By Cliff Kincaid
Apparently on the defensive over its unorthodox entry into the U.S. media market, Al Jazeera has hired a high-powered lobbying firm on Capitol Hill to stave off an investigation of the curious transaction with former Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
The firm, DLA Piper, represented Al Jazeera in the acquisition of Gore’s Current TV, has an office in Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, and is also active in the “Islamic financial services industry” in the Middle East.
“Al Jazeera America is assembling a K Street team to advocate for its cable news channel,” reports The Hill. Current TV was purchased from Gore and other prominent Democrats, including Richard C. Blum, husband of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Gore reportedly got $100 million out of the $500 million deal.
But DLA’s top lobbyist on the Al Jazeera account is a Republican, Mark R. Paoletta, who used to work for President George H.W. Bush.
The term “K Street” refers to Washington, D.C.’s expensive lobbying industry, a sure indication that Al Jazeera realizes it has to deploy huge sums of cash from its owner, the Emir of Qatar, to make sure its takeover of Gore’s Current TV does not run into snags.
The Emir of Qatar, a multi-billionaire, runs a dictatorial regime that postures as America’s friend in the Middle East but which supports the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, Hamas and Hizbullah.
Lobbying registration forms reveal that four lobbyists from the firm DLA Piper are on the Al Jazeera account. DLA Piper describes itself as a global law firm with 4,200 lawyers located in more than 30 countries, including the Middle East.
One of its areas of interest is “Islamic Finance.”
The firm says, “The worldwide Islamic financial services industry is thought to be worth in excess of US$1 trillion and, despite current global economic uncertainty, continues to demonstrate strong signs of growth as investors (Islamic and conventional) look to tap into the alternative source of liquidity offered by Shari’a compliant financing structures and products.”
Sharia refers to the totalitarian system of Islamic law.
“We consider ourselves to be more than just a global law firm but also a ‘stakeholder’ in the Islamic finance industry,” DLA Piper says.
Mark Paoletta, a partner in DLA Piper’s Federal Law and Policy group, is listed in the registration forms as one of the lobbyists for Al Jazeera. His specialty is “government investigations, with an emphasis on congressional investigations and hearings,” as well as “crisis management.”
According to his webpage, his clients have included:
Major hedge funds in connection with investigations by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into the hedge fund industry
Defense contractors in investigations by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
A foreign bank in connection with an investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations into offshore tax practices
In addition to Paoletta, DLA Piper’s John Merrigan, Ignacio Sanchez and Matthew Bernstein are registered as lobbyists for the channel. “We’re keeping everyone advised of the upcoming launch of the U.S.-based news channel,” Merrigan told Politico.
While this may strike some as non-controversial, Al Jazeera critic Jerry Kenney points out that these discussions are being held “behind closed doors” and that Congress is getting only one side of the story.
“This is proof of why we need public hearings into Al Jazeera,” he said. “They have no choice now. America is supposed to be a government that is open and public and not based on back alley deals with a dictator. It seems as though this dictator has better standing with Congress then even the American people who want open hearings.”
Variety reports that Al Jazeera “does not reveal its finances” but that Qatar’s ruling Al Thani royal family has a sovereign wealth fund that reportedly has up to $100 billion in assets. This family “shelled out hundreds of millions in startup costs for the network,” and spending at Al Jazeera in 2010 “reached almost $650 million,” the publication said.
Paoletta, the DLA Piper lobbyist, has strong Republican credentials and advertises himself as having “worked closely with numerous Republican Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairmen and senior members, including Representatives Fred Upton, Ed Whitfield and Greg Walden.” He also worked in the White House as Assistant Counsel to the President during the George H.W. Bush Administration.
Politico says the firm DLA Piper is supposed to “make headway on Capitol Hill” for the new channel and “has been making the rounds in Washington, educating lawmakers about the company’s plans to be based in New York City and open bureaus across the country.”
In the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for and killing of Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, the location of an Al Jazeera bureau near bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan was an indication that the CIA was on the trail of the elusive terrorist mastermind.
The working relationship between Al Qaida and Al Jazeera has been a matter of public record since before the 9/11 Al Qaida terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
The unprecedented activity on Capitol Hill by the foreign propaganda channel suggests that the deal could yet run into significant obstacles to completion as members of Congress begin to grasp the significance of the terror channel getting a permanent base on U.S. soil with access to 40-50 million homes.
Perhaps the Al Jazeera lobbyists saw how Obama Pentagon chief nominee Chuck Hagel got into serious trouble on Capitol Hill for giving Al Jazeera an interview and bashing the United States on the air. In his grilling of Hagel over the interview, Senator Ted Cruz called Al Jazeera “a foreign network broadcasting propaganda to nations that are hostile to us.”
Accuracy in Media reviewed the lobbying registration form, which says that the firm DLA Piper will engage in “Informational communications regarding client’s cable television channel.” Under the heading of “Foreign Entities” the name of “Al Jazeera Media Network” is identified as the owner of the new channel, with an address in Doha, Qatar, where the government owners of Al Jazeera are based.
The term “informational communications” is a euphemism for making sure that Congress does not stand in the way of the deal. The lobbying activity suggests that the thousands of telephone calls to Congress about stopping the deal, or at least investigating the transaction, are having some impact and that Al Jazeera is starting to get worried.
Years ago a firm in the Arab state of Dubai thought it had approval for a deal to run U.S. ports but had to abandon the effort when members of Congress and the American people questioned the national security aspects of the proposal.
[Accuracy in Media has been urging people to call Reps. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee (202-226-8417), and Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee (202- 226-9717), asking for investigations of Al Jazeera.]
Jerry Kenney, an independent television producer in Florida, commented, “Qatar won’t defend itself. They buy hired guns to do that. Where is the honor in that? Just like they bought Current TV when no one wanted their programming they buy Washington insiders to run interference for them because they cannot defend themselves or show who they really are.”
He added, “Congress is only getting Al Jazeera’s side of the argument in private. Behind closed doors, and away from the glare of public scrutiny, Al Jazeera can distort its record and the facts with no one there to correct them. It’s time for public hearings.”
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the Accuracy In Media Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at [email protected].