Roger L. Simon

Europe travel advisory: Al Jazeera better than CNN

It’s probably no surprise to readers of this blog that no hotel we have stayed on our European vacation has had Fox News. CNN International and BBC World have been the exclusive English language stations, so it’s easy to guess the view of America that was projected – not a lot about the Tea Party movement but endless blather about how Teddy Kennedy was the greatest statesman since Cicero and thank various deities that massive health care reform in the backward USA will soon be enacted in his memory. Nauseating, of course, but you watch because it’s the only thing on. Call it MA (Masochism Abroad).

And then it seemed to get worse. We checked into the Hotel Villa Malaspina in a southern suburb of Verona and found neither CNN, nor the BBC on our room TV. No English-language channel at all, only something listed as “ALLJAZZ,” which I took to be easy listening and dismissed. Only accidentally surfacing for a soccer match did I discover it was Al Jazeera in English! At first I was appalled that the only English- language channel in an Italian hotel would be Al Jazeera, but, MA that I am, I sprawled out on the bed and watched. (It was also 34 degrees c. outside and the room was air conditioned.)

I expected the worst, of course, but was soon astonished. Except for those stories when the “I”-word was prominent (you know, that little country south of Lebanon), Al Jazeera was clearly better, more honest, more informative and more entertaining than CNN International or the BBC. And kinder to the US. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Also, since much of the news they reported was coming from the Middle East, they seemed better informed about such things as the death of the Iraqi Shiite leader Hakim (they referred to Saddam Hussein flatly as a fascist, something you rarely hear on CNN) and the Al Qaeda suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia (they had nothing but withering contempt for Al Qaeda – no pussy-footing “insurgent” rhetoric for them).

Now I admit I don’t listen to Al Jazeera at home. And I am undoubtedly influenced by my disgust for CNN and the BBC. But still, I am reconsidering my hotel selection criteria. For here on in, I suspect I will see “Al Jazeera available” as a plus – or at least neutral.