Last week, Al-Jazeera launched its American cable news channel. For all of the debates concerning the veracity of the channel, the launch itself did not garner as many viewers as one would think. Only five of the 10 major cable and satellite providers chose to carry the channel, and this Guardian article does a good job of explaining how the channel's lofty hopes stack up against the realities of its launch. Some individuals on the right have stated that the inclusion of Al-Jazeera into the mainstream news media will further allow Islamic law to force its way into U.S. culture, conferences, and court rooms. Al-Jazeera has been trying for some time to break into the U.S. market but has previously drawn criticism and allegations of bias after the Bush administration vilified the network for broadcasting Osama bin Laden videos.
Despite the criticisms, Al-Jazeera America is here — and not all U.S. citizens are against it. In fact, there are quite a few prominent Americans who have enthusiastically supported the network, even in Congress and in both political parties. Former U.S. Representative Mike Castle (R-Del.) and several others have played integral roles to help Al-Jazeera America become a reality.
Castle left the Senate in 2011 and currently works at the law firm DLA Piper. Along with GOP congressional staffers Mark Paoletta and Laurie Purporo, Castle has worked as a lobbyist on behalf of Al-Jazeera America, which initially hired 11 total lobbyists in the first quarter of 2013 and more in the second quarter. For the first six months of 2013, Al-Jazeera paid lobbying firms at least $240,000, including $220,00 that went directly to DLA Piper. It is unclear what the lobbying team discussed with members of Congress on the Hill, as the firm's filings vaguely describe “informational communications regarding client’s cable television channel.”
Regardless of what transpired between the lobbyists and lawmakers on the Hill, it is evident that the team was able to garner enough domestic support to bring the foreign news channel to the U.S. on the regular. And despite skepticism from those who opposed the channel's expansion, the new Al Jazeera America website displays the heading, “Unbiased, Fact-Based, In-Depth News.” It is interesting to consider this tagline, because it states a clear intention to shed the perception that has plagued Al-Jazeera in the past — that it has an anti-American bias.
Coverage of the channel's launch focused heavily on climate change, a topic that has not seen enough adequate news coverage in the U.S. According to Media Matters for America, “Al Jazeera America’s 30 minutes of climate coverage (about 24 minutes not including commercial breaks) represented nearly half of what was seen on all network nightly news programs in 2012, and more than what was featured by CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront and Anderson Cooper 360 and Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity combined in the past four and a half months.” Perhaps Al-Jazeera was attempting to make a statement about its perceptions of the U.S., or perhaps the Qatar-based news channel was paying homage to its own domestic carbon footprint, deemed the world’s largest per capita.
The phrase “al-jazeera” literally means “the island,” and was intended to draw attention to the isolated Arab Peninsula. Now that it will enter plenty of U.S. living rooms, perhaps the network's literal and figurative isolation will begin to fade on both sides of the political aisle.