Gore Pockets Estimated $100M on TV Sale to Oil-Backed Al Jazeera

Read: Current's full memo to staff...Colin Powell says Al Jazeera is the only network he watches
Gore and Hyatt announce plans to create a television network in 2004 (AP)

Gore and Hyatt announce plans to create a television network in 2004 (AP)


Al Gore’s Current TV confirmed Wednesday evening that it has been sold to Al Jazeera for an estimated $400 to $500 million, with the former vice president set to pocket up to $100 million from the sale.

In an email sent to Current TV’s staff, co-founder and former chief executive officer Joel Hyatt describes the selling process he and co-founder Al Gore went through in considering sale to Al Jazeera, acknowledging Current TV was a failed model.

Hyatt points to the Al Jazeera’s many accomplishments, including its global reach and for being the “only news network” that Obama-supporter Colin Powell watches, as factors in their decision.

The announcement makes clear that Al Jazeera plans to create a new international news network for an American audience called “Al Jazeera America.”

Hyatt reminds his staff that the Qatari government funds Al Jazeera in the announcement, but fails to mention that the news network is considered by some a political and diplomatic tool for the oil-rich monarchy. Drivers in Qatar currently pay about $1 per gallon at the pump, due to massive oil subsidies handed down by the government.

Gore’s post-vice presidential work has notably centered around reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other green causes. The former vice president will pocket an estimated $100 million on the sale. According to the New York Times, which first broke the story Wednesday, Gore wanted to complete the sale before Jan. 1, 2013 to avoid getting slammed with higher taxes.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Glenn Beck’s the Blaze inquired about buying Current last year, but was rejected due to ideological differences. Current leadership told the Blaze at the time that “the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us.” Beck confirmed the inquiry late Wednesday.

The new network, meanwhile, is already facing problems as one Current TV distributor, Time Warner Cable, did not agree with the sale and has already dropped the network.

Read Hyatt’s full email below:

From: Joel Hyatt
Date: January 2, 2013, 6:36:46

Al and I are thrilled and proud to announce that a few moments ago Current was acquired by Al Jazeera, the award winning international news organization.

When considering the several suitors who were interested in acquiring Current, it became clear to us that Al Jazeera was founded with the same goals we had for Current: To give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the important stories that no one else is telling. Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.

Al and I did significant due diligence as part of our evaluation process. We were impressed with all that we learned about Al Jazeera and its journalistic integrity, global reach, award-winning programming, and growing influence around the world. That influence has recently been demonstrated by Al Jazeera’s important and impactful coverage of the Arab Spring, which was widely credited as being the most thorough and informative coverage from any media company. Colin Powell told Al that Al Jazeera is the only cable news network he watches (which he is able to do because Comcast carries it in the Washington, DC market).

As you may know, Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar, which is the United States’ closest ally in the Gulf Region, and is where the United States bases its Middle East Air Force operations. I have had first-hand knowledge of Qatar’s policies as a result of my tenure on the Board of The Brookings Institution. The Saban Center for Middle East Policy is a joint venture of The Brookings Institution and Qatar, and it has offices in Washington, DC and Doha, Qatar. Its purpose is to propose practical public policies that can contribute to peace in the Middle East, and its founding Director is my friend, Martin Indyk, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

While considering this decision, I spent a week in Doha, Qatar, where Al Jazeera is headquartered, and I am pleased to tell you that I could not have been more impressed with their operation. First of all, they are bringing large-scale resources to journalism – something which we have not been able to do. Al Jazeera has more than 80 bureaus around the world, and is seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries. Al Jazeera has a staff of over 4000 people, including 400 journalists. Its journalists hail from more than 50 countries, with every conceivable nationality and religion represented on its professional team. Al Jazeera is a major global media player.

The rest of the world thinks so too. Al Jazeera English has won many, many awards including an Alfred I DuPont Award for Best Documentary, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards for freedom of speech and expression, an Amnesty International Award for International TV and Radio, the prestigious Peabody Award, and the Huffington Post Ultimate Media Gamechanger award.

All of this is compelling, but what really convinced Al and me that Al Jazeera would be a great home for the people of Current was their publicly stated Values and Core Capabilities. Their mission includes the following: Diversity (“bringing stories from the underreported communities, societies and cultures from across the globe), Journalistic Integrity (“committed to the uncompromising pursuit of truth and the ideals of journalism”), and A Voice for the Voiceless (“promoting the basic human right of the freedom of expression for people everywhere”).

Al Jazeera is planning to invest significantly in building “Al Jazeera America,” a network focused on international news for the American audience. Al and I will both serve on the Advisory Board of Al Jazeera America, and we look forward to helping build an important news network.

Obviously there will be a lot of transition work in the coming weeks. Al Jazeera does not have a management team in place in the U.S to run this new venture. They are extremely impressed with our people and our accomplishments. I will be holding staff meetings in the next few daysand will introduce the senior folks from Al Jazeera who have led the planning for this entry into the United States. (I will separately communicate as to the day and time for those staff meetings.) We will communicate more of the details of this acquisition during those meetings.

Getting this transaction done was very difficult. One of Current’s distributors, Time Warner Cable, did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera. Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC. This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead. In the United Kingdom, it has become the number three news network (behind the BBC and Sky News). It did that by investing in great programming – as it intends to do in the United States.

Al and I are incredibly proud of what all of us have been able to accomplish together. Throughout our short history, Current has been a thought leader for the media industry, innovating many exciting features that became standard after we introduced them. (Tweets on television anyone?!) Just this past year, we’ve been able to provide our viewers with fantastic interactive and social TV 2.0 coverage of the Presidential Election, including a peek inside the Obama Campaign headquarters, in depth analysis of the Libor Scandal, the breaking and relentless coverage of the Trayvon Martin scandal, and the list goes on and on. We have won most of the important awards in the journalism profession. We have stayed true to our independence and courage. And in our choice of new corporate parent, we are continuing to strive to make a difference – to provide the American people with information and analysis they need to live better, more secure, happier lives. I am confident this will continue into the future.

As I reflected deeply about this decision – both to sell the company and to whom – I kept coming back to one basic notion: The purpose of journalism is to provide those who don’t know with information and knowledge so that they can become those who do know. Bias and hatred are fueled by ignorance. Information and knowledge are the only antidotes to that ignorance. That is the role journalism must play – to provide the knowledge that sweeps away the bias and hatred caused by ignorance. It is a noble pursuit. I am proud of each and every one of you for your dedication to pursuing that noble goal. And it is a privilege to have worked with all of you these past few years.

Please accept my best wishes for a happy, healthy, exciting and fulfilling New Year!

All the best,

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