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Local TV Notes: Oprah, Ponzi, Al Jazeera

1. WGN Hangs Up On Oprah.

The best part is when Robin Baumgarten says "This is so typical. How do we cut off the one guest we've had that people might be interested in watching? We are such a pack of morons."


2. Ponzi TV.

"The Securities and Exchange Commission charged an Indiana man with running a $6 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of their retirement savings and used the money to invest in a bridal store, a bounty hunter reality television show, and a soul food restaurant owned by the bounty hunters," Reuters reports.

The Indianapolis Star reports that "John K. Marcum illegally diverted much of the investors' funds to accounts he controlled, spending more than $500,000 to pay for an upscale lifestyle that included luxury cars, hotel stays, sports tickets, and tabs at a Hollywood nightclub, says the complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"But in a Robin Hood-like twist, the SEC lawsuit says Marcum also handed out investor money to a charity that provides jobs for ex-convicts. He also invested in several start-up companies. They included a bridal store, a bounty hunter reality TV show, and a soul food restaurant owned and run by the bounty hunters in the show . . .

"'Marcum tricked investors into putting their retirement nest eggs in his hands by portraying himself as a talented trader who could earn high returns while eliminating the risk of loss,' Timothy L. Warren, acting director of the SEC's Chicago office, said in a statement. 'Marcum tried to carry on his charade of success even after he squandered nearly all of the funds from investors.'"

Has this been greenlit yet?


3. Al Jazeera Palooza.

"Al Jazeera America launched last week. The new television channel features such broadcast luminaries as Soledad O'Brien, Joie Chen, Sheila MacVicar, John Seigenthaler, David Shuster and Ali Velshi," Clifford D. May wrote in a widely circulated Op-Ed published by the Sun-Times on August 30.

Paul Beban, a regional correspondent, told the Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow that he "defuses suspicions about Al Jazeera America with 'a little bit of humor and friendliness.' " For example, when asked whether he is required to wear a burqa, Beban replies: "You know what? They were out of 42 long."

Such drollery notwithstanding, "some of the viewing public is more than a little wary of the latest entry in the field," Ostrow notes. Why do you suppose that might that be?

Perhaps start with the fact that Al Jazeera America, like its well-established Arabic-language sister station, Al Jazeera, is owned and lavishly funded by "the royal family of Qatar," the politest way of describing the petroleum-rich emirate's dynastic dictators - who also happen to be funders of Hamas, a U.S. government-designated terrorist group, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

I don't know about that, but Qatar is a rock-solid ally of America's, for better or worse.

"Qatar has built intimate military ties with the United States, and is now the location of U.S. Central Command's Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center," Wikipedia notes.

"In 2011, Qatar joined NATO operations in Libya and reportedly armed Libyan opposition groups. It is also currently a major funder of weapons for rebel groups in the Syrian civil war."

Sounds like Qatar represents the interests of the U.S. government just fine.

As for Al Jazeera, it offers "real news" according to none other than Hillary Clinton. In fact, Al Jazeera and RT (formerly Russia Today) are making inroads in America precisely because they actually offer substantive reports from a variety of perspectives not considered by the celebrity-obsessed lapdogs that pass for news folk here in America. Hell, add the Guardian newspaper to that mix. It's a global world and global news brands are developing well beyond, say, CNN International.

From the Huffington Post:

"Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news," Clinton said. "You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."

During the height of the crisis in Egypt, The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim wrote about Al Jazeera English's near-total invisibility on U.S. television.

Media critics like Jeff Jarvis have also contrasted Al Jazeera with American news networks. "Vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one - not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media - can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can," Jarvis wrote in January.

That's Al Jazeera (in) English - not to be confused with Al Jazeera America. The early results look promising - and should excite and inspire other journalists.

Or, you could be blasé about it, like the Tribune's Eric Zorn, who writes that he's "skeptical that American viewers in large numbers will ever get past the 'Al Jazeera' brand and embrace a TV network based in Qatar, no matter how solid and compelling their journalism or how many U.S. journalists they hire."

More skeptical than the day a man named Barack Hussein Obama announced he was running for president?

Maybe it will take some encouragement from fellow media colleagues, but it's pretty facile to simply dismiss the channel based on its name.

"Research commissioned by the station shows Americans 'are not happy with the landscape of the news,'" Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director for international operations for Al Jazeera, told the Trib edit board recently.

"What CNN is covering, what FOX is covering, what MSNBC is covering - we don't consider this journalism," Al Shihabi said.



Related: Al Jazeera America Hires Former Tumblr-er Mark Coatney As Senior VP Of Digital Media.


Disclosure: Like a ton of other American journalists, I, too, have sent a resume to Al Jazeera America (as well as RT and the Guardian).


Comments welcome.


Posted on September 4, 2013

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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