Joel Mowbray reports: Anatomy of a “resignation”

Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) follows up his series of reports on the government funded Al Hurra television network with analysis of the resignation of Larry Register:

In the long, sordid saga of the Larry Register era at Al Hurra, which ended Friday with the news director’s “resignation,” what was most troubling was not all that he had done, but rather what finally did him in.
Register’s masters at the State Department and the network’s oversight panel, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), demonstrated remarkable tolerance for his misdeeds.
Ordering an interview with an alleged al Qaeda operative who expressed joy that 9/11 “rubbed America’s nose in the dust”? No problem. Airing live speeches from the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah? Not an issue. Providing fawning coverage of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference? Forgivable. Insisting that Al-Hurra refer to the creation of Israel in 1948 as “the castatrophe”? Mistakes happen.
So what was it that finally caused State and the BBG to rescind its previously unwavering support of Register? It was the great green motivator: money.
A key Congressional panel last Tuesday sent an unmistakable signal that lawmakers weren’t as enamored of Register as State and the BBG, zeroing out an expected $14 million increase in Al Hurra’s funding for fiscal year 2008.
That sealed Register’s fate.
In fact, because Al Hurra officials were confident that the network would receive most or all of the requested $14 million funding increase, several BBG members gave Register expressions of support Tuesday morning — a day after my third Wall Street Journal column, and just hours before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations announced its FY 2008 spending bill.
Once State and the BBG figured out that they could not have both Register and the extra cash, three months’ worth of solid support quickly crumbled.
It was a dramatic reversal. The day after my first Wall Street Journal column ran on March 12, the BBG voted 5-to-1 not to investigate. The subsequent letter to the editor of the Journal was simply puzzling, refusing to address any specific reported facts, instead writing their own simple review of the job they thought Register was doing: “BRAVO!”
For months afterward, the BBG catchphrase was that “mistakes were made.” Even after I reported that e-mails and internal memos established Register’s direct responsibility for most of the controversial broadcasts, board members stuck by him. Even when several BBG members learned on May 15 that he had hired Yasser Thabet, an Al-Jazeera veteran who had used his blog to express affection for terrorists, they were content merely to axe Thabet, sparing Register.
Almost as stalwart in her support of Register was Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who spearheads U.S. outreach to the Arab world. On May 9, just over a week after my second Journal column, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack — almost certainly at the behest of Hughes — said that Register was doing “a very good job.” By last week, though, she pretended she had no connection to him. In a statement released to NBC News, Hughes said flatly, “We don’t run [Al Hurra].”
Critics aren’t buying it. “Hughes and the BBG are the only reason Register got to stick around as long as he did. They owe the American people an explanation why they stonewalled for him for almost three months,” said Mark Broxmeyer, chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Having spent considerable time getting contacts in his impressive Rolodex to look into the Al Hurra mess, Broxmeyer added that none of the folks with whom he raised the issue could believe that State and the BBG mounted such a furious defense with so little to stand on.
That the BBG waited almost three months to force out Register — and even then, only after losing expected funding — illustrates the sad state of the board.
But here’s the good news: The Al Hurra story could yet have a happy ending. New BBG chairman James K. Glassman was sworn in last week, and his tenure could see better behavior from the board. He has not made any public comments, but Glassman is a media veteran, and he’s compiled a largely successful track record.
Most encouraging, though, is that the named replacement for Register’s now-vacated post of Al Hurra news director is Danny Nassif. He won’t require much of a learning curve, as Nassif already runs sister network Radio Sawa. And when the former news director, Mouafac Harb, was traveling — which was often — Nassif ran the show in his absence.
Though Nassif has never run a TV news operation on more than a temporary basis, a quick review of his professional writings from before starting at Radio Sawa indicates that he will take a firm stand against terrorists and Islamic extremists.
And as the BBG was quick to note in announcing his appointment, Nassif is a “native Arabic speaker,” which compares favorably to Register, who didn’t speak Arabic at all.
Under the new leadership of Glassman, let’s hope that Nassif gets as much support from the BBG when he attempts re-build Al Hurra as Register did while almost destroying it.

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