Wadah Khanfar: Pushing Reset on America’s Relationship with Al Jazeera and the Arab World


After Al Jazeera’s Baghdad headquarters was bombed in April 2003, reports surfaced that George W. Bush had joked about making Al Jazeera a deliberate target of U.S. attacks.
Wadah Khanfar was the bureau chief of Al Jazeera’s operations in Baghdad at that time.
Al Jazeera has emerged as one of the world’s indisputable global heavyweight news networks. If political and policy leaders want to reach Arab populations and Muslim people throughout the globe, Al Jazeera really can’t be effectively sidestepped.
Given this bombing kerfuffle and other Arab media-US government tensions, the US has been resistant to offer Khanfar easy access to American audiences and has repeatedly refused to issue him a visa to enter the US. The Obama State Department, however, is pushing reset — and just granted Khanfar’s visa.
Khanfar is now Managing Director of Al Jazeera and will visit New York and Washington – and will speak at a number of forums. This trip coincides with the significant expansion of Al Jazeera English on American cable networks, moving from rather insignificant timeslots to 24/7 coverage in many large cities.
To discuss how the United States might recalibrate its public diplomacy toward the Arab world, I will be chairing what will be a fascinating and politically significant public forum featuring Wadah Khanfar this Monday, July 27 from 12:15 pm1:45 pm at the New America Foundation.
The event will air live on CSPAN 2 and STREAM LIVE here at The Washington Note.
I will post the YouTube video for later viewing here for those who can’t watch the real time discussion.
— Steve Clemons


10 comments on “Wadah Khanfar: Pushing Reset on America’s Relationship with Al Jazeera and the Arab World

  1. Sopia says:

    I understand that Abbas may have now reversed himself and will allow Al Jazeera to stay; but he has put them on notice.


  2. David says:

    I second those kudos to Steve for chairing this, and to C-Span2 for carrying it. If Obama really does succeed in resetting foreign policy in constructive, engaged ways, we might actually get somewhere worth going, althought there are still some serious limitations being imposed by Likud and by the wrongheaded conflict with Chavez. We started that one with our clumsy, ham-fisted attempts to depose Chavez, then de-legitimize him if we couldn’t depose him. For goodness sake he was correct when he said he could smell the sulfur, as have god knows how many innocent Iraqis at this point because of the US invasion of Iraq.
    I realize Obama has to take it in stages, and take what he can get – and I admit to being guardedly optimistic – but this also requires Americans to realize who we really have been on the world stage, not just the good but the bad and the very, very ugly. Then maybe the reset button will work.
    But again, kudos to Steve and the New America Foundation. What a breath of fresh air pretty much every time I check in with The Washington Note.


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    It has always been inexplicable to me why Obama chose Al-Arabiya for his infamous “muslim media interview” when Al-Jazeera is so much more mainstream in the Arab world. Personally, I believe it is because Al Jazeera was demonized so completely during the Bush Administration that Obama was afraid that many Americans would view a sit-down with Al Jazeera as cow-towing to the Muslim radicals. Al-Arabiya is a relatively unrecognized name here in the states, except perhaps by American Muslims, and is seen by many as a far more “moderate” Arab media outlet. However, the interview was touted as Obama “reaching out” to the Muslim world.
    It just seems to me if you are “reaching out to the Muslim world” the logical course of action is to try to reach as many Muslims as possible. If that is your desire, choosing Al Jazeera for the interview is a no brainer.
    Here are the demographic charts offered by both entities.
    As you can see, Al Jazeera seemingly enjoys far and above more viewership than Al Arabiya does.
    Why Al Arabiya?


  4. Cookies_and_Milk says:

    The Obama administration should also then ‘reset’ their relationship with the western aljazeera – fox news. LOL.


  5. ... says:

    i 2nd lurkers, johnh and wigwags comments… this is a smart move as i see it.. pretty well anything that is 180 what bush did is a smart move…


  6. Lurker says:

    Steve, excellent move getting Al Jazeera’s boss to speak in Washington.
    I can tell why some people are jealous of you.


  7. JohnH says:

    “To recalibrate its public diplomacy toward the Arab world,” will the discussions include prioritizing National Endowment for Democracy funds to countries that are “America’s friends” but lack legitimacy due to the tyrannical nature of their regimes? Many of these countries are powder kegs. So, rather than turn a blind eye, and wait for the inevitable to happen, seriously threats American national interests, shouldn’t the US government be using its substantial influence with these regimes to be broad based and inclusive?
    Such a policy would help counter the US government’s hypocrisy image, where it constantly rails against the practices of its enemies but condones the same practices among its friends.


  8. Don Bacon says:

    Steve, this is “right up your alley” given your interest in media, freedom of speech and getting at the truth of matters. Thanks.
    Of course resolving I/P is essential to “recalibrate [US] public diplomacy toward the Arab world,” as well as getting the US military occupation forces out of Muslim countries, both of which require bold moves which unfortunately don’t appear likely any time soon.


  9. Outraged American says:

    I worked in TV news and I would have to say that the Arab news
    programs that I saw on Mosaic (again, news from the Middle East
    translated into English, which you can find on LinkTV.org) were
    much less biased and much more fact oriented than any US TV
    US TV news CREATES reality, much like the Cheney White House. It
    shapes its audience’s opinion, not vice versa.
    Abbas is a stooge for Israel, so no wonder.


  10. WigWag says:

    It’s not just the Americans who have been suspicious of Al Jazeera; many Arab and Muslim governments have been openly hostile to the network. During the riots/demonstrations in Iran, the Iranian Mullahs expelled Al Jazeera reporters from the country along with other foreign journalists. Just last week, President Abbas expelled all Al Jazeera correspondents from the West Bank citing what he called “lies” Al Jazeera was telling about him. I understand that Abbas may have now reversed himself and will allow Al Jazeera to stay; but he has put them on notice.
    Of course, the hostility Al Jazeera experiences from the governments of nations they report from is as likely to be proof of good work as anything else.
    I look at Al Jazeera English quite often. They have a point of view that I don’t agree with but their reporting is reasonable, factual and worth considering.
    All networks with a profit motive slant their reporting towards their audience; MSNBC does it; Fox News does it; so does Al Jazeera.
    That’s just the way it works.


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