Testifying under oath recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice misled Congress in her strong defense of Al-Hurra, the taxpayer financed Arab TV network. It was unwitting, though. She herself was misled.
During the March 21 House Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) pressed Ms. Rice on the wisdom of providing a platform to Islamic terrorists, citing Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's Dec. 7 speech, which Al-Hurra aired live. The broadcast speech "went on for 30 minutes," she responded, "followed by commentary, much of which was critical of Nasrallah."
In fact, Mr. Nasrallah's speech was carried in its entirety, roughly an hour and eight minutes. The commentary that followed -- a 13-minute phone interview with Wael Abou Faour, a member of Lebanon's governing coalition -- was indeed critical of Mr. Nasrallah. He accused the Hezbollah leader of not being anti-U.S. and anti-Israel enough. While Mr. Nasrallah had claimed Lebanon's governing coalition was aligned with the U.S. and had backed Israel during the war last summer, Mr. Abou Faour said that Hezbollah was actually closer to the U.S and added that any Lebanese faction that assisted "the Israeli enemy" should not be allowed to engage in political discussion because "the only place they should be [is] in prison."
The secretary of state's testimony was without doubt delivered in good faith. But the same cannot be said of the information about the broadcast Al-Hurra provided to the State Department.
There is no practicable way to effectively monitor Al-Hurra.
Unfortunately, there is no practicable way that Foggy Bottom, or anyone else for that matter, can effectively monitor Al-Hurra, which has come under fire since the publication of my story about it on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page in March. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the congressionally created independent panel charged with oversight, lacks the ability to conduct even basic auditing, as English transcripts are provided only on request -- which rarely happens. Worse, there is no good channel for whistleblowers to communicate with the board without fear of retribution.
With an annual budget now over $70 million, Al-Hurra has for three years served as the centerpiece of America's aggressive post-9/11 courtship of the Arab world. Insiders maintain that the network was fulfilling its mission until it hired former CNN producer Larry Register last November. Mr. Register has not, to his credit, changed Al-Hurra's dedication to showcasing the full range of U.S. politics. The other side of the network, however, has been "gutted," in the words of one staffer. Even though Mr. Register has made some improvements since the March column, Al-Hurra still produces far fewer stories about Arab government corruption and human-rights abuses. (Mr. Register did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.)
Al-Hurra was intended to cut through the anti-West and anti-U.S. propaganda that permeates even mainstream Arab media. Stories in that vein no longer see significant airtime, and nowhere is this more apparent than Al-Hurra's new approach to the Holocaust -- the treatment of which in Arab society embodies so much that is wrong in that critical region of the Muslim world.
It is precisely because of Arab society's persistent refusal to accept the existence of such a defining -- and indisputable -- event in modern history that Al-Hurra dared to do things Al-Jazeera would never fathom, such as interviewing Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and airing the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But that was under Mr. Register's predecessor, a Lebanese-born Muslim named Mouafac Harb.
Under Mr. Register, Al-Hurra covered the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran last December. But in a stark break from Mr. Harb's era, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the attendees at his conference were treated with unmistakable deference.
Al-Hurra's Dec. 12 report on the gathering included David Duke's praise for Mr. Ahmadinejad, and it took at face value the organizers' demand for Israel "to provide proof and evidence that certifies the occurrence" of the Holocaust. An official running the event was afforded the opportunity to show the open-mindedness of Holocaust deniers: "If we actually conclude with our experts through this meeting that the Holocaust is a real incident we will at that time admit its presence." (Transcript provided by a fluent Arabic-speaking U.S. government employee.)
Also broadcast unchallenged were the remarks of the infamous French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, who informed Arab viewers: "Gas chambers and mass killings of the Jews, in the way that it is pretended (by the Jews), is completely untrue, and an historical lie."
The Al-Hurra reporter stationed in Tehran referred to those who believe Hitler killed six million Jews as "Holocaust supporters." He took a swipe at the handful of conference attendees who didn't deny the Holocaust, by noting that they "didn't enforce their statements with scientific evidence." In closing the piece, he referred to Israel as "the Jewish state on Palestinian lands."
