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August 21, 2013 2

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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