Thursday, January 3, 2013

After Gore gives up on Current TV, will Al Jazeera finally make it in the U.S.?

Posted by on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 at 10:26 AM

AlGore.jpg
Ok, quick: What channel is Current TV on?

Some of you might be able to answer that, but most of you won't. Though the cable channel is on both Brighthouse and Verizon in the Tampa Bay area, its ratings here and throughout the country have been relatively anemic, even after all the buzz when Al Gore hired Keith Olbermann to be Current's signature anchor in early 2011.

Olbermann was sacked by Gore last March, and with it went any viable chance that the network could make a go of it as an even more liberal alternative to MSNBC.

Now comes word that Current has been sold to Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite news service that was created in 1996, but became familiar to Americans after the 9/11 attacks, especially after then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called their reporting "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."

But as the most-widely watched network in the Middle East, even Rummy couldn't avoid its power when he published his memoir in 2011, going on Al Jazeera in what turned into a highly contentious interview.

Rumsfeld refused to yield to Abderrahim Foukara's not-so-controversial statement that the U.S. went to war in Iraq with too few troops, but you could watch the debate play out there.

In any event, with events in the Middle East as relevant as ever to what's happening in the world, this is the biggest breakthrough for Al Jazeera in the states since its creation (though Time-Warner Cable immediately announced after the sale went through that they would now drop the channel).

Current was wired into 40 million televisions in this country. Whether there's a substantial audience for international news in the U.S. is always a dubious proposition (except for those breaking news stories where Americans still instinctively still go to CNN). But come on, you have to believe the odds are good that the ratings will be higher (the Arab-American Institute says that there are at least 1.9 million Americans of Arab descent living in the U.S.).

In a statement, Al Gore said, "Current Media was built based on a few key goals: To give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling. Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us."

(Incidentally, if you are eager to begin watching Al Jazeera English, Current is channel 128 on Bright House and 192 on Verizon.)

(UPDATE: Eric Deggans reports that Bright House has already declared they won't carry Al Jazeera, and Verizon is "reviewing" whether they'll do so).

Meanwhile, on the "whatever happened to Keith Olbermann" watch, Forbes reported in October that the voluble personality was pitching his services to a wide array of networks, some of whom don't even cover news.

He's also been writing posts on a blog on MLB.com's website called Baseball Nerd.

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