By Wes Vernon
Are the U.S. media being courted by those who hate America? Or is an honest attempt at “international understanding” at hand?
The Arab Thought Foundation, which has strong financial connections to Saudi Arabia, is convening a conference in early December that is advertised as being designed to “enhance interaction between Arab and international media organizations and bridge the gap between them.” It is an invitation-only meeting in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, one of only three nations, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Its website informs us that “[t]op journalists and media executives from around the world will join their Arab colleagues at the invitational gathering” where “[d]elegates will discuss changes in the Arab world, build relationships, validate assumptions, develop a deeper understanding of the region, and make sure they are ‘Getting it Right.'”
Advertised speakers include Karen Elliott House, publisher of the Wall Street Journal; David Ignatius of the Washington Post; Ed Bradley of CBS and 60 Minutes; Barbara Slavin of USA Today; Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service; Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News; and Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time magazine. “Proud Sponsors” include Reader’s Digest, CNBC, and Al-Arabiya television.
A conference seminar, “Chasing Bin Laden’s Truth,” features Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoogi, who has interviewed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden several times.
The conference program also features a “spotlight” on Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, described as “one of the world’s most influential investors.” That is certainly the case. He has just accumulated a significant financial interest in a major American medium that is trusted by conservatives?News Corporation, parent of Fox News Channel.
Al-Waleed is the same Saudi prince whose $10 million donation for the Twin Towers fund was returned when he blamed U.S. policy in the Middle East for the 9/11 attacks.
Bakr Mohammad Bin Laden, general director of the Bin Laden Group in Saudi Arabia, a construction company based in Saudi Arabia, is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Arab Thought Foundation.
Despite the popular notion that Osama bin Laden is the black sheep of the family, the bin Laden Group, three Saudi princes and the government of Sudan have been sued by 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism for allegedly bankrolling al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
The Al-Arabiya channel is not as well known as Al-Jazeera but it also has a notorious reputation. It was ordered out of Baghdad in 2003 by the post-Saddam government. The new authorities accused it of inciting violence against innocent citizens and American military personnel. At the time, Jalal Talabani, then Council President in Baghdad, said, “Al-Arabiya incites murder because it’s calling for killings through [what was purported to be] the voice of Saddam Hussein.”
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher defended ousting Al-Arabiya, saying the aim was “to avoid a situation where these media are used as a channel for incitement, for inflammatory statements, and for statements and actions that harm the security of the people who live and work in Baghdad, including Iraqi citizens themselves.”
On July 2, 2005, Al-Arabiya TV aired a sympathetic report about the movement of “martyrdom seekers” in Iran preparing to attack the U.S. because of the war in Iraq. The Al-Arabiya reporter said, “40,000 time bombs in Iran?this is the number of volunteers so far, and the registration is still open. There is no distinction between men and women, Sunnis or Shiites. ‘We all sacrifice for the sake of Islam,’ they chant. This is the movement of martyrdom seekers, whose goals and organizational structure are still unclear. They refused to give further details, but did not conceal their determination to sacrifice their lives. The reason?what America has done in the holy places of Najaf and Karbala.”
Another Al-Arabiya report on “martyrdom” aired on July 22, 2005, and showed the son of a suicide bomber who watched film of his father blowing himself up in a car loaded with explosives. “Of course, I miss him and remember his words,” the son said. “Sometimes it saddens me, but I love to watch him.”
Clash Of Civilizations
When the Cold War ended, centuries-old religious hatreds returned to the forefront. 9/11 cemented them to the front burner, likely for decades to come. There are terrorists in the Muslim world seething with hatred for all Americans. This war, unlike any other we have confronted, presents us with an enemy that is everywhere and nowhere. The media are a key battleground.
It is a war largely without nation-state soldiers in uniforms. To add to the confusion, our enemy has skillfully blurred the lines between bloodthirsty murderers and legitimately religious people. Thus, the pressure for “tolerance” that often fails to distinguish the former from the latter.
On many fronts, there appear to be concerted efforts to mold the U.S. media so as to give Americans a view of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is slanted toward the Muslim side in the great divides of today’s world.
What raises alarm bells, of course, is that this can compromise the nation’s safety and security in the War on Terror. Psychological warfare has played a big part in conflicts throughout history. Public opinion plays a major role in a nation’s will to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve victory. In this case, we are talking about possibly giving an advantage to those who want to kill Americans. There is already much complacency out there in this war. We do not need more of it.
The Fox News Connection
Billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, the world’s fifth richest man (as listed by Forbes magazine), now owns 5.46% of the voting shares of NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire that includes Fox News Channel. The business media?including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the rest?portray this as an act of the Prince’s friendship with Murdoch, and an effort to help the media mogul fight off a hostile takeover attempt by John Malone’s Liberty Media, which has acquired 18%. That is second only to Murdoch’s 30% share. Fidelity Management and Research comes in third at 5.8%.
