Much has been said by the Obama Administration about reaching out to the Arab world and much was made of the President's sit-down interview with al-Arabiya Television, but speaking to al-Arabiya is nothing new for an American President, and their reach is far less.
President Bush, who sat with al-Arabiya several times for interviews, never sat down with al-Jazeera despite my urging. It was and still is my belief that there is no better way to bring the American message of democracy and hope to 200 million Arab households than to speak directly and unfiltered to the network they are watching.
President Obama should follow the lead of all four of the Bush administrations' U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations and speak directly to these millions of Arab households by sitting down for an on-the-record interview with al-Jazeera Television.
Although the most popular Arab network has had its share of bias problems, President Obama is missing an important and easy opportunity to change the hearts and minds of the majority of the Arab world. The Pentagon and the Senate Armed Services Committee have issued reports recently urging better global strategic communications. And the Department of State is constantly looking for ways to counter the propaganda put forth by militants in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, millions of tax payer dollars are being spent to counter such rumors. But the best way and the cheapest way to speak directly to the people most affected is being ignored.
While President Obama has shown to be incredibly thin-skinned when criticized by reporters and networks that scrutinize his policies (see Fox News) he should nevertheless find a way to sit down for a lively but worthy conversation with an al-Jazeera reporter.
While the interview will not be an easy one, my eight years of experience with a plethora of al-Jazeera journalists is that they will be cordial and respectful but tough. It would undoubtedly be the best way to get in to the living room of a typical Arab family and make a case for freedom and democracy - and it would do so 200 million times over.
Al-Jazeera has revolutionized Arab TV in the 12 years they have existed. While the Arab public used to watch their dictators' activities only through the official state-sponsored television channels, they now have alternative news sources and independent channels. Al-Jazeera has become the voice of the Arab public. We can argue all day with editorial decisions from our news sources or boycott media with whom we disagree, but ignoring the channel with the largest target audience we need to reach is a terrible mistake.
The Republican Ambassadors to the United Nations certainly did not agree with every decision the editors at al-Jazeera made (just as with MSNBC or Fox News), but the Ambassadors realized the reach of al-Jazeera was unmatched in the Arab world. While our current American politicians are responsible for managing multiple conflicts and making decisions about how to spend billions of dollars that greatly effect thousands of lives in the region, it is ridiculous to miss an opportunity to speak for free to the millions of people that can make a difference in how those conflicts will be solved.
By Richard Grenell: