Watch: Letterman Grills Gore on Current TV Sale to Al Jazeera

by | January 30, 2013 at 11:15 AM | Late Show with David Letterman, TV News

David Letterman cross-examined Al Gore on the sale of Gore’s TV network — Current TV — to Al Jazeera, the Arab-owned media company.

“Why do we think of Al Jazeera as something not right going on there in terms of the good for Americans?” Letterman asked, somewhat awkwardly, when Gore appeared on Letterman’s “Late Show” Tuesday night on CBS. “Why do we think that they may be propaganda for Muslim violence and terrorism?” Dave continued, pressing the former vice president of the United States.

Gore defended the reputation of Al Jazeera, which is headquartered in Doha, capital city of Qatar, an oil-rich, independent Arab state on the Persian Gulf. The former veep has been the subject of near-constant criticism following the news earlier this month that he and his business partner, Joel Hyatt, agreed to sell their cable network, Current, to Al Jazeera for $500 million. Gore himself reportedly earned a windfall of $100 million from the deal. Current, which was struggling for viewers (it reportedly averaged less than 20,000 on a typical day), will reportedly be transformed into a new entity called Al Jazeera America by its new owners. The sale isn’t sitting well with some because Al Jazeera has a reputation — real or imagined — for favoring Arab and Muslim points of view in its coverage of Middle East news.

“Well, it’s certainly not [propaganda],” Gore said, answering Letterman’s question. “Many years ago, it put some videos on [on its Arab-language channel seen in the Middle East] that I think were misinterpreted,” Gore conceded. “But,” he added, “Al Jazeera English [a channel already seen on U.S. cable systems] and now Al Jazeera America [is] really high-quality stuff. They’re very widely respected and people will see for themselves.

“And by the way,” he said, “their climate coverage is higher quality and more extensive than any network on TV now in the U.S.”

Global warming is, of course, a hot-button issue for Gore, and Letterman pressed him on how he could sell his network to a media company based in an oil-rich country whose petroleum products are a major contributor to the global warming that so concerns Gore.

“So you’re selling this television network to a gas- and oil-supported country,” Letterman said. “Isn’t that one of the problems with global warming — our dependence on petroleum-producing countries?” he asked.

“Yes, it is,” Gore said.

“So, you, Al Gore, are doing business with this country that’s enabling your ultimate foe, climate change!” Letterman declared triumphantly.

To his credit, Gore was unfazed. “I think I understand what you’re getting at, Dave, but I disagree with it,” Gore said. “First of all, they have ambitious plans to develop renewables in the region. There’s a visionary plan to take solar energy and wind energy from the Middle East and North Africa to Western Europe.

“Again,” he repeated, “the network that they founded has become a very widely respected news-gathering organization including on climate issues.”

Despite his apparent familiarity with Al Jazeera and its news-gathering, Gore admitted to Letterman that he doesn’t know what “al jazeera” means in Arabic. Letterman said he was under the impression it means “the island.” According to Wikipedia, it means “the peninsula.”

Before their conversation was over, Letterman had a suggestion for Al Jazeera America. “See if you can get Regis a show,” he said to Gore.

And Gore replied, “I’ll suggest that!”

Gore was on the “Letterman” show to promote his new book, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.”