The home page of Al Jazeera English on Feb. 3,...

The home page of Al Jazeera English on Feb. 3, with coverage of the Egyptian uprising. Credit:

Ana Marie Cox is the founding editor of the political blog Wonkette and is the Washington correspondent for GQ magazine.

"It's Al Jazeera calling."

I didn't even return the voice-mail message. The request to come on to talk about the 2008 election came a little over a year after the launch of Al Jazeera English -- and that's who was calling (my Arabic is somewhere below "Team America" gibberish). I'm pretty sure they didn't expect me indict George W. Bush for war crimes or burn a flag. But despite being more than a year old, the upstart offspring of the more infamous and provocative Arabic-language Al Jazeera suffered from the perception that it handed out burqas at the door and John Walker Lindh tracts on the way out. AJE, as it's come to be called, was obviously biased, the suspicion went; a reporter appearing on it as a commentator would be tainted somehow. And, for what it's worth, the Bush administration certainly did portray terrorism as something you inadvertently catch -- a virus transmitted via proximity to Korans or a close reading of the First Amendment.

Today, in part due to its round-the-clock coverage of the unrest in Egypt, once-shy cable and satellite carriers are considering putting AJE in their lineups, right next to CNN, MSNBC and Fox. Now it's Al Jazeera English that might be worried about catching something from its neighbors on the dial: Is insipidness contagious?

Sitting down to compare the coverage of AJE with that of the American news networks, I knew the outsider would have a natural advantage at appearing more dignified -- most of its anchors speak in a British accent, after all. But a snap side-by-side look at just the organizations' websites -- eliminating the posh-accent variable and AJE's suspicious lack of fancy touch-screen maps -- devastated our domestic contestants' claims to being either "The Place for Politics" (MSNBC) or, as CNN describes itself, "The Most Trusted Name in News." Not because I doubt surveys showing that Americans trust CNN, but because what it covers doesn't look much like news.

I'll just tell you now: AJE's website is thoroughly sober and dignified. It may be biased as well, but it's not embarrassing. Down at the bottom, where other websites showcase clips -- not making this up -- on "How to avoid adopting an awful cat" (CNN), or " Sean (Hannity) goes one-on-one with Larry the Cable Guy!" (Fox News), AJE has coverage of the leak of Palestinian Authority documents. You remember that story, right? It recently captured American attention for about a day. But enough of that! Let's hear more about "Bath salts: The new designer drug?"

Not that I think AJE is trying to make American television look bad. There's nothing too difficult in carrying out that mission statement, after all: Just avoid covering missing blondes and Twittering porn stars, and refrain from exhaustive coverage of the weather. AJE has more important things to attend to; its wall-to-wall coverage of Egypt has meant risking the safety of numerous reporters on the ground. Earlier this week, six AJE staffers were detained by Egyptian authorities -- this after the government revoked its license to broadcast, a move that AJE defies with the diligence and integrity so long absent from American television news that it can only be celebrated in quaint homage. (I'm looking at you, Keith Olbermann!)

I've done a lot of guest appearances on the cable networks I criticize here, so I clearly don't mind stating the obvious. Nor do I especially mind the appearance of hypocrisy, for that matter: If Al Jazeera English calls today, I will put on my best serious-person attire and show up at its door. And I don't think I'm alone in my eagerness to associate with the reporters who are doing so much to remind American viewers of what real political reporting looks like. A Google search for information on AJE turns up the terms most often searched for in association with "Al Jazeera English." High up on the list is this string of words: "Al Jazeera English, Washington DC, jobs."

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