Why Al Jazeera is Important For the American News Media
Disclaimer: this is republished from an answer I gave on Quora here, the question being “Why is Al Jazeera important for Westerners?” Parts of the text have been edited to better fit this blog. Enjoy!
What I’ve learned from watching AJE: they have a strong focus on what some would say would be “pure”/”true” journalism and a strong disregard for punditry, something America (and perhaps the West as a whole) might need.
During the summer before eighth grade, I took a math course at a local middle school. I remember my teacher pretty well — a burly man in his early 40s, formerly of the USAF, who had ambitions to be a part of a shuttle mission before he died. In the middle of his lectures, he had a penchant for giving us a “brain break” and telling us of his time serving in Afghanistan and (for a short time) in Qatar (at
My takeaway from this after all these years: I think this was the case for most people — those serving in the armed forces perceived Al Jazeera to be a Fox News-esque media arm in the Middle East that espoused Islamic extremism and they did their best to “warn” others of the channel’s apparent evil. That being the case for the Arabic Al Jazeera channel, I don’t know. What I do know is that this bias heavily carried over to the American people, giving AJ a sort of lasting, maligned image.
As I became more acquainted with the internet (again, I was considerably young), I started looking into matters like this more independently. Stumbling across a feed of AJE on Livestream one day, my immediate reaction was “Well, shit, this is different.” The first piece of news I saw from AJE was a piece on the aftermath of the Second Intifada a few years after it occurred. Relying on preconceived notions, I was expecting a heavily skewed report on the “struggle and despair of the Palestinian people”, but I was surprised to see nothing of that sort. Zero rhetoric, little if any bias. There was a ground reporter in Gaza, talking to locals, showing the damage and rubble but also talking about the myths about the supposed treachery of the Israeli army during the incident. They later moved to a reporter in Tel Aviv, asking for any comments on the Intifada or Palestine in general from passersby. They talked to Jews, Druze, Christians (among others). When watching it, I didn’t feel as if I was being pressurized to think in a specific groove as I usually do when watching traditional news outlets in the states — I just felt as if AJE was giving me, as the viewer, what they felt was informative and nothing more or less. It was just pure news, a simple concept in retrospect but baffling at the time. I was used to seeing stories influenced by rhetoric and molded for a certain audience or to evoke a certain response from the viewer. I think that’s what makes AJE so important. American media has been plagued with the agenda of large corporations or the dumbing down of coverage for profit that the concept of what’s “newsworthy” has been heavily skewed. People sometimes rely on the words of a pundit to get informed, and we all know how toxic that can be. News is about digging deep into important matters and presenting the pure truth, no matter what it might be — no nonsense, no strings-attached coverage of “ground-breaking” issues. It seems as if American media has lost sight of that, at the cost of the viewer. As Van Kilmer puts it:
"If you look up the definition of news in the dictionary, it isn’t what you watch on TV."
To me, AJE has proved itself to be an able provider of news in the truest sense after watching it for the past few years — coverage of important events that have a possible direct or indirect effect on me, without the influence of ardent corporatism or nationalism.
As a young kid who knew no better, I was introduced to AJ as an evil menace out to disparage America; existing domestic news outlets reinforced that notion to me. As I grasped to the ability to investigate things for myself, I discovered that things were not only not that bad, but much better than I expected. Based on the state of America’s news outlets, a new incoming news organization that preaches the philosophies of “If it’s newsworthy, it gets on air, whether it’s Bush or Bin Laden” and “Every angle, every side” bodes well with me.