Is Al Jazeera Welcome In Maine?
General Henry Knox, a Revolutionary War hero and U.S. Secretary of War in the country’s early days, was no stranger to political controversy. But the museum established at Montpelier, his home in Thomaston, seems like an unlikely site for an ideological flap generated by the attention of a national right-wing media watchdog.
The General Henry Knox Museum is a private non-profit organization. It holds an annual fundraising gala that includes a guest speaker, dinner and reception. This year’s event is scheduled for July 28 at the Strand Theatre in Rockland and will feature a talk by Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera. Before working for the Arab-owned network, Foukara earned his journalistic chops at, among other news organizations, the BBC World Service and WGBH in Boston. He’s widely respected as an expert on the Middle East.
So what’s the big deal?
Accuracy In Media, a conservative news-coverage critic, caught wind of the event. AIM posted a piece on its Web site claiming the Knox museum was “honoring a representative of Al-Jazeera, the channel associated with various terrorist organizations.”
That prompted much blathering on the As Maine Goes Web site (“General Knox must be turning in his grave at the very thought of this”), along with threats of a boycott aimed at the business headed by the president of the Knox museum’s board.
If Accuracy In Media had lived up to its name, it wouldn’t have claimed the Maine institution was “honoring” Foukara. Nothing in any press materials from the museum mentions any honor. It appears he’s been hired to give a speech, although my efforts to confirm that with Ellen Dyer, the executive director of Montpelier, and Greg Dufour, the president, went nowhere, since neither returned my phone calls. [Correction: Dyer has since informed me via email that Foukara is not being paid for his speech.]
As for Al Jazeera’s terrorist ties, there’s been plenty of speculation about that, much of it generated by AIM, but little of it backed up by more credible sources. A few employees of the network have been arrested for alleged involvement with al Qaeda, but the organization itself hasn’t been cited for terrorist activities by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Of more concern from a journalistic standpoint is Al Jazeera’s link to the government of Qatar, which owns the network and sometimes appears to interfere in its coverage, a problem that isn’t uncommon at government-funded news outlets around the world.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.