To the casual observer, 5.46% may be small change. Not so. There is potential clout in that 5.46%, especially since it is ostensibly meant to bail Murdoch out of a jam. Moreover, in most of my years at CBS, there was never any doubt that the “big boss” was the legendary William S. Paley. And his stake in what was then the nation’s largest media company (the “Tiffany network”) was a mere 8%. The rest included banks, insurance companies and others whose interests were not “hands on” and would not challenge Paley’s supremacy.
One might say that the Prince’s “clout” can be for the good. What if he is one of the “good guys” of the Arab world? So let’s take a look at his comfort level with our War on Terror.
Insult To America
Following 9/11, at a memorial service, this same Saudi prince presented then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with a check for $10 million for relief efforts. Everyone was mindful of the fact that 15 out of the 19 terrorist hijackers were Saudis.
Several days later, families of the victims of the murderous attacks learned there was a catch: Prince al-Waleed issued a statement saying the attacks were America’s fault for its support of Israel. At which point Mayor Giuliani returned the check and said his city would not be bribed into accepting the “Blame America First” game.
“There is no moral equivalent for this attack,” America’s mayor declared. “The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification when they slaughtered…innocent people?Not only are those statements wrong, they are part of the problem.”
While denouncing the 9/11 attacks, Prince al-Waleed has castigated U.S. support for Israel in other venues.
On CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Prince al-Waleed told Ed Bradley (listed as an attendee at the UAE conference) that Saudi Arabia was a country with “no problems.” Sure, the country had “these bombs here and there, but they were all related to a certain subject.”
That prompted Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy to remark that the “certain subject” deserves more attention from the American media, not less.” That problem was defined by Gaffney (an alumnus of the Reagan Pentagon): “The Kingdom is beginning to experience what its largesse and Wahhabi [radical Islamist] ideology have visited upon the rest of the world for decades: Islamofascist terror.”
“The Wahhabis are [America’s] enemies,” former CIA Director James Woolsey told AIM. “The Wahhabis hate us and everything we stand for.”
He recalled that earlier this year, some 20 Wahhabi clerics, “including some of the leading clerics in leading positions in the universities…in Saudi Arabia,” issued a “Fatwah” calling on young Islamic men to go to Iraq, and become suicide bombers. Indeed, “depending on which numbers you use, something between slightly over half and around three-quarters of suicide bombers in Iraq are in fact Saudis,” Woolsey told us.
The U.S. complained about it to the Saudi government, “and so a few weeks after it happened, the Saudi government issued retractions. But they were sort of interesting in their form,” according to the ex-CIA boss. “Two individuals issued them, and only two?the Saudi ambassador in London and the Saudi ambassador here in the United States. And they issued those retractions only in English.” In short, Woolsey says, “those retractions essentially were non-retractions.” For the Arabic-speaking world, “there was no retraction.”
Media watchers note that the Murdoch/al-Waleed deal may do more than merely strengthen Murdoch’s defenses against Malone. NewsCorp owns not only Fox News but also the New York Post and Boston Herald (two of the very few conservative daily newspapers in the country), and The Weekly Standard?a ten-year old conservative magazine.
Conservative activist Bill Murray points out to AIM that when interests owned by or otherwise beholden to Middle Eastern governments “such as Saudi Arabia,” became the biggest advertisers on CNN (whose on-air product differs from the CNN cable channel seen here in the United States), “their news reporting slanted against Israel to the point of being anti-Semitic, and they began to strongly favor the Islamic world,” not an insignificant matter post-911.
Murray, chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition (RFC), frequently travels overseas, and in order to get cheap airline tickets, he overnights in such places as Warsaw, Frankfurt, and Madrid, and watches CNN International in hotel rooms. Its largest advertisers included Orascom, Telecom, Qatar Airways, Lebanon Tourism, Emeritus Airlines, Kuwait Fund, OPEC, Qatar Foundation, and Saudi Airlines, to name a few he says are typical. Murray says the advertising base of CNN International is “primarily Islamic money.”
The bias on the overseas CNN channel was so over the top that the Israelis threatened to pull the plug on CNN in Israel, at which point the propaganda became more subtle.
The Prince al-Waleed involvement with the company that owns Fox, the N.Y. Post and The Weekly Standard is even more troubling. Gaffney, Murray and others point out that part of the deal concerns Rotana Audio Visual Company, a media firm which owns and operates several TV stations in the Middle East and owns “a huge library of Arabic movies and music,” as Murray informs AIM. These propaganda outlets “contain vicious anti-Semitism and anti-American views.” Most of its material is “entertainment,” but of course, we need look no further than our own Hollywood to understand that entertainment can carry a powerful political or geopolitical message.
