Al Gore didn't sell out to Al Jazeera just because they have the same first name.
There's that half a billion bucks.
Al and a pal, businessman Joel Hyatt, formed Current TV on August 1st of 2005 in an effort to create a viable "Progressive" cable information channel to position against Rupert Murdoch's phenomenally successful FOX News. While becoming available in forty million homes through Gore's considerable political clout, the basic Current mission has been a big flop. That is -- until now.
Riding to the rescue comes Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, Chairman of Qatar Media and, more importantly, Emir of Qatar, Supreme Chancellor and head of the government of Qatar -- a family run business for the last hundred and fifty years. Having overthrown his father in a bloodless 1995 palace coup, the Sheikh enjoys enormous popularity among the 250,000 citizens of this tiny nation geographically squeezed between Iran and Saudi Arabia and it's no wonder. His constituents are the richest people on the face of the earth, pay no taxes, enjoy free education and health care and have moved from transportation by camel to 747s in a single generation.
The Sheikh is paying an estimated $20,000 per "Current" viewer with his five hundred million dollar purchase of the channel, which should make you feel important if you've been watching, but please know he's buying viewing location, not viewer loyalty. He'll be tearing down the old house and erecting something quite new in the neighborhood.
The current lineup and name "Current TV" will shortly disappear, to be replaced by "Al Jazeera America" -- programmed out of New York and Qatar. I know that sounds weird, but this is a changing world -- and to influence future change and stay on top -- we need to be aware.
My own familiarity with Al Jazeera -- "The Island" -- comes about through Fresno Free College Foundation's 50,000 watt KFCF (88.1) which carries both evening news reports and live breaking coverage when appropriate from "Al Jazeera English."
Admittedly quite skeptical at first, I now regard the service as thoroughly professional, impressively produced and journalistically superior to much of what we find ourselves receiving these days from our traditional commercial broadcast networks, squeezing every penny for more profit to the bottom line.
News bureaus have been closed by the dozens and staffers fired by the hundreds as viewers and readers have been short changed by the tens of millions.
To the embarrassment of our culture, the most penetrating foreign reporting is often found in documentaries that run on the financially challenged Public Broadcasting Service, often in the work of young journalists who are forced by circumstance to finance their own projects or rely on the occasional philanthropic grant.
So here comes the Emir with billions to boogie.
Since its creation in November of 1996, Al Jazeera has become one of the most powerful media sources on the globe and is generally credited with being "the engine of the Arab Spring."
Bob Simon conducted an extensive interview with The Emir in an impressive "Sixty Minutes" segment about Qatar on January 15th of last year. Check it out. It's worth your Google.
Qatar was our ally with NATO in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and is recognized by many as a force for lasting peace in the Middle East, a view not shared by the current Israeli government.
American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers "real news" -- something she said American media was falling far short of doing. The secretary added that other countries and global news outlets were making more inroads around the world than we are and that "the United States is losing the information war."
Wait? What do I hear?
"The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming!"
Hey, they're already here!
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia -- with a personal wealth of $28.7 billion dollars -- is the second largest owner of -- FOX News.
In this changing world.