Twenty years ago CNN surprised its competitors and kicked their asses in its coverage of Operation Desert Storm, aka the Gulf War.
In 2011, Al Jazeera experienced its CNN moment when it got the drop on all the other media when things hit the fan in Egypt.
A young media company, Al Jazeera took a lot of heat during its coverage of the war in Iraq (Bastard Son of Desert Storm), accused of being anti-American because it didn’t lead the cheer for the invasion by the “coalition of the willing” in 2003 and the ensuing mess-o-potamia.
But the folks at English Al Jazeera showed their mettle when they stayed on the air (online for most of us in the United States, whose cable/satellite providers chose not to provide Al Jazeera) even as Egyptian “authorities” were pounding on their doors to shut down the operation.
Al Jazeera was so far ahead of the curve that CNN eventually picked up Al Jazeera’s feed and ran it.
CNN at least had the decency to tacitly acknowledge that Al Jazeera was Al Johnny on the Spot.
Now that Hosni Mubarak appears to be headed out the door, by popular demand, Al Jazeera deserves credit for covering the story well and (this is where journalists tend to get uneasy) being a significant part of the story. The insurrection has no doubt been supported by savvy use of the “new media” even after the government shut down access to most of those media, and Al Jazeera led the way in staying active despite the government’s efforts to silence the dissenters and the media who dared to shed light on the dissent.
This is heady stuff, and it’s pretty scary too. In the vacuum likely to be created as Mubarak leaves, who will fill the void? One of the leading entities seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. But who they are and what they’ll do is pretty unclear. Are they bent on the destruction of Israel as some fear? Will they renounce Egypt’s 30-year peace treaty with Israel?
These kinds of worries explain why the United States was slow to embrace the anti-Mubarak movement. In spite of his heavy-handed rule (or perhaps because of), he’s been a steadfast ally to the United States and a force in preserving (some modicum of) the peace in a region that has known little peace.
The worry is that whoever takes control will redirect Egyptians’ anger at Mubarak toward Israel and its Western allies (that’s us, in case you were wondering).
But for the moment, Al Jazeera seems to have become the keeper of the record in Egypt and in the Mideast in general. With its credibility intact in that region, maybe it can act as a voice advocating sanity.
One thing is clear: American and British media will never enjoy the trust of the Arab world that Al Jazeera has cultivated. Let’s hope Al Jazeera is a voice of sanity. Let’s hope its audience listens.