“Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good.” Who knew that former Democratic vice president Al Gore would embody that Oliver Stone movie mantra? Gore’s filed a lawsuit in Delaware against Al Jazeera America claiming its owners (the Qatari royal family) are still withholding $65 million from him and Current TV co-founder Joel Hyatt.
"Al Jazeera America wants to give itself a discount on the purchase price that was agreed to nearly two years ago," said Gore's lawyer, David Boies (also his lawyer in the shameless 2000 recount extension/delusion.)
Gore's lawsuit is more than a little shameless in that the $500 million purchase price was far beyond other bidders. “The deep-pocketed Qatari royal family backing Al Jazeera handily outbid any other bidder’s rational bid,” the research firm PrivCo said in a note to clients. It's quite amazing how much money can change hands for channels almost nobody watches. From the New York Times story on the Gore suit:
Al Jazeera America made a big public relations splash when it hit the airwaves in August 2013, hiring nearly 900 journalists across about a dozen cities in the United States. Executives pitched the network as an alternative to the sensationalistic and polarizing coverage of its more established cable news rivals.
The network has steadily gained carriage across cable and satellite companies and now is available in 60 million households.
But Al Jazeera America has been slow to develop an audience. The network averaged about 17,000 viewers during prime time since the beginning of 2014 through the end of May, according to Nielsen. That is a small fraction of the 1.7 million average prime-time viewers for Fox News, the 626,000 viewers for MSNBC and the 488,000 viewers for CNN through the end of June, according to Nielsen.
A small fraction of Fox News? Try one percent. Al Jazeera Gore made it possible for Qatari royals to reach 60 million households, though. From Brian Stelter's coverage last year in The New York Times:
Current was never a full-time job for Mr. Gore....Still, as its chairman, he was seen as crucial to the business.
“When it came to distribution issues, he was always available to make that final call. He was always the closer,” said a Current TV executive, who like others interviewed insisted on anonymity to protect business relationships....
Al Gore’s Current TV was never popular with viewers, but it was a hit where it counted: with cable and satellite providers. When he co-founded the channel in 2005, Mr. Gore managed to get the channel piped into tens of millions of households — a huge number for an untested network — through a combination of personal lobbying and arm-twisting of industry giants.
He called on those skills again after deciding in December to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera for $500 million. To preserve the deal — and the estimated $100 million he would personally receive — he went to some of those same distributors, who were looking for an excuse to drop the low-rated channel, and reminded them that their contracts with Current TV called it a news channel. Were the distributors going to say that an American version of Al Jazeera didn’t qualify, possibly invoking ugly stereotypes of the Middle Eastern news giant?
“The lawyers for the carriers couldn’t find their way around it,” said a person briefed on the negotiations who described them on condition of anonymity.
Gore claimed Al Jazeera’s coverage was “thorough, fair and informative.” Glenn Beck’s producer Stu Burguiere added, “The guy who was vice president of the United States and was 537 votes away from being president during 9/11 is ideologically aligned, by his own definition, with the network that Osama bin Laden went to every time he wanted to get a message out.”