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Media: Glued to Middle East TV ... for now

February 7, 2011 |  2:29 pm

Egypt What's behind our insatiable appetite for coverage out of Egypt? To Op-Ed columnist Gregory Rodriguez, the excitement taps into our American DNA. "Once again, cable TV news brought real-life, real-time history into our homes and offices. The narrative was irresistible, the suspense palpable and the stakes high. The Egyptian revolution was real reality TV at its best," he writes in Monday's Opinion pages.  Moreover, he says: "Revolution is our provenance."

For New York Times columnist Frank Rich, there's more to why we're riveted. We're hungry for knowledge about the Middle East. He writes:

That we often don't know as much about the people in these countries as we do about their Tweets is a testament to the cutbacks in foreign coverage at many news organizations -- and perhaps also to our own desire to escape a war zone that has for so long sapped American energy, resources and patience. We see the Middle East on television only when it flares up and then generally in medium or long shot. But there actually is an English-language cable channel -- Al Jazeera English -- that blankets the region with bureaus and that could have been illuminating Arab life and politics for American audiences since 2006, when it was established as an editorially separate sister channel to its Qatar-based namesake.

Both columnists make compelling points. But the question remains whether broader American audiences will continue to watch Middle East news with such gusto after the revolt in Egypt runs its course; when they can no longer connect with the "narrative," as it were, of impoverished and second-class citizens banding together to overthrow a dictator.

If cable channels offered Al Jazeera English, would you watch?

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: An anti-government protester atop a barricade waves an Egyptian flag near Tahrir Square in Cairo last week. Credit: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

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