A slew of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks portrays the State Department as the A.J. Liebling of Foggy Bottom. Drawing on content analysis by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. embassy officials in Qatar in 2005 aggressively leaned on and lobbied the top editors of Al Jazeera, the news channel and website owned by the Qatar monarchy, giving them unsolicited editorial suggestions. It’s quaint to imagine Pentagon employees watching hour after hour of Al Jazeera and clicking the vastness of its website with the diligence that Media Matters for America applies to ferreting out media bias by the Fox News Channel. I wonder if they get pee breaks and snacks.
The release of diplomatic cables from 2005 may have contributed to the ouster this week of Al Jazeera’s news director, Wadah Khanfar, according to a Sept. 20 report in the New York Times by David D. Kirkpatrick. The cables portray Khanfar as a pliant vessel in his meetings with hectoring representatives from the U.S. embassy. For instance, an October 2005 cable described a meeting in which a U.S. embassy official gave Khanfar a hard copy of unclassified snippets from a DIA critique of three recent months of Al Jazeera coverage of the Iraq war.
From the cable:
[The U.S. official] told Khanfar that despite an overall decrease in negative coverage since February, the month of September showed a worrying increase in such programming over the previous month. She summarized the latest [U.S. government] reporting on Al Jazeera by noting that problems still remain with double-sourcing in Iraq; identifying sources; use of inflammatory language; a failure to balance of [sic] extremist views; and the use of terrorist tapes.
Rather than telling the U.S. press critic to bug off—which is the treatment I’m often accorded when I disparage an editor’s work to his face—Khanfar said he had already seen some of the DIA critiques (the Qatar government had forwarded them to him) and responded that he was preparing a reply to them.