Here's a WikiLeaks revelation that probably no one saw coming: U.S. television shows do more to dissuade Saudi youth from becoming violent jihadists than the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the U.S. government on propaganda that's meant to sway them.
The Guardian reports that shows such as "Desperate Housewives," "Late Show with David Letterman," and "Friends" are broadcast uncensored and with Arabic subtitles as part of a "war of ideas" against extremist elements. A previously secret cable called "David Letterman: Agent of Influence" suggests those television shows are more effective in curbing extremism than U.S.-funded al-Hurra, a news channel.
According to the cable, two Saudi media executives tell a U.S. official (while at a Starbucks in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah) that MBC, which broadcasts "Housewives," "Letterman" and "Friends," and Rotana, a part-Rupert Murdoch-owned channel that airs Fox News programming, are very popular and have citizens of Saudi Arabia more interested in studying and learning about the United States.
While it's not earth-shattering to hear that Saudis like Jennifer Aniston, Eva Longoria and David Letterman, it's something of a surprise that they enjoy watching Fox News programming. American critics of Fox News have accused it of pushing a right-wing, anti-Islam agenda.
According to the Guardian, the cable lays out what in particular seems to work best with Saudi viewing audiences:
- Relationships - be they parent-child or husband-wife - in which the people in those relationships are very supportive of one another. The cable cites an unspecified movie about an American husband, his alcoholic wife and the cars and dinnerware she smashes (a guess is "When a Man Loves a Woman," co-written by Sen. Al Franken, long before he was a senator, and starring Meg Ryan).
- When honesty triumphs over corruption (the George Clooney-starring "Michael Clayton" is a favorite).
- Respect for law (the cable cites "Insomnia," starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino).
What works less is the U.S. government-sponsored propaganda. Al-Hurra shows long interviews with American politicians and local Saudi journalism.
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