Congress Silent on Al Jazeera’s Expansion

By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media

After Florida broadcaster Jerry Kenney asked his member of Congress, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), to examine the strong ties between Al Jazeera and known terrorist organizations, he received a personal telephone call from the congressman promising action. But DeSantis has now told Kenney and other residents of Volusia County in his congressional district that he doesn’t plan on calling for any investigation unless the chairman of his committee wants to “spearhead it.”

A member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the vice-chairman of a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee, DeSantis told a town hall meeting sponsored by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University that while he is “looking into” the deal and has talked to other members about it, there is no investigation underway and he would not initiate or call for one.

This weak response has greatly disappointed those who expected Congress to probe the curious deal between the Middle Eastern regime in Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and former Democratic vice president Al Gore, who sold his Current TV cable channel for $500 million.

“Frankly, I am very disappointed at Ron’s lack of leadership on this,” Kenney told Accuracy in Media. “Here in Volusia County, we expect our representatives to represent us, not their committee chairman. He will have to do more than just take a cut in his pay and benefits if he wants to win re-election. Volusians are not easily impressed with political theatrics for long. He needs to ‘spearhead’ the hard problems confronting America and not just pick the softballs.”

The reference to a cut in pay has to do with the DeSantis proposal to reduce pay for members of Congress during the time of sequestration, or budget cuts. This got DeSantis on Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren program. He has also made headlines by criticizing Beyoncé’s and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba.

Kenney noted that DeSantis, a decorated Navy veteran who supported operations at the terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was deployed to Iraq, “knows firsthand the dangers of ignoring terrorism. Yet, he refuses to speak out [on Al Jazeera] in any meaningful way.”

Kenney has emerged as a major critic of the new “Al Jazeera America,” which will be headquartered in New York City and plans bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, and “other key locations across the United States.” He signed a January 9 letter to Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, asking for hearings into Al Jazeera’s ties to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. Rep. McCaul has failed to respond to the request for hearings into Al Jazeera but has suddenly emerged, in the wake of the Boston bombings, as an expert on terrorism on the television talk shows.

Yet, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey says an investigation into Al Jazeera is clearly warranted because of its “foreign” nature and connections.

“There are many in Volusia’s conservative circles who are unhappy with Ron’s verbal tap dancing on this and other issues. I know he is new in office but he needs to start leading,” said Kenney.DeSantis was first elected on November 6, 2012.

Alluding to DeSantis’ signature on a letter criticizing Beyoncé’s and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba, Kenny said, “He is doing a great job of cultivating his image as a conservative on the easy issues. Speaking out against Castro in Florida is as politically risky as kissing a baby. I wish he would live up to his campaign commercials and put the country before his political career concerns and tackle the hard issues.”

Referring to the Emir of Qatar providing $400 million to Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. Government, Kenney added, “Surely a TV network whose owner gave $400 million dollars to a terrorist organization should warrant as much of his attention as Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s vacation.”

Elizabeth C. Dillon, press secretary for DeSantis, told AIM that the Congressman “would support hearings and has spoken to other members of Congress serving on relevant committees regarding this issue.” However, she went on to say that he “is not a chairman of the relevant committee, and outside speaking to members on that committee about this issue, he does not get to set that committee’s agenda, or decide what they have hearings on. That being said, Congressman DeSantis will continue to monitor this situation and hopes that this issue is explored further.”

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, continues to expand its operations and has just announced the hiring of Edward Pound, described in press reports as a “veteran investigative journalist.” In fact, he has been serving in the Obama Administration as Director of Communications at Recovery.gov, a database of how and where tax dollars are spent as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the Obama stimulus program. Pound was also director of communications for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

It is not known what Pound will investigate for Al Jazeera. His biography says he has also been:

  • President at Fund for Investigative Journalist
  • Investigative Correspondent at National Journal
  • Investigative Editor; Assistant Managing Editor, Investigations; Chief Investigative Correspondent at U.S. News & World Report
  • Chief Investigative Reporter at USA TODAY
  • Investigative Reporter at The Wall Street Journal
  • Investigative Reporter at The New York Times

A former producer for Al Jazeera, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, who now works for the Huffington Post told the National Conference for Media Reform that his job was to “humanize” Palestinians, in order to counter the perception that Arabs and Muslims are terrorist threats.

Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at cliff.kincaid@aim.org.


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