That Al Jazeera is biased in favor of the Brotherhood is now widely accepted as fact. In a January 2013 article titled "Must Do Better," the Economist excoriated the network for its "breathless boosting" of "the Qatar-aligned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt." In November 2012, political scientist Alain Gresh wrote that the channel had "lost much of its lustre -- and some of its best journalists -- as a result, and has become a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood." Adel Iskandar, a Washington-based scholar of Arab studies whose research focuses on media, said that "by cheerleading for the Brotherhood, the station has effectively lost its market in the region's most populous country and become a pariah in society."
In Egypt, Al Jazeera's lopsided coverage quickly alienated viewers, many of whom took to social media to voice their displeasure. So toxic was the Twittersphere during the latest round of protests that on July 1, two days before the coup, I predicted that "Egyptians will kick Al Jazeera Arabic out of the country" once Morsy was overthrown.
Al Jazeera's news anchors haven't always been against military intervention. In one telling tweet last December, Jamal Rayyan, one of the channel's star news anchors, called on Morsy to dispatch the Army to put an end to what he called "the chaos" of anti-Morsy protesters who objected to the country's new constitution, which was written almost exclusively by the Brotherhood and other Islamists. Likewise, a video that emerged after Morsy's ouster shows Ahmed Mansour, another Al Jazeera anchor who is believed to be a member of the Brotherhood, giving advice to the audience on how to reinstate the president. "Raise the Egyptian flags like they [Morsy's opposition] who stole the revolution did," says Mansour, adding, "I beg you to listen to me. Egyptians won't come out on the streets with us otherwise."
Iskandar, the Washington-based media scholar, called the video of Mansour a "worrying development," indicating that even veteran Al Jazeera journalists "have abandoned their role as practitioners and turned into political operatives."
It must be a confusing time in the Al Jazeera newsroom. Qatar has abandoned its allies in the Brotherhood literally overnight. The Persian Gulf state issued a surreal press statement not only acknowledging the facts on the ground -- the overthrow of its ally -- but also praising the role of the Army, the perpetrator of the coup, in defending the country's security. This may be a pragmatic move by Qatar's new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who does not wish to start his reign allied to a Muslim Brotherhood in decline.
Al Jazeera has altered its coverage to suit its owners' interests before. Prior to the Qatari-Saudi rapprochement over the past few years, Al Jazeera hosted critics of Saudi Arabia and even produced a documentary on the Al Yamama weapons deal between the Saudi and British governments that was mired in corruption allegations. Now that relations have improved between the two countries, Al Jazeera has changed its tune and was rewarded with the reopening of its bureau in Riyadh in January 2011.
A similar reversal took place with Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group allied with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Qatar emerged as a major supporter of Hezbollah following the latter's 2006 war with Israel. When Qatar's former emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, visited southern Lebanon after the war, Al Jazeera heaped praise on the group in one report, saying the "guest [the emir] is kind and those receiving him [Hezbollah] are kind as well."
In August 2008, Al Jazeera's Beirut bureau hosted a birthday party live on air for a Lebanese fighter who was released as part of a prisoner exchange deal with Israel. The festivities featured a large cake decorated with a photo of a smiling Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. But following Hezbollah's intervention in Syria, Al Jazeera's change of heart was evident in its daily coverage and talk shows, on one of which a presenter recently alleged that "hundreds of women were raped by Hezbollah in [the Syrian town of] Qusayr; it's all documented."
Last month, Al Jazeera Arabic posted a controversial poll asking who was responsible for the descent of the Syrian war into a sectarian conflict: Sunnis or Shiites (read: Hezbollah). Qatar also recently expelled 18 Lebanese Shiites after the Gulf states collectively agreed to take measures against the group's members. Salem, the Arab media researcher, said that "Al Jazeera in the past positioned itself as the 'resistance' channel in the region. In 2011, it became the 'Arab spring' channel. Today, unfortunately, Al Jazeera Arabic is the 'state channel' of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab region."
That said, the Saudi-funded Al Arabiya television channel, Al Jazeera's closest competitor -- like most news media covering Egypt today -- has been faring just as badly when it comes to selective reporting of recent events. The difference is that Al Jazeera's dramatic fall comes from what many saw as a higher journalistic pedestal.
As it prepares for the launch of its U.S. channel later this year, Al Jazeera remains a network staffed largely by good journalists, but run by a shortsighted and biased administration. One of the first steps Qatar's young new emir took upon succeeding his father was to replace Al Jazeera's director-general, who was a member of the ruling family. Perhaps the new replacement will be able to save the channel at this critical time.
It's also possible that Al Jazeera's Brotherhood sympathies amount to a long-term play by the channel's backers. "I don't think Egyptians turned against Al Jazeera for good" says Salem. "The Muslim Brotherhood will always enjoy relatively large support in the country." Perhaps, in time, Al Jazeera will too.