Al That Jaz! 
By Rebecca Dana

Riz Khan, former host of the CNN talk show Q&A, shocked his friends when he told them that he was taking a job with the fledgling Washington bureau of the Arabic news network, Al Jazeera. Especially Colin Powell and George H. W. Bush.

“I think they were a bit surprised when they asked what I was doing next and I said, ‘I’m helping set up Al Jazeera International,’” he said. “I saw the expression on their faces, you know, were curious. I explained it was a fantastic opportunity to communicate with a part of the world we’ve lost touch with.”

He said he told them: “This is an opportunity to put senior U.S. officials in front of Arab viewers.” Then, he added, “Both of them seemed to have a much more positive attitude after that.”

Mr. Khan continued: “The administration seems to have turned around and realized that, actually, the prospect of an English-language channel broadcast internationally is an interesting one. People I meet from the State Department, from elsewhere, are far more keen to engage.”

Al Jazeera signifies many things to many American television viewers—most of them bad. It is “Osama Television” to the Bush administration, a Qatar-based broadcast network precariously endowed by the tiny nation’s benevolent dictator. It shows indulgent montages of graphic violence and welcomes guests with strong anti-American and anti-Zionist politics.

It counts Mr. bin Laden as one of its more reliable freelance personalities. Former star correspondent Tayseer Alouni was recently sentenced to seven years in prison by a court in Madrid for collaborating with Al Qaeda. And according to a British tabloid report last week, in April 2004, another friend of Mr. Powell and the elder Mr. Bush—the current President, George W. Bush—was just barely dissuaded from bombing the bejeezus out of Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha.

All of which would seem to make the planned March 2006 launch of an English-language version of Al Jazeera—not a translation of the Arabic original, but an entirely unique network staffed by native speakers and broadcast for a worldwide audience—a curious business decision.


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