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August 21, 2013

Al Jazeera America Debut Featuring Stephen Walt Casts Doubt Over Network’s Objectivity

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Stephen Walt (right) appears on Al Jazeera America

August 20 marked the much anticipated premiere of Al Jazeera America, the Qatari government-backed 24-hour news broadcaster that has sought to make greater inroads in the American market in recent years. Although the network has striven to assure the public that it will present the news in an objective manner, Al Jazeera America’s debut news segment cast immediate doubt over its impartiality.

Their program on Tuesday featured an interview with anti-Israel professor and author Stephen Walt discussing the turmoil in Egypt. Al Jazeera’s choice of Walt as its first guest raises early questions regarding the network’s claimed intention to provide the American public stories that are “impartial, accurate and comprehensive.” 

Stephen Walt, an International Affairs Professor at the Kennedy School of Government, is best known for his anti-Israel position as described in his 2007 book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” co-authored with John Mearsheimer. Walt is a proponent of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has several times accused the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. of exercising excessive power to stifle criticism of Israel.

Prior to the launch of Al Jazeera America, the network received considerable praise from journalists, such as Soledad O’Brien and John Seigenthaler, who were assured that the new station would focus more on American issues and less on opinions and international news. According to Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera America’s acting chief executive, “Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news.” 

Since the Qatar-based network announced the creation of Al Jazeera America in early 2013, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed its ongoing concerns about the pan-Arab satellite network’s “troubling record” of providing a platform to all manner of virulent anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic extremists. Al Jazeera America’s decision to feature Walt on its inaugural broadcast was not an auspicious beginning.

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