A blockbuster Politico story on Al-Jazeera claims that the Republican-oriented lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers (BGR), worked on behalf of Qatar, as well as Al-Jazeera. But Loren Monroe, the spokesman for the firm, is denying it, telling AIM, “We did not represent Al-Jazeera.”
The charge that a prominent lobbying firm represented Al-Jazeera is politically explosive not only because of the high-level Republican connections, but because the “Barbour” in BGR is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate.
Qatar sponsors and funds Al-Jazeera but the government and the channel have tried to create the perception that the network is somehow independent. Generally, Qatar has been regarded by some as friendly to the U.S. while Al-Jazeera was considered an enemy of what the U.S. was trying to accomplish in Iraq and around the Middle East. The channel developed a reputation as “Jihad TV” or “Terror Television” because of its airing of videos from al-Qaeda. One of its correspondents went to prison in Spain as an agent of al-Qaeda.
Politico reporters Keach Hagey and Byron Tau said, “A person familiar with the Qatar contact confirmed to Politico that BGR and Al-Jazeera have a long-standing relationship, and that the network embarked on a PR push during the latter half of the Bush administration.”
This “long-standing relationship” between BGR and Al-Jazeera (and Qatar) became more direct and substantial when Ben Smith’s Politico blog said that the representation of Al-Jazeera was “part of their contract with Qatar in a mid-2000s PR push to rehabilitate the controversial Arab network.”
This seems to be the key and most controversial part: BGR represented Al-Jazeera “as part of their contract with Qatar…” This implies that Al-Jazeera was considered part of the regime, a fact long recognized by critics of the channel.
Although he denied Politico’s allegations, BGR’s Loren Monroe, a principal in the firm’s government affairs department, told AIM that the firm had not demanded a retraction but was considering writing a letter to the editor. Monroe’s bio says that he served in the communications and political operations departments for President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 campaign, was a top fundraising aide to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Finance Department in 1994, and currently serves on the Finance Committee for the Republican Governors Association as well as the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Politico reporter Byron Tau disputed Monroe, telling AIM, “The distinction is in the fact that BGR has a contract with Qatar, not Al-Jazeera—but I have it from a source that BGR had a ‘longstanding relationship’ with Al-Jazeera through that contract. No one from BGR has stepped forward to deny what Politico has reported.”
Monroe’s denial to AIM—and Politico’s decision to stand by the charge, based on an anonymous source—is extremely important because there is no official listing of BGR representing Al-Jazeera. However, there is plenty of evidence that it represented Qatar. Indeed, it is acknowledged on BGR’s own website. A search of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers on the “foreign influence lobbying tracker” maintained by Pro Publica and the Sunlight Foundation turns up contacts on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch on behalf of Qatar. But there is no reference to anything on behalf of Al-Jazeera.
If the firm did represent Al-Jazeera, why wasn’t that work reported to those legal authorities responsible for monitoring lobbying activity in Washington, D.C.? And does the alleged failure to report that work represent a violation of the law?
The Politico story needs on-the-record confirmation or a retraction.
Haley Barbour’s political spokesman Jim Dyke, a Republican operative, took issue with the report in Politico on different grounds. He told Scott Conroy of RealClearPolitics: “Reporting that is wrong or incomplete can leave an incorrect impression which others then follow. Governor Barbour had left the firm and had nothing to do with this or any other client after his departure.”
But this is when the story took another interesting turn. Politico noted that Barbour continued to receive “retirement” payments from the firm that go into a blind trust. Hence, Barbour “didn’t sever his ties to the firm or its clients when he stopped lobbying, and indeed has long made the case that those relationships have made him a stronger governor,” the publication says.
What’s more, Politico reports that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, shows up on the passenger manifests of the Mississippi State plane during reporting for a story on the topic of Hurricane Katrina. The Emir had created the Qatar Katrina Fund, pledging $100 million to rebuild the region, notes Politico’s Smith. “And a Google search turns up this image from 2008 of Barbour with the owner of Al Jazeera,” he adds, reproducing the photo.
This alleged Republican connection to Al-Jazeera, while explosive and newsworthy in its own right, should lead to more scrutiny of the Obama Administration’s increasingly friendly relationship with the terror channel. Politico began that necessary process with its story on the channel’s White House contacts and support. However, it neglected to note that the critics of Al-Jazeera have filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over the channel’s airing by 30 public television stations. It also failed to note that Al-Jazeera has been sued for $1.2 billion for facilitating terrorist attacks on Israel that killed American citizens.
Barbour’s ties to BGR, Qatar, and Al-Jazeera will continue to generate controversy and may have finished his presidential campaign before it began. On the other hand, the Obama Administration remains in power and seems determined to acquiesce in Al-Jazeera’s drive to overturn pro-Western regimes in the Arab world. This is the real story. It is a subject that seems worthy of hearings by Rep. Peter King’s House Homeland Security Committee or Rep. Sue Myrick’s House Subcommittee on Terrorism, HUMINT, Analysis, and Counterintelligence.
Myrick recently held important hearings—ignored by most of the media—on the Muslim Brotherhood. This happens to be the same Islamist organization that is said to control Al-Jazeera.
Who on Capitol Hill has the courage to take on this powerful propaganda channel?