Joel Mowbray reports: State cheerleads for Register

Joel Mowbray today ([email protected]) continues his investigation into Al-Hurra, the U.S. taxpayed-funded Arab TV network. Joel will continue filing his reports following up on his two Wall Street Journal columns (linked below) with us and indicates that there is more to come. Joel writes:

At yesterday’s State Department daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack caught himself when discussing Al-Hurra’s embattled news director Larry Register, who was hired last November. He apparently realized that he had strayed from the official Foggy Bottom line. Without being asked specifically about Register, McCormack said, “[W]e believe he’s actually doing a pretty good job.”
He quickly amended that statement, though, saying, “a very good job.”
Not explained was what exactly Register had done that State considers “very good.” Was it broadcasting a pair of infomercials from Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference in Iran? Or was it airing live the 19th anniversary celebration of Hamas? Or could it have been the February 9th “breaking news” coverage from Israel, where Arafat’s former hand-picked Mufti of Jerusalem went unchallenged as he accused the Jewish state of firing weapons and throwing bombs into the holy mosque?
Several of the above examples were first reported in my Wall Street Journal column on March 12. Prior to that, the State Department was genuinely ignorant of the mess Register has created at Al-Hurra — except for the airing of a fiery and violent hourlong speech by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on December 7.
In fairness to Foggy Bottom, even Secretary of State Rice didn’t originally know the true nature of that broadcast, as she was lied to by Register and his direct boss, Brian Conniff. As revealed in my May 1 Wall Street Journal story, the briefing packet Register and Conniff presented to State on the Nasrallah broadcast contained materially false information — which Bush’s top foreign policy official then repeated under oath.
Apparently Secretary Rice wasn’t much bothered by an act most would consider a fireable offense.
State’s defense of Register is vexing on many levels. Register is someone without many strong ties to higher-ups at Foggy Bottom, so it doesn’t appear that personal loyalty is at play. He’s not politically important to President Bush, and he’s not even involved in the Republican party, for that matter.
Most baffling of all, State’s aggressive embrace of Register came literally hours after the Wall Street Journal posted a letter defending Al-Hurra that pointedly did not mention Register by name. The letter was signed by Joaquin Blaya, a member of the oversight panel, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, though it was no doubt supported by most other board members.
The day after the Wall Street Journal posted my original Al-Hurra column, the BBG voted 5-1 not to investigate. They then drafted a strange letter to the Journal, writing specifically of Register: “BRAVO!” By comparison, the BBG’s response to my follow-up story — in which the board conceded as true every fact reported — was rather muted.
To understand just how significant State’s word choice — “a very good job” — really is, consider that various Foggy Bottom bureaucrats huddle every morning and hash out exactly which words will be uttered by the spokesman at the daily press briefing. And this is only the last stop along the assembly line, as the relevant bureaus have spent countless hours squabbling over even inane minutiae, such as which prepositions to use.
In other words, State claiming Register has done “a very good job” is no mere semantic slip. It was very, very deliberate.
So who has decided to place Register on a pedestal? Almost certainly, it is Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, who was tapped by President Bush to head up U.S. outreach to the Arab world. Asked what Hughes thought of Register after learning that he had collaborated with Conniff to feed Rice false information and had aired puff pieces on Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference, her office declined comment.
Perhaps Hughes directed her staff to wait for a much higher-profile venue, such as the daily press briefing, to shower Register with love. Whatever the reason, the institutional muscle of the State Department has now lined up behind Al-Hurra’s controversial news director.
Not only did State spokesman Sean McCormack note that Register was doing “a very good job,” he said that hiring the news director was “one of the most important steps” in fixing the mess State claims existed at Al-Hurra.
The implication of what was said next is simply stunning.
McCormack seemed to endorse Register’s decisions to provide a platform to Islamic terrorists and Holocaust deniers: “The United States does not benefit by trying to skew the flow of information to put out propaganda.”
But propaganda is exactly what Register’s Al-Hurra has churned out. How else could one categorize broadcasting an interview with a supposedly former al Qaeda operative, who expressed joy that 9/11 “rubbed America’s nose in the dust”? What about terrorists extolling the virtues of Hamas at the terrorist outfit’s anniversary celebration? Or a Palestinian imam baselessly claiming that the Jewish state was committing mass atrocities at a Muslim holy site?
State is absolutely correct that “The United States does not benefit by trying to skew the flow of information to put out propaganda.”
So why is it backing the man who did precisely that?

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