And all the fuss over Al Jazeera America is what, exactly?
First off, whatever special cable package my gym subscribes to only has a few generic channels to choose from: ESPN, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CNBC and TNT are the only ones I’ve ever seen available. I often hear people complaining that a game on Fox Sports One isn’t on, or that they can’t watch some soap opera on NBC or CBS while doing the stair-master at lunch. I can’t say as I’ve ever hear anyone say, “Why can’t we get Al Jazeera America in this place?” Which makes it surprising as well that my fellow gym rats have tuned into the network now that it is available.
What is more surprising, however, is just how dull and bland and exactly like all of its competitors it is.
For the past few months, I’ve heard so many things about Al Jazeera America, all of it verging on the hyperbolic. Critics say that it is a cancer trying to destroy America from within. Just two weeks ago, Glenn Beck announced that the cable news network was “the voice of the enemy.” Many conservatives insinuate that the American citizens Al Jazeera America employs or is connected with are somehow traitors; this includes a former U.S. Vice President. Fox News’s Senior VP of News went so far as to suggest that Hilary Clinton’s mere mention of the network was somehow a worked against the safety of the American people.
Others have been quick to heap high praise on the fledgling network. The Columbia Journalism Review compared it’s depth of coverage to NPR. Similar kudos have come from no less than the Washington Post and The Guardian.
After having watched some of Al Jazeera America this week, I have to say that it’s hard to believe that those heaping scorn or praise on the network hadn’t made up their mind what they were going to think of it long before it went to air. For myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect: Would Al Jazeera America be a reasoned anti-establishment point of view? Would it have an outsider’s view from which to better gauge our progress as a nation and a culture? Would it be a subversive voice looking to undermine U.S. interests?
As it turns out, it’s none of those things – or at least, it’s no more those things than every other cable news network. As best I can tell from my (admittedly sporadic) viewing, Al Jazeera America covers the exact same stories in the exact same fashion as everyone else it competes against. It even seems to interview the same cable-news-rotating experts I see everywhere else. In fact, here are the sole two differences I can suss out between Al Jazeera America’s news shows and everyone else’s:
1. The graphics are simpler and, because of this, better.
2. Al Jazeera America does not make its female on-air employees dye their hair blonde.
And that’s pretty much it. Want to see over-produced graphics and obvious bottle blonds? Well, let me show you what we have in your size in a nice Fox News and CNN. Oh, you say you prefer your female journalists to be very attractive brunettes? Well then, you really need to test drive our new Al Jazeera America.
It’s a shame that the first cable news network that really seemed to have promise to be something new, different, and – just maybe – better than the rest of the dreck currently available is just as bland, focus-group tested and awful as all the rest.