Almost six weeks later, on Jan. 20, Al-Hurra aired a follow-up story on the Neturei Karta, the fringe group of ultraorthodox, anti-Zionist Jews who met with Mr. Ahmadinejad. There was obviously world-wide media fascination with the Jews who ventured to a Holocaust denial forum hosted by the man who wants to wipe Israel off the map. Responsible journalists, though, were careful to provide the necessary context, the most important of which is that the Neturei Karta is a marginal group with world-wide membership, according to its Web site, of "several thousand."
Responsible Al-Hurra was not.
The Neturei Karta were presented as mainstream Orthodox Jews, and Al-Hurra claimed that they number more than one million. The story's angle is clear from the anchor's introduction: "They always put Israeli officials in a bind, who can't seem to understand how Jews can oppose Zionism, or how a Jew can encourage Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his opposition to Israel." Various Neturei Karta members uttered outrageous falsehoods about supposed "Zionist" cruelty, including "torture, detention, [and the] burning of their synagogues." None of these libels were challenged, let alone debunked.
"There is no purpose in doing a soft feature of the Neturei Karta, except to pander to or bolster vicious Arab and Muslim propaganda about Jews, Israel, and the Holocaust," notes Mark Broxmeyer, chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
In fairness, there's no reason to suppose Mr. Register understood exactly what was being broadcast: He doesn't speak Arabic. Then again, there's no evidence that he bothered, or cared, to learn about the contents. Either way, Mr. Register clearly doesn't grasp Al-Hurra's mission.
Combating this nonsense should be ground zero in our quest to inject truth and information into the Arab world.
Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world, even among the educated; there's a widespread embrace of conspiratorial explanations for world events, such as theories about Jews perpetrating 9/11, and notorious forgeries such as "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which is widely sold and read throughout the region. Arab media do not challenge this mindset, but usually indulge it.
Combating this nonsense should be ground zero in our quest to inject truth and information into the Arab world. If we can't do this, how will we ever be able counteract the jihadists who preach to the masses that America is waging war on Islam?
The person tasked with counteracting those jihadists, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, is a stalwart supporter of Mr. Register. At an April 19 House Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee hearing, after two congressmen gave Ms. Hughes a bipartisan earful about Mr. Register, she responded that she has heard nothing but "high praise" and "rave reviews." Just last Friday, Ms. Hughes went to Al-Hurra's D.C.-area headquarters, signaling that she still backs Mr. Register. Meanwhile, five of the six BBG members--outgoing chairman Ken Tomlinson was the lone dissenter--are ardent Register partisans, voting 5-1 against investigating Mr. Register's questionable editorial decisions.
Key lawmakers don't share such exuberance. Reps. Dan Burton (R., Ind.) and Robert Wexler (D., Fla.) are circulating to fellow House Foreign Affairs Committee members a letter which asks Ms. Rice for an investigation into Al-Hurra. And Rep. Steve Rothman (D., N.J.), who sits on the panel responsible for funding Al-Hurra, has proposed live Internet streaming of the network, full online digital archives, and English transcripts for all programs.
Lack of active oversight and transparency has obviously contributed to the current mess at Al-Hurra. If someone outside Al-Hurra had been able to view the Nasrallah speech merely by going online, for example, Ms. Rice almost certainly would not have been fed false information.
But that's not enough. The people who already monitor the network -- its employees -- need to be empowered to report dubious decisions without fear of reprisal. Transparency will allow concerns to be investigated swiftly. Employees simply won't come forward, though, if they believe no one in power cares. For that reason, a clear signal must be sent by firing Mr. Register.
After all, if you can't get fired for using U.S. taxpayer dollars to provide a platform for Islamic terrorists and help further Holocaust denial, then wouldn't Congress and the Bush administration be communicating that pretty much anything goes?