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Clinton media criticism buoys Al-Jazeera

FILE - In this March 1, 2011 file photo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
FILE - In this March 1, 2011 file photo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file) (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)

"We've got leadership issues there, the safety of people, the safety of our own people," said Clemente, senior vice president for news. "Some big issues. All of a sudden there are headlines about Al-Jazeera versus the news in this country? It's just surprising. Curious more than surprising."

Representatives from CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC news all declined comment Friday on what Clinton said.

But former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno agreed with her assessment.

"She's right," said Sesno, who is now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

"Cable news has become cable noise. It was intended to be an opportunity to inform people, and instead it has become an opportunity to inflame people."

The cable news shift toward opinion has paid off handsomely for ratings leader Fox News Channel and, to a lesser extent, MSNBC.

CNN has resisted a partisan drift to concentrate more on news and has suffered in the ratings the past couple of years. With budget cuts, the influence of the major broadcast news divisions has been waning.

Even with the move toward opinion, the news networks often provide informative coverage when there is breaking news, such as the Egyptian revolution, Sesno said.

What's lacking is an attention span - a willingness to stick with stories and provide context. There's an addiction to "this just in," he said.

Clinton's complimentary assessment of the Arab broadcaster is an about-face from just a decade ago, when the Bush administration complained that Al-Jazeera promoted those who opposed the United States. Former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld calling it "inexcusably biased."

That hostility played a big role in the network failing to get any traction with U.S. cable systems.

Al-Jazeera's Foukara said that with overseas audiences, particularly in the Arab world, the broadcaster finds a hunger for news.

"You can stay focused on a story for hours or days or even weeks on end," he said, "while in the U.S., the assumption is that people are not as interested in news, particularly news outside of the United States."

Sesno said the unrest in the Arab world could prove as important to Al-Jazeera as the first Gulf War was for establishing CNN in the United States.


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