“Meet Al Jazeera America,” Eliana Johnson of NRO proffers, and while that’s not an offer I’d ordinarily entertain — I zoom past the channel as fast as possible when I see it appear on my DirecTV guide — she’s already done the legwork. And it’s not a pretty picture:
AJA gained a foothold in approximately 60 million of the 100 million American households with cable access when it purchased Al Gore’s Current TV in January 2013 for a whopping $500 million. (Though Time Warner, which had carried Current TV, said at the time of the sale that it would drop carriage for AJA, the channel has since struck a deal with the distributor that gives it access to 10 million additional homes and makes it available in key markets like Los Angeles and New York.) The powers that be in Qatar, whose support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has recently raised eyebrows, also bought Gore’s influence, placing him on AJA’s “advisory board.”
All of this produced a lot of excitement among AJA’s employees and media analysts alike.
A week before AJA’s launch, Al Shihabi, the CEO, told the New York Times that viewers would see “a news channel unlike the others.” AJA president Kate O’Brian predicted in a year-end memo to staff that the channel would in time be “the envy of the industry.”
National Press Foundation president Bob Meyers said AJA’s launch would transform the news business. He compared AJA’s entry into the market to the emergence of CNN in 1980, Bloomberg News in 1990, and Politico in 2007, events that fundamentally reshaped the news landscape. Brian Stelter, then at the New York Times, called AJA “the most ambitious American television news venture” since the launch of Fox News in 1996.
Thus far, though, despite its unique focus and all that money, the channel has managed to accomplish just one impressive feat: drawing an even tinier audience than Gore’s Current TV. As of last month, it was averaging approximately 10,000 viewers at any given point during the day. It has been on the air for just seven months, sure, and it’s available in just half the number of homes its competitors are. But that 10,000 statistic is minuscule, especially compared to what AJA’s competitors are logging. In February, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News averaged 272,000, 349,000,and 924,000 viewers a day, respectively.
But it’s not just distribution issues and relative youth that have kept AJA from sparking the media revolution some predicted.
John Podhoretz noted at the start of 2013 when Al Gore tacitly declared his brand of radical environmentalism null and void by cashing out to oil-rich Qatar, their TV network “paid $500 million to get Al Gore as their front man, and that is sinister. That is sinister.”
But arguably even worse, as Johnson write today, “The situation is particularly poignant for Jewish producers” working at Al Jazeera America as a sort of last resort to stay employed in the TV industry:
[S]ome of whom had to choose between unemployment and relatively well-paying work for a channel whose parent network has exhibited virulent anti-Semitism. A cynical joke making the rounds of television Jewry refers to “Jews for Jazeera,” a subtle play, of course, on “Jews for Jesus.”
Like I said, it’s not a pretty picture. But definitely read the whole thing.