Part of the Saudi/NewsCorp investment arrangement will allow Rotana to broadcast directly into the U.S. market on DirecTV, which is a subsidiary of NewsCorp. That means “fanatical [radical Islamist] propaganda” may be broadcast into American homes, says RFC’s Murray.
The Rotana connection is not emphasized in public statements about the deal. But it has potential to loom large in the future. The Prince is firmly ensconced at NewsCorp, and has said that if necessary, he will raise his stake in the company so as to fulfill his promise and “aggressively defend” Murdoch’s control.
The Prince came to the rescue after Murdoch’s months-long negotiations with Malone (of Liberty Media) collapsed without agreement. It appears that Malone’s interest in seeking a bigger say and ultimate control of the company is strictly business. The same can be said for Murdoch.
It is widely assumed Murdoch himself is a conservative because of the editorial policies at his newspapers and the fact that Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” format accords the conservative side a respectable hearing. But the media tycoon has given gobs of money to Democrats (including Al Gore in 2000). The belief among those who watch the media closely is that Murdoch is simply a smart CEO who has figured out something that other media legends have missed?conservatism sells. It’s as simple as that. Conservatives, while thankful for one TV network that gives them a break, should not assume Murdoch is one of them.
What are the odds that Islamofascist propaganda (not to be confused with peaceful Muslims) will seep into the American mainstream as a result of this?
The Looming Danger
Former CIA Director Woolsey puts it this way: “I feel very differently about individuals and institutions in democracies than those in authoritarian governments or dictatorships. So I was most unhappy with China’s [ultimately failed] effort to take over an American oil company?I feel sort of the same way about [a Saudi Prince’s] major ownership in American media.” The fact that Saudi Arabia is “a very authoritarian and totalitarian government, it seems to me it raises a very substantial question” about the Prince’s stake.
NewsCorp spokesman Andrew Butcher says Prince al-Waleed “has been a longtime strong supporter of Mr. Murdoch” going back to the days “before Fox News,” which began operations in 1996. Further, he says the Prince merely “swapped out of one class share to another.”
As for the idea that Rotana’s programming would be beamed “unfiltered” to DirecTV, here’s that part of the interview:
Butcher: I would think the problem would be with filtering anyone’s broadcasts rather than leaving them unfiltered. I thought this was America.
AIM: Well, yes, but Rotana has what has been described as vicious anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian…”
Butcher: That would be a question for DirecTV. We don’t actually own DirecTV, we have 34% of it so…”
AIM: Well, as I said, Bill Paley owned only 8% of CBS.”
Butcher: The undisputed controller of NewsCorp is Mr. Murdoch. He has 30% of the vote [in NewsCorp], so I’m not disagreeing with you about DirecTV, but they have a separate corporate affairs staff.
Later in the interview, Butcher presented this challenge to us: “If you ever see examples where you think that there may be [Wahhabi] influence [at Fox News], we would be very happy to address them.”
Woolsey believes if any blatant anti-American propaganda were to show up on Fox News, the American people would create a firestorm of protest. However, propaganda takes many forms. It need not be blatant. Quite often it can involve not what is left in, but what is left out. The latter is less likely to be detected by the casual media observer.
RFC’s Murray says with a Saudi Prince “on the Board of directors” and “playing golf with Murdoch,” the relevant question is whether we can expect that “people like [Bill] O’Reilly and [Sean] Hannity, who have been critical of Islamists, are going to be taken to one side” and told to “tone it down a little.”
The idea that Prince al-Waleed’s thinking could show up, for example, in the pages of the New York Post, which is conservative and emphatically pro-Israel, seems unlikely. But no newspaper’s editorial policy is forever. The Post was actually left-wing liberal when the late Dorothy Schiff owned it. It can flip again. Henry Jarvis Davis, the original owner of the New York Times, would likely be very unhappy with today’s slant under the 109-year-old domination of that paper by the Ochs/Sulzberger family. Conservative publishers such as Colonel Robert R. McCormick (the Chicago Tribune) and previous generations of the Chandler family (the Los Angeles Times) would be appalled if they saw their papers today.
Airtime For A Kennedy
Those who regarded Fox News Channel as a reliable source of conservative programming were stunned when it aired a one-sided November 13 program on global warming, “The Heat is On,” that featured environmentalist and Democratic Party activist Robert Kennedy, Jr. as a “special correspondent.” Kennedy calls Bush “the most corrupt and immoral President that we have had in American history” and says that Bush policies spawned Hurricane Katrina. He implies that the Bush Administration is fascist or Nazi-like.
Steven Milloy, publisher of junkscience.com, said that “almost no effort was made to qualify, balance and challenge the wild assertions of manmade catastrophic global warming. Even more disappointing was the program’s effort to dismiss, diminish and denigrate those who question global warming alarmism.” Climatologist Pat Michaels said the show was “more one-sided than anything I’ve seen in the entire sad history of climate change journalism.”
What You Can Do
Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer & broadcast journalist.