Good story on al Arabiya in today's New York Times Magazine. The picture it paints of the station follows the rough countours of what I've written here, and effectively captures the range of debate about the current state of the Arab media. The piece has some great details about the station's internal debates and struggles, and its evolution. Abd al Rahman al Rashed is the hero of the piece, and the article fairly captures his oft-expressed views about the Arab media. A nice piece, on a topic of obvious interest to me; perhaps when it isn't 7:00 on a Sunday morning I'll have something more to say about it.
UPDATE: as Praktike points out, and as I can now see more clearly after a few hours of coffee, the main flaw of the story is that by adopting relatively uncritically al Arabiya's own perspective, it is unfair to al Jazeera. From what I could see, only one person quoted in the article actually defended al Jazeera; everyone else seems to basically agree with the frame "al Arabiya good, al Jazeera bad." In fairness to Shapiro, that is how Rashed and most Arabiya people see it, and she accurately conveyed that, but she probably still could have provided a more balanced perspective. And also in fairness to Shapiro, she did at least quote one person defending al Jazeera, which many other journalists wouldn't have done.
Basically, I think that Shapiro captures what I've often said (even if she didn't use these exact words): that al Arabiya is what al Hurra should have been. Where al Hurra has very little audience, is stigmatized by association with the United States, and is handicapped by being a government station, al Arabiya is trying to do a lot of the same things - promote a "moderate" and more pro-American media line - while actually capturing a significant market share. And best of all, it costs American taxpayers nothing!
ONE MORE UPDATE: another point about the story - Shapiro completely misses the Saudi angle, which is pretty central to understanding al Arabiya. Basically, one of the things which made al Jazeera revolutionary is that it was a major transnational Arab media outlet which the Saudis didn't own. Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, the Saudis bought up or created most of the Arab media - everything from al Hayat and al Sharq al Awsat to television stations like Orbit and MBC - and they used this control, along with the centrality of the Saudi market to Arab advertisers, to keep criticism or even objective coverage of Saudi Arabia out of the Arab media. Al Jazeera came along under Qatari ownership and, for the first time in many years, subjected Saudi Arabia to harsh scrutiny. Al Arabiya, as much as anything else, was a Saudi venture to re-establish a pro-Saudi position in the Arab media landscape. I think that Shapiro was so focused on how al Arabiya mattered for American policy and American concerns that she either missed, or chose not to dwell upon, the Saudi angle - even though this is, I think, rather more important in the actual genesis of the station.