Are you sick of “news” the way it is being presented today on American television – both broadcast and cable TV? What if there was an alternative, one that would be more hard news and less smoke and mirrors? The new Al Jazeera America debuts today, and it will be available in approximately 48 million households (mine is not one of them). Will Americans give the channel a chance? They should if they have open minds and care anything about freedom of speech.
When some Americans think of Al Jazeera, the first thing that they associate with it is the 9/11 attacks, especially with the idea that terrorists seemed to have access to the network at that time. Part of the problem then lies in a perception that AJAM is anti-American, but if you check out the web link above, you can see that is far from the truth.
One look at the website offers a glimpse of a “hard” news site, one that provides a great deal of American news (it is, after all, Al Jazeera America), but it also has links for worldwide news. If you are more interested in local stuff, perhaps NY1 or ABC’s Channel 7 here in New York are more your speed, but anyone who has watched these channels long enough can tell that it is mostly “soft” news – meaning local stories with very little impact.
I for one am pretty tired of American news channels. I am sure if the late great Edward R. Murrow came down today and saw what was happening on network and cable news, he wouldn’t believe how far the fine level of reporting he established had fallen. I doubt he would be able to find enough cigarettes to get him through an hour of Hannity or Piers Morgan for that matter, and I am sure Erin Burnett, Greta Van Sustern, Bill O’Reilly, and the rest would leave him hoping for the fast return of J. Fred Muggs of Today Show fame.
No, television news has become a victim to the same thing that every other kind of programming has – it is more concerned with “entertainment” than being informative. We get the ubiquitously lovely female anchor and the handsome male, paired together with as much chemistry as a sock puppet and Carlos Danger. They can smile megawatt smiles, engage in lighthearted banter (it seems “banter” is key to establishing some kind of relationship with one another and the viewers), and stare at the teleprompter as if they have Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized brains in their pretty little heads. Entertainment factor = 100%; substance = 0%.
Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who originally seemed to be cut from the Walter Cronkite or Murrow mold, disappoints again and again, especially in his New Year’s Eve gig with Kathy Griffin. If ever there were someone who should not be on a news channel, it is Ms. Griffin (with antics that are not even appropriate for the midnight hour). Sure, she is funny; everyone tunes in to see her go after Mr. Cooper’s “junk,” but there is nothing newsworthy about it. Why not put something like this on an entertainment show? The answer is because news is no longer about news but about getting the biggest audience, which means more entertaining and less informing.
So along comes upstart Al Jazeera, and everyone will have a reason not to like it – even before they have watched one minute of programming. My feeling is that you need to watch something in order to critique it. I feel as if those cable providers who have not given AJAM a chance (Time Warmer and Cablevision here in New York) are doing us all a disservice. Why wouldn’t they allow this station to be on the air? One could argue it is the same reason why BBC America is so hard to find as well – perhaps they are afraid of the competition.
In a recent article in The Washington Post AJAM “acting chief executive, Ehab Al Shihabi, said in a conference call last week that the new station will have ‘less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings’ than other channels.” I seriously doubt that Ms. Griffin will be darkening the station’s West 34th Street doorway here in New York City, and I think you will have to wait a long time for any Kardashian, Bynes, or Lohan pieces.
I think it is about time that news stations and programs got back to being about “hard” news. We also should find it necessary and compelling to see what is happening in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. People watching the news here probably have no clue about what is happening in the Sudan, Yemen, or Malaysia. A channel that will provide stories about America but also these other places is very much needed in our country right now.
If we can take Mr. Shihabi at his word, we need less opinion in our news. O’Reilly, Hannity, Morgan, and company give too much of their take on the news instead of just presenting it to us. I would like that more removed approach, which I think most Americans have not come to expect or demand because they have gone so many years without a pure news product in this country.
There is a place for editorials and opinions, but that should be a separate and distinct section of the news. Right now the way things are, entire programs are opinion pieces – and very biased ones at that. I have come to the point where I change the channels because I cannot stand seeing “news” being reduced to this chattering amongst talking airheads.
So I am willing to give Al Jazeera America a chance, but I cannot get it at this time. I have already gone on their website and requested service from my cable company (AJAM provides a handy link for you to type in your zip code to see if you can access it in your area). While I cannot watch the channel as of now, I am going to hit their website at least once a day.
If AJAM is true to what it proposes to do, then it will be a refreshing alternative to CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and just about every local news station. Complain to your cable company, and while you are at it, ask for BBC America as well. Viewers of America unite; we have nothing to lose but the cable and network news chains that have been strangling us for years.
Photo credits: AJAM newspaper ad-aol.com; j. fred muggs- people.nwvn.com; AJAM offices-getty images