I'm keenly interested in the fact that right now (2:45 EST) al-Jazeera is dedicating its feature prime time "Behind the News" show to the Kuwaiti elections. (The Palestinian-Israeli crisis is still dominating the news programming, though.) This is especially interesting because yesterday the Gaza crisis drove Kuwait's elections off the news agenda.... and even more interesting because al-Jazeera chose to feature the Kuwaiti elections today rather than bin Laden's new videotape. Fascinating! Remember what I wrote this morning about how a crowded news agenda makes it hard for bin Laden to dominate the agenda anymore? Could anything better symbolize this shift than bin Laden getting trumped by an election on al-Jazeera's signature program? [Cynics might say that this snub is just how al-Jazeera punishes al-Qaeda for not giving it an exclusive on the video. Maybe - who's to say?]
But note that focusing on elections and snubbing bin Laden does not necessarily mean a "pro-American line" - a mistake too often made by American partisans who assume an alignment between pro-democracy and pro-American / pro-Bush which just doesn't really exist in the Arab world. Immediately following the show on the Kuwaiti elections on al-Jazeera came an episode of Sami Haddad's More Than One Opinion talk show focusing on the revelations about the SWIFT program and its implications for terrorist financing.
There is nothing anti-American about discussing this story, which is clearly newsworthy and relevant. And al-Jazeera invited a former American diplomat to offer an American viewpoint, and Haddad let him speak first. But there's no question that a discussion about the SWIFT program is not what the White House would like Arabs to be talking about right now. It isn't going to make America look good in Arab eyes (nor should it) - the Hamdan decision would actually be a much better conversation piece, since it might be presented as evidence that the American system eventually works to correct its most egregious errors. It's worth mentioning that one of the topics previewed in Haddad's introduction of the show was the conservative assault on the New York Times over the revelations, and what this says about American hypocrisy in its defense of a free media.