Al Jazeera recently launched an online media venture aimed at conservatives who feel left out of the conversation, yet it features much of the same bigoted rhetoric and “both-sides” narratives present in existing right-wing platforms. Already, over 100 Al Jazeera staffers have signed an open letter objecting to the project, which they said will “irreparably tarnish the network’s brand and work.”
In February, Al Jazeera announced the launch of its new conservative platform called Rightly. Scott Norvell -- who helped initially launch Fox News in 1996 and left in 2012 to join the now-defunct libertarian outlet Heat Street -- is the editor-in-chief. Al Jazeera’s launch of Rightly comes after it received fairly intense scrutiny under the Trump administration, which demanded that its U.S. social media division, called AJ+, register as a foreign agent (Al Jazeera is funded by the Qatari government). Currently, Rightly features one podcast called Right Now, which is available on YouTube, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Host Stephen Kent described the podcast to NPR as “a forum about the fight within the right over its commitment to liberalism, the ethic of accommodation, and openness.” Kent, a media consultant and Washington Examiner contributor, also said his “focus will be on the right and building the case over time for why the liberal tradition is worth defending.”
But right off the bat, Rightly has exposed itself as disingenuous right-wing propaganda.
In a series of promotional videos for its launch, Rightly characterized the country as irretrievably divided by the extreme fringes on both sides. In an effort to depict demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism as extreme, for example, a February 21 promotional video titled “Black Lives Matter Protests” showed footage of unidentified protesters burning a pro-police “thin blue line” flag, ostensibly at a Black Lives Matter march. In reality, that video clip is from counter-protesters at a December 2019 “Mega MAGA march” in Seattle, Washington.
Rightly’s Right Now episodes aren’t much better. The nearly hour-long programs are presumably long enough to provide space for nuanced discussions, but they actually just allow people to make subtly bigoted statements without correction.
During one episode, guest Brad Polumbo of the Foundation for Economic Education falsely claimed the Equality Act overrides all federal protection of religious liberty before concluding that it “overreaches” in protecting LGBTQ rights -- echoing a frequent line of attack on the bill from right-wing media.
In another episode, Polumbo and Kent pushed back against a federal minimum wage increase because, they argued, it will raise prices and won’t fix the high cost of living -- ignoring evidence that it would lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty. “Putting money in people’s pockets does not fix the problem,” Kent concluded.
During a March 18 episode, Kent actually floated the idea of allowing immigrants into the country only if the federal government could dictate where they live and for how long:
Right Now’s two latest episodes have received nearly 20,000 views each, but the Rightly YouTube page has only around 1,200 subscribers and its Twitter account has just over 5,000. These figures suggest that the right-wing media ecosystem is already saturated with content, leaving little room for Al Jazeera’s attempt to spread more of the same lukewarm conservative takes to online audiences.