Lee Bollinger, Columbia University's $1,753,984-a-year president who also serves as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has an article in Bloomberg Businessweek arguing that the Federal Communications Commission should force cable companies to carry Al Jazeera. He describes access to the channel as "critically valuable" to "our democracy" and to "America's understanding of the world."
This is ridiculous. Anyone who wants to see what Al Jazeera English has on offer can easily visit its Web site. One can find an article by an American responding to the recent murder of Israeli children by writing that "Netanyahu has never condemned or even expressed remorse over the killing of 300 plus Palestinian children by the IDF during the Gaza war. (In fact, one would be hard pressed to find any Israeli government that ever even criticised the killing of Palestinian children by the IDF, although many hundreds have been killed over the last decade)." One can find an article by a Columbia professor asserting that "a 'manly' and 'straight' heteronormativity was manufactured for 'Arabs'" and calling for humans to transcend "obscene class divisions."
There's no disclosure at all to Bloomberg Businessweek readers that Mr. Bollinger and Columbia have some substantial ties to the al Thani family that owns both the country of Qatar and Al Jazeera. A Columbia art exhibit Web site acknowledges the support of "The Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar and the Qatar Foundation, Her Excellency Sheikha al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani." ABC News reported "the Qatari princess went to college at Duke University in North Carolina and is now pursuing a masters at Columbia University in New York." Mr. Bollinger has shown no hesitation in the past when it comes to accepting donations from undemocratic or unfree Arab countries; Columbia took money from the United Arab Emirates that Harvard refused to accept. If Americans are looking for an Al Jazeera-type perspective they don't even need the American government to force Al Jazeera onto their cable television; they can just go enroll in Columbia's Middle East studies department, at least one of whose professors Mayor Bloomberg's own administration has adjudged unworthy of training New York City public school teachers.
The whole column is an embarrassment to both Mr. Bollinger (who is apparently difficult to embarrass) and Businessweek. It's not clear what is so special about Al Jazeera that it deserves to be forced by the U.S. government onto American televisions. Does Mr. Bollinger want every foreign television channel whose owner is a major Columbia donor or potential one to be forced by the American government onto American television?
Mr. Bollinger is a paid director of the Washington Post Company, which owns a cable television company that serves 720,000 customers in 19 states. If he thinks it's so vitally important to American democracy for all Americans to watch Al Jazeera, let him speak up at the next Post board meeting and earn his directors fees by forcing Al Jazeera into the cable package of all of his own company's customers, rather than asking the government to impose the channel on the rest of us.