Current TV Rejected Glenn Beck Before Selling to Al-Jazeera

Thursday, 03 Jan 2013 11:30 AM

By Dale Eisinger

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Before pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera bought Current TV, the fledgling cable news network founded by former Vice President Al Gore, conservative commentator Glenn Beck had pursued purchasing the company — and was rejected.

The Wall Street Journal revealed that when Beck's TheBlaze TV sought ownership of the Current broadcasting network, the bid was rejected because the principles of Beck's company did not align with those of Current.

"Other suitors who didn't share Current's ideology were rebuffed," reporters Keach Hagey and John Jannarone wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "Glenn Beck's TheBlaze approached Current about buying the channel last year, but was told that 'the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view,'" according to a person familiar with the negotiations."

The former vice president confirmed the sale Wednesday that reportedly netted $500 million, saying in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV's mission "to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling." Gore will take home $100 million for his 20 percent stake in the network.

Beck confirmed that his bid was rebuffed by tweeting out a link to an explanation on his blog, with the Journal's reporting embedded.


Executives at Current told the Journal they decided to sell to the Arab broadcaster because "Al-Jazeera was founded with the same goals we had for Current," which included "to give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard" and "to speak truth to power," according to the Journal.

Beck's own blog points out that Al-Jazeera once published an op-ed that compared Beck to terrorists. The pundit has criticized the network in the past, accusing them of connections to Islamic extremism and anti-American leanings.

The acquisition lifts Al-Jazeera's reach beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington, where about 4.7 million homes can now watch Al-Jazeera English.

Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into a new channel called Al-Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hiring more journalists.

Al-Jazeera spokesman Stan Collender said there are no rules against foreign ownership of a cable channel — unlike the strict rules limiting foreign ownership of free-to-air TV stations. He said the move is based on demand, adding that 40 percent of viewing traffic on Al-Jazeera English's website is from the U.S.

"This is a pure business decision based on recognized demand," Collender said. "When people watch Al-Jazeera, they tend to like it a great deal."

Al-Jazeera has long struggled to get carriage in the U.S., and the $500 million deal suffered an immediate casualty as Time Warner Cable Inc., the nation's second-largest cable TV operator, announced it is dropping Current TV due to the deal.

"Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement.

The channel will now reach into 40 million homes. Comcast and DirecTV, which also carry the channel, have not announced plans to remove it from their lineups.

In 2010, the network's managing director, Tony Burman, blamed a "very aggressive hostility" from the Bush administration for reluctance among cable and satellite companies to show the network.

Even so, Al-Jazeera has garnered respect for its ability to build a serious news product in a short time. But there may be a culture clash at the network. Dave Marash, a former "Nightline" reporter who worked for Al-Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.

Current, meanwhile, began as a groundbreaking effort to promote user-generated content. But it has settled into a more conventional format of political talk television with a liberal bent. Gore worked on-air as an analyst during its recent election night coverage.

Former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Cenk Uygur are currently its lead personalities. Current signed Keith Olbermann to be its top host in 2011 but his tenure lasted less than a year before it ended in bad blood on both sides.

Current has largely been outflanked by MSNBC in its effort be a liberal alternative to the leading cable news network, Fox News Channel.

Current hired former CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman in 2011 to be its president. Bohrman has pushed the network to innovate technologically, with an election night coverage that emphasized social media conversation.

Current TV, founded in 2005 by former vice president Gore and Joel Hyatt, is expected to post $114 million in revenue in 2013, according to research firm SNL Kagan. The firm pegged the network's cash flow at nearly $24 million a year.

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