Within hours of CurrentTV officially being sold to Al Jazeera—netting Al Gore a cool $100 million—Time Warner Cable pulled the network from its channel lineups. Apparently, Time Warner didn't even wait until last night's programming day was over to yank Current from its service, deciding to pull the plug (at least in the New York City market) before the end of Eliot Spitzer's nightly show.
The network did not give an official reason for the move, but many have speculated that it's simply prejudice against the new owners, who are based in Doha, Qatar, and have seen their fair share of controversy over the years. The Middle East-focused Al Jazeera began as an Arabic-only network, before adding a English language version, and has been accused in the past of a decidedly anti-American bias and even of sympathy for terrorist organizations. More than a decade after the September 11 attacks first brought the network to the attention of most Americans, and despite its impressive coverage of the Arab Spring in 2011, those stereotypes still persist.
Most U.S. cable companies still refuse to carry Al Jazeera English, although thanks to an unusual "sublet" deal with another network, it is actually available on Time Warner—but only part time and only in New York City. As for Current, Time Warner had previously announced that its carriage contract with Current had expired and that it was expecting to be more ruthless about dropping networks that get poor ratings. (Current averages a paltry 42,000 viewers a night.) That could mean that Current got what was coming to it, or that Time Warner merely wants to renegotiate its contact with the new owners, who do plan to completely remake Current's format into "Al Jazeera America."
However, when announcing the sale to his employees, Current CEO Joel Hyatt specifically noted that Time Warner "did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera" suggesting that reason was about more than business. All of Current's other providers will continue to honor their carriage deals.
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In reporting on the sale, Brian Stelter of The New York Times wrote that former Vice President Al Gore had personally lobbied the providers to support the sale, since the carriage agreements are what Al Jazeera was actually buying. Even without the blessing of Time Warner, Gore will reportedly make $100 million for his 20 percent stake in the company. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get the deal done before December 31, meaning he will have to pay the higher post-fiscal cliff tax rates.