FRANCE — In a home near the Seine, four American women are engaged in what the Bush administration may consider an act of treason.
They are watching the Forbidden Channel.
They are watching Al Jazeera. If you watch it, They say the terrorists win.
Of the four women, one is a card-carrying member of the Religious Right who twice voted for Bush. Another woman voted for him in 2000 but not the second time.
The remaining women, one a registered Democrat, the other a Socialist — which aren't the same thing — are still angry about Hurricane Katrina and over 3,000 dead troops in Iraq.
So this caucus across the Atlantic isn't about shared interests. Coco, Nikita, Sabine and Irma — not their real names — are drawn to the TV out of common curiosity.
They want to see for themselves if Al Jazeera, at least the English-language version, is as bad as They said.
So they quietly engage in the revolutionary act of supporting freedom of expression.
They watch the Forbidden Channel.
Was the network really anti-American or was it, like Fox News, "fair and balanced"?
They find that Al Jazeera's weatherman is like one on MSNBC. Both are bald black men, but Al Jazeera's guy speaks British English and wears a brilliant green tie.
They are surprised to hear not only the weather in London and Cairo, but also in Chicago and Kansas City.
When was the last time you watched CNN and knew whether to take your umbrella to Dublin?
But it is news, not the forecast, that has caused the Forbidden Channel to get on Bush-Cheney's bad side.
The Qatar-based network has existed since 1996, but since the Iraq war it has taken a beating from our White House for its war coverage.
So, as is typical of this White House, what it cannot control, it condemns or destroys. That's true not only of the foreign press, but U.S. media, too.
The administration claims the network is anti-American and supports terrorism.
Still, this is the network that aired in its entirety a defiant post-9/11 speech by Osama bin Forgotten. American media broadcast excerpts, releasing the speech through talking points. Networks devoted more airtime to pundits analyzing snippets of a speech than to the speech itself. To defeat the enemy, it helps to know him.
The way to shut up bin Laden is not to restrict press reports about him. Americans want to see him locked up and want our president to "bring him to justice" as promised.
Human Rights Watch has reported that the Bush administration tried to pressure Qatar's government to censor the Forbidden Channel.
The White House denied it, although it also is alleged to have done something more sinister.
In 2001, a U.S. missile struck a network office in Kabul. In 2003, another missile struck the network's Baghdad bureau, killing one person.
Both accidents, said the White House. Yet, London's Daily Mirror reported in 2005 on an alleged chat between Dubya and Tony Blair in which the president mentioned wanting to blow the dissident network to smithereens.
To critics, Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece for Muslim and Arab extremists. But Fox News is the mouthpiece of the Religious Right and the No. 1 network in the White House.
No one high up in government has threatened to shut it down or nuke it. Censorship, whether aimed at Fox or Al Jazeera, is un-American. It hurts democracy by restricting free thought and free expression.
As the women watch, they see that Scooter Libby's sentence was commuted. They see Bush explain that Libby got a bum deal and ought not lose his freedom.
The network then shows clips of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj playing with his small son. Al-Hajj, who claims innocence, was picked up in Afghanistan for suspected links to the Taliban. He remains imprisoned at Gitmo, where he was deemed ineligible for release or transfer.
How's that for fair and balanced?
Rhonda Chriss Lokeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. To find out more about Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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