I just got a press release from the American Arabic-language TV station al-Hurra detailing its guests from July 12-July 26. The roster of guests is rather... eye-opening.
First, government officials. Six of them, including four spokespeople (Alberto Fernandez, Kristen Silverberg, Adam Ereli, and Tony Snow), Darrell Issa (conservative Republican Congressman - UPDATE: Issa is Lebanese-American and according to commenter SP called for attention to Lebanese humanitarian suffering, though nothing of the kind appears on his website), and Ken Katzman (very reasonable guy from the Congressional Research Service). Note what's missing: no Bush administration policy-makers, and no Democrats.
Second, five former American government officials: Amb. Edward Djerejian, Amb. Martin Indyk, Amb. Dennis Ross, Amb. Ted Kattouf, and Edward Abington, identified by al-Hurra as former US Counsel General in Jerusalem. I don't know the last guy (update - I'm told he was an unofficial rep for Arafat in Washington for a while) but the first four are a respectable showing.
Third, seven conservative pundits: Danielle Pletka (AEI), Walid Phares (Foundation for the Defense of Democracies), David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), Ariel Cohen (Heritage Foundation), Ben Fishman (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), David Shanker (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), and Jed Babbin (National Review columnist).
Fourth, five pundits from the rest of the ideological spectrum other than AEI, Heritage, WINEP or the National Review: Christopher Dickey (Newsweek), Jon Alterman (CSIS - a center/right think tank), Richard Strauss (Middle East Policy Survey, with which I'm not familiar), Louis Roth (Americans for Peace Now), Michael O’Hanlon (Brookings Institution).
Okay, I haven't even gotten to the Arab and Israeli guests yet, and already I'm kind of awestruck by al-Hurra's roster of guests: conservative guests outnumber the entire rest of the ideological spectrum put together. Heck, the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy almost matches the entire rest of the ideological spectrum put together (especially if you add in one of the Israelis below who is currently resident at WINEP, and consider that Indyk founded WINEP and Ross was until recently WINEP's Director and is currently listed as its "Counseler and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow").
But that's only the beginning: can you believe that there is not a single Arab-American or a single Muslim-American invited on to al-Hurra to discuss the Lebanon crisis in this entire two week period? That is outrageous and offensive. (UPDATE - Rep Issa appears to be an exception, sorry.)
What else? Twelve Israelis and seventeen Lebanese - but nobody from Hezbollah, for obvious reasons. And ten other guests, total, including one Iranian MP (Nasser al-Soudani) and one Syrian MP (Mohammad Habash) - that's kind of daring. Two other Syrians, one Palestinian who I didn't know, one Saudi who I don't know (Mohamed Al Zalfa), Jamal Khashokhjy (Media counselor to the Saudi ambassador - hey, I can't spell his name either); Imad Jad (Al-Ahram Center), Salah al-Qallab (former Jordanian Minister of Information and former director of al-Arabiya TV), and a Russian journalist.
Notice something else missing? Like, say, pretty much the entire rest of the Arab world?
Judging by its own press release of its guests, al-Hurra is actively and dangerously misrepresenting America to the Arab world. This roster of guests presents a hyper-partisan image of America: one which excludes Democrats, ignores the Arab-American and American Muslim community, and invites more Israelis to discuss the war than all non-Lebanese Arabs put together. To be clear, I don't see anything wrong with any of these guests on a case by case basis - but in the aggregate, it represents an extremely unbalanced portrayal of the American political spectrum, one which could only reinforce the worst Arab stereotypes about America. If anybody actually watched it, al-Hurra would be doing considerable damage to America's cause right now. Silver lining, I suppose.
But still: this is a taxpayer funded, public television station, and the supposed centerpiece of America's hearts and minds campaign. We deserve better.
UPDATE: in response to comments here and over email, just a quick clarification. Ambassador Ted Kattouf is indeed Arab-American, as well as a great guy and current head of AMIDEAST. Walid Phares and Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, too. So as in my comment below, I'm happy to revise my indictment of al-Hurra's guest list accordingly: no Bush administration policymakers, no Democrats, extreme ideological imbalance among the pundits, severe under-representation of Arab-Americans, no American Muslims, and an alarmingly small number of non-Lebanese Arabs.
As I also said in the comments, the distribution speaks for itself, even if you make some adjustments on the margins. This is not a reasonable representation of American political society, nor is it a lineup which would be attractive or interesting to Arab audiences. I do not know whether this distribution reflects an intentional choice on
their part, or whether they just have so much trouble booking people on
to the station that this is what they ended up with. Either one would be damning,
but in different ways. The absence of administration policymakers is particularly telling - evidently even they don't seem to consider al-Hurra worth their time (I can't say I disagree, I just wish they would make up for it by appearing on other Arab media outlets with something useful to say).