Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A firing at Al-Jazeera
Recently, the Iraqi National Congress gave documents to the Sunday Times purportedly proving a link between Al-Jazeera and the Iraqi intelligence services. Now the Qatari station has fired its director-general, Mohammed Jassem al-Ali, suggesting the accusations may have been true. A distinct possibility is that some of the station's people were on the Iraqi payroll, and that al-Ali was made to pay for this, even though he was not personally involved.

I took a more sanguine view of the affair in my International Papers column in Slate a few weeks ago. Here's the relevant paragraph:

Al-Sharq al-Awsat also led with a report splashed in Britain's Sunday Times suggesting that between August 1999 and November 2002, Iraq's intelligence services had ties with three unnamed employees at the Qatari satellite TV station Al Jazeera—two cameramen and an official in the "external relations" department. The Iraqis allegedly used the relationships to shape the station's coverage of news about Iraq. The Times story was based on intelligence documents found in Baghdad by the Iraqi National Congress and passed on to a reporter at the paper. Skepticism is in order since the INC is hardly a neutral purveyor of information, given its hostility toward Al Jazeera. What's more, the charges are less important than they were played up to be. They did not suggest an Iraqi-Al Jazeera connection after the outbreak of war (information the INC would surely have publicized had it been available), when coverage was more crucial. The disclosures about the Al Jazeera official were also fairly trivial: He is said to have handed the Iraqis copies of two letters sent by Osama Bin Laden to the satellite station, and he apparently helped get individuals expressing the Iraqi viewpoint invited onto some shows. Given Al Jazeera's sympathies, that was hardly a feat. Arguably, the most remarkable thing was that only three Al Jazeera staffers were on the take, since wealthy Arab governments routinely buy influence in media outlets.

If those are still the facts, I stick by my judgment. Andrew Sullivan, however, is less tolerant, arguing that Al-Jazeera is "an adjunct to Islamo-fascism."

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