Joel Mowbray reports: 60 Minutes limps in to cover Al-Hurra

Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) writes to comment on the 60 Minutes segment on Al-Hurra last night:

Raising the concern of many on Capitol Hill, CBS last week teased on its web site that 60 Minutes would air on Sunday, June 22, an investigation that “finds anti-Israel rhetoric on U.S. taxpayer-funded Al Hurra TV.”

What aired last night, however, hardly lived up to the advance billing. While this report could have been timely last year — back when I first broke the story that the network had been turned into a platform for Islamic terrorists and Holocaust deniers — it is simply not the case today. Worse, the hero in the 60 Minutes segment is the very person responsible for most of the broadcasts cited as problematic.

Though far from perfect, Al-Hurra no longer strives to provide airtime to terrorists from Hamas, Hezbollah or al Qaeda. Such guests are now banned.

The only recent evidence cited by 60 Minutes, in fact, is from a live roundtable interview program where Palestinian political commentator Hani El-Masri, who arguably is a moderate in his society, said that Israel is a “racist state that …perpetrates a holocaust against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.”

His comment, as 60 Minutes notes, was not contradicted or challenged. But where’s the pattern? The promotional headline certainly suggests more than one example of “anti-Israel rhetoric.” And introducing the broadcast last night, reporter Scott Pelley said, “Some of [Al-Hurra’s programming] has supported terrorism and denied the Holocaust.”

Yet the only evidence suggesting an anti-Israel or pro-terrorist pattern in the 13-minute report itself is from broadcasts ordered by long-gone former news director Larry Register. In what can only be described as a baffling decision, the hero of the report is none other than Register.

Pelley matter-of-factly states that Register “was brought in a-year-and-half ago to rescue the channel,” strongly implying that Register was hired to fix the problem of terrorists and Holocaust deniers flooding the airwaves. Except that since Register was the one who created that problem, he in no way was “brought on” to fix it.

So 60 Minutes tried to have its cake and eat it, too. Register was a hero for attempting, according to the report, “more credible” journalism, meaning broadcasting live terrorists such as Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, whom Pelley called “one of the most important political leaders in the region.” The advance marketing, however, was clearly designed to inspire Congressional outrage over the airing of “anti-Israel rhetoric.”

In other words, the entire thrust of the 60 Minutes report was that Al-Hurra needs to air more of the very type of “anti-Israel rhetoric” that CBS seemed to be attacking in its marketing.

What 60 Minutes neglected to mention is that the problems Register created — and are cited as proof of a pattern in the report — have largely been fixed by his successor, Daniel Nassif.

As for the one incident referenced, that’s the nature of live Arab television, especially when you have on guests from the region. The sad reality of the Arab world is that hatred of Israel is nearly universal, and given the opportunity, likely many of the “moderate” Arabs would make ugly remarks about the Jewish state. Thus, if such rhetoric only made its way on the air once in the past year, that’s a tremendous success — and a huge improvement from the Register era, when guests were booked specifically to demonize Israel.

Putting the inflammatory remark into context, Washington Institute executive director Robert Satloff, who hosts a weekly Al-Hurra program, quips: “Saying Al-Hurra is anti-Israel because of the one broadcast is like saying that CBS is pro-pornography for airing Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during the Super Bowl.”

UPDATE: Middle East Quarterly editor Michael Rubin directs us to MEQ’s interview with Al-Hurra director Daniel Nassif. Michael adds: “In the forthcoming (Autumn 2008) issue, we have several letters responding to the interview, both critical and positive.”

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