WikiLeaks' U.S. Embassy Cables Reveal about U.S. Pressure and Propaganda


JF-Expert Member
Feb 9, 2007
[h=1]hat WikiLeaks' U.S. Embassy Cables Reveal about U.S. Pressure and Propaganda[/h]
"Al Jazeera is a vital component to the USG's strategy in communicating with the Arab world." -- Joseph E. LeBaron, U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, November 6, 2008
"Al Jazeera Board Chairman Hamed bin Thamer Al Thani has proven open to creative uses of Al Jazeera's airwaves by the USG beyond straightforward interviews." -- Joseph E. LeBaron, U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, February 10, 2009
The U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks present numerous very interesting stories about how Al Jazeera was brought to heel by the U.S. Government. The U.S. Embassy in Doha, and officials from Washington, used a variety of direct and indirect methods of ensuring a greater degree of compliance on the part of Al Jazeera. These methods included placing speakers on Al Jazeera news programs; supplying information approved by the U.S. Government; providing U.S. training for Al Jazeera's journalists; demanding editorial distortion of aired programs; securing Al Jazeera's agreement to check first with U.S. officials before airing "sensitive" programs; monitoring of Al Jazeera in minute detail, ranging from its news coverage to its internal structure and policies; lodging complaints with Qatari government ministers; constant, personal visits to Al Jazeera's headquarters; developing familiarity and close personal contacts with Al Jazeera staff; and going over the head of the Managing Director of Al Jazeera to ensure that "objectionable content" was removed and never repeated.
Mainstreaming, professionalism, balance, and objectivity emerge as the chosen tropes for a journalism that favors U.S. foreign policy. U.S. officials did not overtly threaten Al Jazeera staff, nor did they engage in any crass form of bribery. The intervention was more polite, prolonged, and intimate. In the process of reading these cables we learn that, for the U.S. Government, Al Jazeera was valued as a strategic tool, as a credible proxy for U.S. "public diplomacy." We hear senior Al Jazeera executives describe themselves as "partners" and "assets" of the U.S. We also learn about the degree to which Al Jazeera is controlled by the Qatari state and used as a foreign policy instrument. We witness the degree to which Al Jazeera English is almost entirely a foreign import, not even pretending to speak as the "voice of the Arabs" and operating as a colonial transplant. The picture of Al Jazeera revealed through the cables is a grim one, and it is not likely that Al Jazeera can proceed unscathed.
Meet Mr. Al Mahmoud
By March of 2006, Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud, the director of the Al Jazeera Arabic website, had enough and quit. Al Mahmoud had become disillusioned both with the channel and with the Managing Director, Wadah Khanfar (much more about/from Khanfar follows below). Al Mahmoud, a U.S. educated citizen of Qatar and a former military man, was described by U.S. diplomats as "a close Embassy contact" (one of many as it turns out -- "Embassy Doha has built cooperative personal relationships within Al Jazeera"). What about Al Jazeera had changed, so much so that he had to resign? In the explanation related to us by then U.S. Ambassador, Chase Untermeyer, Al Mahmoud is reported to say:
In the old days [2001] . . . Al Jazeera was buzzing with idealism and alive with passionate debate between partisans of different ideologies (Arab nationalists, Islamists, secularists, socialists etc), and that it had a genuinely revolutionary atmosphere about it. Now, he said, people come to work from 9 to 5 like bureaucrats and Al Jazeera has become part of the mainstream establishment.
The Al Jazeera described above, prior to its transformation, resembles the one shown in the carefully done, in-depth documentary, Al Jazeera: Voice of Arabia.
The "mainstreaming" of Al Jazeera, in part due to U.S. pressure and regular U.S. coordination with Al Jazeera directors and editors on questions of news coverage, is one of the persistent themes in the cables, published by WikiLeaks, from the U.S. Embassy in Doha (some of which were previously collated by MRZine). Becoming "responsible" and "professional" meant, in practice, becoming answerable to the U.S. and to the Emir of Qatar, just as the U.S. discovered the value of Al Jazeera's voice in the Arab world, and just as the Emir used his media giant to attack Arab rivals when convenient, most notably Libya.
A Day in the Life of Al Jazeera Answering to the U.S. Government
It was October 13, 2005.
Al Mahmoud may have missed the idealism, but he was part of Al Jazeera's move towards greater service to U.S. interests in the Middle East. On that day in October of 2005 he met separately with U.S. Ambassador Chase Untermeyer and the U.S. Embassy's Public Affairs Officer (PAO), Mirembe Nantongo. They sought out Al Mahmoud over objections they had to content on the Al Jazeera Arabic website. Al Mahmoud "acknowledged that some of the material was unacceptable as published and had been changed on his instructions" -- indeed, we are told, all of the "objectionable" content was removed, not just changed, and not just in part. (The objectionable content had to do, in part, with the image of the U.S. in the Middle East and a visit b yKaren Hughes, who was then Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and would later visit Al Jazeera personally; and a 9/11 slideshow that neglected to stress enough just how much of a victim the U.S. was and how great was its humanitarian record in the Middle East.)
