Balk Like An Egyptian

by Miles Leicher

If you're ever unsure as to whether you or your country are, in fact, going through some major s**t, just look out the window: if Anderson Cooper is standing there holding a microphone, then the answer is "yes...get to the choppah!"

Case in point: Egypt, which not only has AC in town, but the network anchors as well [side note: Egypt, you can "rough up" Anderson Cooper all you want, but if you harm one hair on Brian Williams' perfect head, so help me, I will fly over there myself and shove a pyramid right up your sphinx].  The cavalcade of American media arrived as hundreds of thousands of protesters flocked to Cairo and Alexandria, calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. I use the term "president" loosely, as he has been repeatedly "elected" for nearly 30 years, despite a lack of popular support.  But I digress.

Al Jazeera correspondents in Cairo described the vibe of the gathering at Tahrir Square as "festival-like."  So, think "Burning Man," with actual burning men.  Yes, it was reported two weeks ago that a man in Cairo doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire after arguing with local officials over the price of bread.  Or what's known in Egypt as a "heated debate."

When that happened two weeks ago, Al Jazeera was one of the few international news networks to report it and since then has taken the lead in front-line coverage of the turmoil.  But most Americans don't know that because they can't watch Al Jazeera.  Widely known for such hits as "The bin Laden Tapes" and "America Just Killed Iraqi Civilians," the network was demonized (and bombed) by the Bush Administration and effectively blackballed by U.S. cable carriers for its perceived anti-American bias.  I guess we were pretty sensitive back then and that stuff was, shall we say, politically incorrect. 

Al Jazeera English launched in 2006 but can still only be viewed in three American cities: Washington D.C., Burlington, Vermont and, for some reason, Toledo, Ohio.  The anti-American stigma persists, though, to the extent that other providers fear a drop in subscribers if they were to even offer the channel.  And that's the crazy part.  We have a dozen versions of ESPN, but are afraid to offer a viewpoint from the part of the world that we know least about.  Worst-case scenario: we get the crap scared out of us.  But Americans love that stuff.  Why else would anyone watch Fox News?

Besides, just imagine what their programming would look like once they started to chase ratings over here: The O'Sama Factor...Mubarak in the Mornings...Jerusalem Shore. Y ou get the point.

Of course, my real point is that we shouldn't let politics dictate the sort of information we have access to, otherwise we're no better than some dictator who shuts off the Internet.  And we certainly won't be lighting ourselves on fire in protest because – let's be honest – gas is way too expensive.