Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our "Last Best Hope" for National Journalism?

If, as I have just suggested, American newspapers are suffering (perhaps irrecoverably) from "gutted staffs" and "gutted reputations" in the wake of the world the Internet (not to mention Google) has made, then we should probably take comfort in the fact that Al Jazeera is beginning to provide us with national, as well as international coverage. This has become particularly apparent since the beginning of this month, although AIPAC coverage might best be viewed as national news with strong international implications. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the extent to which they covered the impact on Barack Obama's campaign (which, itself, also has international implications). More interesting, however has been the seriousness they have attached to the efforts of Dennis Kucinich to kick-start impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush. This seriousness has apparently not been lost on Kucinich himself.

So, it is no surprise that Al Jazeera put out a report on yesterday's efforts by the House of Representatives to thwart Kucinich's quest:

A US congressman and former presidential candidate has vowed not to give up his fight to impeach the president over going to war in Iraq, after the House of Representatives sidelined his bill, possibly until after George Bush leaves office.

Dennis Kucinich said if hearings on the issue were not held within 30 days, he would introduce more articles of impeachment against Bush to the US congress.

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to send Kucinich's impeachment bill to a committee in what has been seen as a delay tactic.

The House Judiciary Committee is not likely to hold hearings before the end of Bush's term in January.

What is surprising is that Kucinich seems to have allowed Al Jazeera to interview him on this matter:

Kucinich, a Democrat, told Al Jazeera that the impeachment attempt was not just about the past, but also about the future.

"If we do not establish that the rule of law must apply to the president of the US now, what we are doing is through our inaction creating a precedent that would let the next president know that he could go ahead and wage war without congressional approval.

"That he could approve of wiretapping, rendition, spying, torture or anything because congress wouldn't act.

"We need to take a stand now not just for justice for what's happened over the last six, seven years but also to restrain any abuse of power in the next administration."

This may well be because Al Jazeera was the only news source interested in interviewing him; but that does not diminish the significance of the encounter (and may even enhance Al Jazeera's standing among its competitors).

Shortly after Al Jazeera English was launched, I remember hearing an interview on the BBC in which their general manager said that he saw the BBC as Al Jazeera's primary competitor. My guess is that the BBC took this as a serious challenge. It may have even had something to do with the "full court press" they applied to covering the American primary elections, basically demonstrating that their desk in Washington was as strong as the one in London. Well, I have yet to hear a peep out of the BBC (on either radio or television) about Kucinich's latest activities; and I am beginning to wonder whether its Washington desk is as loathe to dig into news about progressives, who try to push the envelope of "established liberalism," as the Washington desks of American news sources are. If so, then, as Michael Porter put it in his Competitive Strategy book, they have discovered the "generic strategy" of differentiation and found a way to implement it. On the principle that everyone benefits from such competition, I wish Al Jazeera the best of luck and hope that more of those progressive voices, who have some very constructive things to say, will recognize that this institution provides a new platform from which they can be heard!

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