It is only for reasons of brevity that this article was not entitled: “What is the common denominator today between news channels like al-Manar, CNN, and Al Jazeera; newspapers like The Washington Post and al-Quds al-Arabi; and other degraded regional news channels and newspapers?” The answer, of course, is the lack of any journalistic ethics, which is witnessed in the lies, fraud, and misleading practices here and there. Though we may sometimes tolerate or understand some political leanings, it never crossed my mind that major US platforms and reputable, distinguished news agencies would embrace such unmistakably low behaviors.
CNN was established in 1980 by the American innovative millionaire Ted Turner. The channel made its mark as a credible, independent, highly professional, round-the-clock news channel. The period of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait at the end of the twentieth century was the CNN’s golden era. Perhaps some of you still remember its brilliant anchor Bernard Shaw broadcasting the beginning of the aerial attack on Baghdad live from the al-Rasheed Hotel after the interruption of television broadcasting, reporting only by audio that anti-aircraft weapons are lighting up the skies of Baghdad. Prior to that, Shaw had been one of the first American journalists to interview Saddam Hussein, and even Fidel Castro before him. Then came the September 11 attacks, which boosted the channel’s popularity and cemented its position as a leading news outlet.
Due to its adherence to principles, neutrality, high ratings, and big popularity, US media giant Time Warner Inc. (currently known as WarnerMedia) acquired CNN in the mid-90s. The channel maintained its relative primacy until President Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, when a personal dispute started between him and CNN, which had fabricated a story about Russian involvement playing a role in his victory. After the investigations, the lack of evidence, and the President’s acquittal, the channel’s reputation went downhill and many of its executives resigned. That same year, AT&T’s acquisition of WarnerMedia was announced. A radical upheaval was expected in terms of content following the acquisition, but the new owner needed some time to absorb the shock and keep pace with the rapidly evolving developments.
Thus, the channel’s fierce, dishonest campaign against Trump raged on. Evidence of this surfaced a few days ago when a video was released of a conversation that took place a few months ago between channel executives about the higher management’s determination to thwart Trump’s re-election for a second term at any cost. Now, will AT&T intervene to try and fix this investment mistake? This also begs the question: are those not the same practices of Al Jazeera, al-Manar, and other depraved channels in the region? Is there any difference in terms of content and bias?
Certainly, CNN was not the only platform to adopt misleading practices out of spite for Trump, or, as some believe, in line with the wishes of the “deep state” — though my support for this theory tends to be less abstract. The fascinating part is that this polarization sometimes intersects with the US’ supreme interests. For instance, some of these platforms described the killing of terrorist Qasem Soleimani, who had murdered dozens of Americans, near Baghdad International Airport in January 2020 as a reckless action and blame the White House for it. Some of them kept silent when statues of national historical figures like Washington, Lincoln, and others were destroyed in public squares, or when athletes refused to stand during the national anthem, as if all this absurdity is insignificant.
In reality, if one were to step away from comparisons and look at facts on the ground, most US media outlets have gone too far and lost their credibility. CNN’s prime-time ratings have dropped to half within one year while Fox jumped to the first position.
In our region, these practices, now normalized by channels like Al Jazeera and news outlets affiliated with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, may not change anything on the ground and cannot amount to more than empty statements. However, when such practices take place in the world’s biggest democracy and by major media outlets, the consequences can prove disastrous.
In a shocking, unprecedented move, these media outlets, with their outright lies and contempt that insult their viewers’ intelligence, turned a blind eye to the presidential election results last November and purposefully underestimated the significant legal loopholes in counting the votes. What was the result? Biden wins. Biden, who did not have an election campaign and, as everyone in the US now realizes, could not have gotten 82 million votes. Biden, a man who cannot possibly lead the world’s biggest military and economic power.
We are following this closely because the world needs the US to be strong so the balance of power remains intact as much as possible, despite the differences that may arise with US policies from time to time. The support of these outlets for someone like Biden and their blatant underplaying of his predecessor’s great and proven achievements have forced us to wonder: have these institutions’ professional integrity dropped to such a new low? Have their national and security responsibilities been thrown to the wolves? America has lost much of its prestige and power, whether directly or indirectly, because of the role that some prominent US media institutions have played. And now, the road to regaining its leading position will probably be a long and costly one.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Okaz.