Al Jazeera English Finds Love From White House

By Alex Weprin Comment

Al Jazeera English may still be struggling to gain wider distribution in the U.S., but it is still making headway in the “hearts and minds” front. As Politico reports, the Obama White House has taken a decidedly different approach to the Qatar-based cable news channel than the previous administration did:

“They are a really important media entity, and we have a really great relationship with them,” said Dana Shell Smith, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for international media engagement, who speaks Arabic and has frequently appeared on the channel. “This administration has empowered those of us who actually do the communicating to be in a close relationship with Al-Jazeera. They understand that the relationship can’t consist of complaining to each other about the differences we have.”

In the offhand comments President Obama made to donors last week that were caught by CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller, the President talked at some length about Al Jazeera, and Emir of Qatar, who essentially controls the channel:

“The emir of Qatar come by the Oval Office today, and he owns Al-Jazeera basically,” Obama said in remarks recorded by CBS News’s Mark Knoller. “Pretty influential guy. He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform. You’re seeing it on Al-Jazeera.”