing yeoman’s work on this site. My hat’s off to you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. C. Clavin says:

    I’m seeing stories that Glenn Beck tried to buy Current TV…but was rebuffed by Gore et al.
    That may very well be the funniest story of the New Year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. anjin-san says:

    It’s noteworthy that there have been no hat-tips directed towards Gore by the right wing commenters on OTB who fancy themselves to be champions of capitalism. You would think they would be impressed by such a profitable sale.

    In reality, Comrade Al is a more successful businessman then any of them by orders of magnitude…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  35. C. Clavin says:

    “…Anything I hear about the left promoting green energy, getting off foreign oil and the rich paying their fair share is just propaganda from the Reich wing phony outrage and noise machine….”

    Since when do Television Networks run on Oil?
    And since when is paying exactly what tax is required by the law not paying your fair share? Keep in mind that the deal went through in spite of the tax deadline passing, you savants.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  36. Davebo says:

    Obama’s plan to hobble American energy production by developing domestic energy sources outside of government controlled land setting us on a path toward energy independence.

    Despite what the AEI may have spoon fed you energy independence is a sad myth.

    Where do you think all the oil produced on the North Slope of Alaska has gone for the past 20 plus years?

    Now if you want to do what most of the rest of the world has done and nationalize US oil production it is theoretically possible if not plausible.

    But I seriously doubt we are ready for such a drastic move.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  37. Argon says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    I am in favor of this channel because it’s making Pamela Geller’s head asplode.

    Funniest typo ever, even if it’s not a typo. Although I’d spell it with two ‘s’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. al-Ameda says:

    I love it, primarily because the prospect of Al Jazeera buying out Al Gore is causing right wing heads to explode.

    You just can’t make it up any more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. Me and my dad regularly watch AJE in the Washington, D.C. area (it’s broadcast on 30.5 thanks to the Commonwealth Public Broadcasting Corporation).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. G.A. says:

    @G.A.: Get your finger out of your nose, G.A. That’s just rude.

    But I like doing it…

    :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. Tim says:

    THEE American “terrorist” AL Gore! All for the American dollar!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  42. Janis Gore says:

    @G.A.: You need to exercise a little self-control, then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. bill says:

    it’s ok, he’s a limousine liberal anyway- and a living parody of himself. why would he think a totally liberal network would work when there’s so many left leaning ones already? but then again, why would he think anyway- it hasn’t worked in the past.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0