Chase Untermeyer first went to speak to an official in Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about the website content. Untermeyer "stressed that this was the sort of irresponsible reporting that produced problems and tensions in relations between Qatar and the United States" -- turning an Al Jazeera issue into a Qatari government issue and an international relations issue. Right here we see how the idea of "responsible" journalism is framed: journalism that responds to the concerns of the U.S. and Qatari regimes.
Apparently the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was also busy producing frequent reports tallying the "incidence of objectionable content." Ambassador Untermeyer went to Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs armed with one such report to help make his case. In another cable, we learn that the DIA would regularly send such reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would then pass them on to Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera's Managing Director (more below). On one occasion Wadah Khanfar commented on the nature of a DIA report: "Clearly the person who writes this report is not a journalist. The report is politically oriented." This also tells us something about the politicization of "professionalism" as conceptualized by U.S. diplomats.
The PAO, Mirembe Nantongo, apparently gave Al Mahmoud quite the browbeating: "objected to the slide show's depiction of the 9/11" . . . "those attacks were cowardly acts" . . . "rejected the slide show's assertion. . ." . . . "gave a narrow, distorted view" . . . "omission of any mention of the US role in liberating Muslims," and so on. The PAO noted that the slide show was removed from the site, but, not pleased enough with the effect of her interference in the editorial decisions of an independent media agency, she asked Al Mahmoud to confirm its removal. Not satisfied even with that, the PAO then slapped down a packet of U.S. certified and authorized views for Al Jazeera to repeat:
PAO also encouraged Al Mahmoud to draw on the many information resources available to him and his staff via the Public Affairs Section, and left him a folder with fact sheets and links relating to USG [U.S. Government] assistance in the region, including USG emergency aid and details of USG exchange programs.
Al Jazeera's Managing Director, Wadah Khanfar, had not only instructed Al Mahmoud to completely remove the slideshow from the server (not just amending it, and not just archiving it, as Al Mahmoud preferred) but also was apparently the one to warn Al Mahmoud to expect a U.S. visitor. Al Mahmoud was thus, as noted by the PAO, prepared for the latter's visit. Al Mahmoud meekly responded that "a mistake was made." The PAO surmises that Khanfar had in turn been pressured by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after Ambassador Untermeyer's visit.
The PAO ends one cable by commenting that:
Al Mahmoud is clearly very wary of attracting negative attention from his chain of command, and is aware that an irritated USG means trouble for him. He urged PAO to call him directly any time the Embassy observes troubling material on the website.
Freedom of the press, one of the values the U.S. asserts in inventing its public image in the Middle East, is belied by actual practice. Al Jazeera for its part failed to assert editorial autonomy.
Under the Microscope
"They [Al Jazeera] know they are under the microscope, and want to be taken seriously. Al Jazeera's growing globalization will only increase the pressure upon them to adhere to international standards of journalism and result in an organization that can be dealt with upon familiar ground, and within a framework already established by the mainstream media." -- U.S. Embassy, Doha, February 13, 2006
Officials of the U.S. Embassy, as we see in the WikiLeaks cables for Doha, in fact made a habit of visiting and contacting Al Jazeera, hoping to build that "familiar ground" and establish a reliable relationship that would respond to norms favorable to U.S. policy. Just as Al Mahmoud had told the Embassy's PAO to contact him directly any time the Americans noted material they found troubling, so the U.S. Embassy kept a detailed list of Al Jazeera contacts -- see "Contact Information for Engaging Qatar on Objectionable Broadcasts." Another cable, from September 18, 2005, details a meeting between the PAO and Al Jazeera's Managing Director, Wadah Khanfar, a Palestinian, as they note. It appears that Khanfar tried to be a sort of middleman, gracious and understanding toward the U.S., remembering fondly how prior to 9/11 Al Jazeera "was regarded by the USG and the western world as a great asset and symbol of progress in the region" (emphasis added), and yet paying some respect to being independent and critical.

CHANZO: ZCommunications | What WikiLeaks' U.S. Embassy Cables Reveal about U.S. Pressure and Propaganda by Maximilian Forte | ZNet Article


JF-Expert Member
Sep 30, 2010
Hakuna pa kukimbilia! Hawa Wamarekani wanaodai ni wapenda Demokrasia na uhuru!
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