WikiLeaks Reveal: American TV, Movies Do More to Counter Jihad Than Millions in Propaganda Spending
A fascinating tidbit made public by WikiLeaks reveals that satellite broadcasts of American comedy TV shows are doing more to dissuade Saudi youth from becoming radical militants than the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. government spends on propaganda in the country.
The secret cable (hilariously) titled "David Letterman: Agent of Influence," shows that broadcasts of the shows Desperate Housewives and Late Show With David Lettermanare being shown along with sitcoms such as Friends, uncensored and with Arabic subtitles, on Saudi Arabian television as part of the nation's "war of ideas" against extremism.
[The shows] have been proving more effective than Washington's main propaganda tool, the US-funded al-Hurra TV news channel.
Al-Hurra has shown lengthy interviews with US politicians, including George Bush, but has run into problems with locally hired journalists. On one occasion it broadcast a call to arms against Israel by Hezbollah, which was not the plan when the channel was launched across the Middle East in 2004 after the Iraq invasion.
Diplomats said they believed the allure of actors such as Eva Longoria, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer meant commercial TV had a far greater impact than al-Hurra which, according to one report, has cost US taxpayers up to $500m (£316m).
Oddly, one of the channels that broadcasts the shows also broadcasts programming Fox News, which, as the Guardian notes, "takes a hard line against Islamic radicalism and has strongly supported US military intervention in the Middle East."
Movies -- especially those featuring George Clooney -- also have done proven popular amongst Saudis (Clooney for president!):
The diplomats told Washington that certain themes in American movies seemed to appeal to the Saudi audience: heroic honesty in the face of corruption (George Clooney in Michael Clayton), supportive behaviour in relationships (an unspecified drama that was repeated during an Eid holiday featuring an American husband dealing with a drunk wife who smashed cars and crockery when she wasn't assaulting him and their child), and respect for the law over self-interest (Al Pacino and Robin Williams in Insomnia).