Should Al Jazeera English Come to America?

Last night, I attended a talk called "Why Liberal Values are Moral Values" by The New Republic's Editor-At-Large Peter Beinart at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. According to Beinart, liberals have four core beliefs - freedom, democratic capitalism, interdependence, and family values. What it all boils down to, said Beinart, is the idea that we are each other's keepers - what happens everywhere around the world either enriches us or degrades us.

Looking at the world through Beinart's lens, I wonder what this country and the rest of the world will make of the launch of Al Jazeera English (formerly Al Jazeera International), which occurred around an hour ago, at noon today.

The Web site digg.com posted the results of a survey a little over a week ago that supposedly found that 67 percent of Americans believe that Al Jazeera English should be banned in the US, and that 53 percent of those believe that it shouldn't be allowed to launch at all. Everybody knows that those results should be taken with a grain of salt - as both Disraeli and Twain said, there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics. But chances are, there is also a grain of truth somewhere in those numbers.

Many Americans (including our own president) have grown accustomed to calling Al Jazeera a terrorist network. Many will also probably refuse to visit Al Jazeera English on the web for similar reasons, and for now, that's the only place that Americans will be able to tune in. That's right - the world's first English language news channel headquartered in the Middle East isn't available on the air in this country, and I haven't heard of any cable or satellite networks that plan to add it anytime soon. I'm curious to know how you all feel about that.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not sold on the idea that the information that will come from Al Jazeera English will be the broadcast equivalent of the prime directive. I plan to keep watching CNN, reading the Times, and checking in with The Huffington Post every day. But I'm also not convinced that Al Jazeera's sole function in the world is as a terrorist mouthpiece, and I want to make up my own mind about Al Jazeera English. It's certain, at least, to have some influence - the channel will be broadcasting from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas and will be available in 80 million households around the world, and with people like Sir David Frost, Riz Khan, and Josh Rushing reporting, it's sure to be compelling. I'm interested to know if it will live up to its claim that it will offer world news from something other than an "Anglo-American worldview."

So, I'm going to watch it for the same reason that I watch Fox News, read the Wall Street Journal, and check out the Drudge Report from time to time - for a different perspective on America and the rest of the world. I may not always agree, but at least I'll know I'm getting news from more than just those who lean to the left just like me.

I'm glad to be a guinea pig, if it's for a cause like the free and open exchange of information and ideas. But don't worry - if I end up getting a visit from the FBI, the NSA, or anybody else flashing badges, I'll let you know.