Who's Soft on Propaganda?

If we were to believe liberals, the last several years could be dubbed the Age of Propaganda — what scandalized columnist Frank Rich, who knows quite a lot about this subject, calls the "decline and fall of truth."

They complained when government agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services put out "video news releases" that some lax TV stations aired without editing. They complained when the Pentagon hired American P.R. companies like the Lincoln Group to place positive stories about American forces in the Iraqi newspapers. They complained when conservative P.R. man Armstrong Williams struck a deal with the Department of Education to promote the Bush "No Child Left Behind" policy.

But the same left-wing crowd that claims to hate propaganda seems to be offering nothing but flowers and best wishes for the November launch of al-Jazeera English. The new network presents itself as a bold, adventurous news outlet to promote an Arab point of view, to redirect global news coverage to the point of view of the "South" — left-wing lingo for Third World monarchs and dictators. Its sugar daddy is the emir of Qatar, seriously wealthy and very much committed to an Islamic agenda.

Questions about the network’s radical ideology emerged quickly. CNN attempted to interview al-Jazeera talk show host (and former CNN International journalist) Riz Khan and discovered how al-Jazeera English won’t be speaking the truth to power, especially when it comes to the subject that has brought the greatest attention to it — terrorism. CNN’s Frank Sesno asked Khan, "Is Hamas a terrorist organization?" Khan went agnostic: "I’m not one to judge." Then Sesno asked, "Is Hezbollah a terrorist organization?" Khan replied, "Same thing, you know — I’m not going to judge."

In an outbreak of common sense, this offshoot of the infamous channel best known as a video jukebox for Osama bin Laden and other Arab terrorist fanatics has so far been rejected by every major American cable TV operator.

And that, that has the liberal elites outraged and filled with contempt for the crazy cable companies for somehow denying the American public more enemy propaganda. In mid-November, the subject came up on the TV talk show "Inside Washington," and the show’s liberal pundits were unanimous that America’s cable companies should put on the al-Qaida mouthpieces. Washington Post columnist Colbert King insisted, "I’d put them on the air," and thought the ban was "crazy." Mark Shields declared it was a test of our belief in the "full, free flow of ideas. Let it out there." NPR reporter Nina Totenberg complained that cable companies carry all kinds of shopping channels, "every kind of deviant sex on the face of the earth," and every old cop show. Refusing a channel for al-Jazeera? "That’s just crazy."

How soft are these media types? Some of them not only didn’t want to beat al-Jazeera, they joined it. Not only CNN’s Khan, but CBS’s David Hawkins and, most visibly, ABC’s Dave Marash, the network’s new Washington anchor, are drinking the Qatar Kool-Aid. Their most pathetic spin line is that al-Jazeera English is somehow entirely different than the Arab-propaganda channel that shares its name.

CBS, CNN and NBC have all featured some conservative critics (usually Donald Rumsfeld or Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media) in their al-Jazeera stories. But National Public Radio, that other government-funded journalism effort, has usually kept its broadcasts unanimously supportive.

In February, the NPR-distributed weekend show "On the Media" offered its airwaves to Marash. They devoted time to Marash again (along with supportive Arab-studies professor Marwan Kraidy) in November. They did the same thing for this duo again in November. NPR’s nationally syndicated "Diane Rehm Show" discussed al-Jazeera English for an hour in mid-November. The guest list was almost exactly the same. It was Dave Marash, Marwan Kraidy and Mark Jurkowitz, who praised Marash for his probity and integrity. (Jurkowitz, by the way, is associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and that one speaks for itself.) The African-American NPR show "News & Notes" asked its panel of pundits, and all agreed they’d like to see al-Jazeera English.

NPR media reporter Mark Folkenflik did offer a few seconds for criticism from Bill O’Reilly and spent a few seconds on actual al-Jazeera content. He noted Jordanian journalist Ibrahim Alloush claimed in an interview that "there was scientific proof the Holocaust did not occur and encouraged al-Qaida to rise up in Iraq."

Let’s see truth-loving Frank Rich and the other liberals argue that offering supportive airtime to Holocaust deniers is something a respectable "news" outlet does. But don’t hold your breath. These folks have raised more of a stink condemning the nefarious agenda of the Fox News Channel.