Blaming and (Killing)
the Messenger

A Wikileak on the US and Al-Jazeera

Kathleen Christison
January 31, 2011

The United States has had it in for al-Jazeera at least since 2000, when the
Qatar-based news network began reporting on Israel’s harsh treatment of
Palestinians during the intifada and, a year later, covered the start of
U.S. war-making in the Middle East, revealing to the Arab world a graphic
picture of U.S. and Israeli brutality. During the Iraq war, U.S. planes bombed
the al-Jazeera station in Baghdad and killed one of its correspondents,
in what clearly appeared to be an attempt to silence the network.
CounterPunch can show, through a Wikileaks-released cable from the U.S.
embassy in Doha, Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, that U.S. officials were
still ragging the network in February 2009 in the wake of Israel’s three-week
assault on Gaza, because, alone of news networks the world over, al-Jazeera
had actually shown what was happening on the ground to Gazan civilians
besieged by an unrelenting Israeli air, artillery, and ground attack.

The U.S. ambassador’s scolding of al-Jazeera is particularly relevant today
in view of the network’s running coverage of the popular uprising in Egypt
against U.S. ally Husni Mubarak. Mubarak himself has tried to shut down
the network, and one can assume that U.S. officials, undecided just how to
respond to this crisis and which side to support, are at least biting their
fingernails over what to do about this latest instance of al-Jazeera’s honest
. There is no way to hide this uprising, even with press censorship,
and U.S. networks are also reporting non-stop, but al-Jazeera is the
network watched throughout the Arab world, and it is easy to imagine U.S.
policymakers ruing the fact that it is once again exposing the U.S. alliance
with dictatorships and oppression of Arabs.

Accordig to the cable from Doha, on February 10, 2009, three weeks after the
Gaza assault ended, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Lebaron arranged a meeting
with al-Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, to express concern that
the network’s reporting from Gaza was harming the U.S. image “in the Arab
.” Lebaron’s contorted reasoning went as follows: al-Jazeera’s
coverage “took viewers’ emotions and then raised them to a higher level
through its coverage.” Then Qatar’s ruling royal family, which provides
funding to the network, would point to anger on the Arab street as “a call
to action,” which Lebaron contended created a vicious circle leading to
“more graphic coverage, more emotion, more demonstrations, and then
more calls to action” — as if the emotion-raising images from Gaza that
started this circle revolving were somehow not real and not the basis of the
story. There would obviously have been no emotion and no demonstrations
if Israel had not launched the assault in the first place (using U.S. arms).

Lebaron simply did not like the fact that al-Jazeera had shown what was
happening in Gaza. With jaw-dropping illogic, he complained that al-Jazeera
provided no balance in its reporting because on one side it showed Israeli
talking heads, while “on the other side of the scale, you are broadcasting
graphic images of dead children and urban damage from modern warfare.”
Lebaron was not convinced by Khanfar’s point that, even though al-Jazeera
had attempted to provide both perspectives by running reports in every
news bulletin from correspondents in Israel as well as in Gaza, it was still
impossible to “balance” coverage because it was Gazans who were being
killed and Israelis who were talking.

In answer to Lebaron’s argument about the vicious circle, Khanfar noted
that demonstrations in other sizable Muslim countries such as Turkey and
Indonesia had also been very large, despite the fact that there was not a
big market for al-Jazeera in these countries. But Lebaron thought this
argument “extraneous.”

It is of course in the nature of any war-making country to wish no one were
looking over its shoulder reporting on the atrocities it and its allies are
committing. U.S. policymakers and the U.S. media have long regarded
al-Jazeera’s television coverage of Israeli and U.S. actions as “incitement”
— as if al-Jazeera rather than we and the Israelis were the perpetrator, as
if al-Jazeera rather than U.S. and Israeli actions were the cause of
anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment among Arabs. This cable is one of
the most blatant examples of this effort to manage the news, avoid
responsibility, and blame the messenger.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and the author of
several books on the Palestinian situation, including Perceptions of Palestine
and, most recently, Palestine in Pieces, co-authored with her late husband
Bill Christison. She can be reached at
[email protected]