Opinion: CNN and Qatar Airways take fake news to new heights

“CNN’s readiness to run the new Qatar Airways commercial takes the network’s shamelessness to a whole new level.”

By: Bruce Bawer, The Gatestone Institute

The TV commercial begins with a shot of the sky, above the clouds, and with the voice of a British male:

“The sky. There should be no borders up here. Only horizons. As an airline, we don’t believe in boundaries. We believe in bringing people together.”

We cut to pictures of people hugging at airports, showing affection for one another.

“The world’s better that way. It is a right for all of us to go where we need to go. To feel the things we want to feel. To see the people we want to see.”

A shot of an airplane, and views of the earth from the sky.

“That’s why we’ll continue to fly the skies. Providing you with everything we can. And treating everyone how they deserve to be treated. We do this because we know that travel goes beyond borders and prejudice.”

Back to shot of people together, smiling, walking here and there, in the city and countryside.

“That travel teaches compassion. That travel is a necessity. That travel is a right for all. Remember that this world is all of ours to explore. And it’s a strange thing for us to be apart.”

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The commercial is in heavy rotation on CNN International, which I’ve been watching more than usual lately because of the coverage of hurricanes.

It is a commercial for Qatar Airways, which is, not surprisingly, owned by the government of Qatar.

Timing is Everything

The airline posted the commercial on YouTube on June 18. The timing is noteworthy. In March, the U.S. banned electronic devices on flights from several cities in Muslim countries, including Doha, the capital of Qatar and the hub of Qatar Airways. In early June, six Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, the Maldives, Yemen, and Libya — cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, citing its government’s support for al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups, not particularly known for “compassion.” President Trump’s temporary travel ban also came into effect in June; although Qatar is not one of the six Muslim countries affected by the ban, its government may well fear that it may later be added to the list.

It does not seem coincidental, then, that Qatar Airways chose this time to start running a commercial that criticizes “borders” and “boundaries,” and suggests that everybody should be free to go everyplace.

As for CNN — well, in a sense, this commercial is nothing new. For many years, commercial time on CNN International has been filled largely with advertisements for the tourist boards and state-owned airlines of various Muslim countries. Given CNN’s unusually friendly coverage of these countries, and its disinclination to mention Islam when covering such topics as jihadist terrorism and immigrant crime in Europe, it is hard not to view CNN’s willingness to run these commercials with a jaundiced eye.

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One is reminded, for example, of how Lyndon B. Johnson, during his years in Congress, bought Texas radio and TV stations and pressured companies that needed political favors to advertise on them. It was an out-and-out quid pro quo, and it made LBJ rich. Of course, what CNN has to offer is not political favors but positive coverage.

Still, CNN’s readiness to run the new Qatar Airways commercial takes the network’s shamelessness to a whole new level. This is – or is supposed to be – a news network, and yet it is regularly running an ad in which Qatar Airways, and consequently its owner, the government of Qatar, profess to believe that it is “a right for all of us to go where we need to go” and “feel the things we want to feel.” The airline, and the government, claim to oppose “prejudice” and to like “compassion.”

A Masterpiece of Hypocrisy

You would never know from this commercial that it was paid for by a government that follows sharia law. In Qatar, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death. Adultery between a Muslim woman and an infidel male is punishable by death. Homosexuality is punishable by up to five years in prison. The consumption of alcohol is punishable by flogging (although luxury hotels are permitted to sell drinks to foreigners). Tourists who do not dress modestly, or who engage in displays of public affection, risk ending up in prison. The testimony of female witnesses is often refused in court — and when permitted, is considered to be worth half the testimony of a man.

There is more, much more, about Qatar that makes the Qatar Airways commercial a masterpiece of hypocrisy. CNN is aware of every last bit of it. And yet, CNN International is currently exposing its viewers on a regular basis to a commercial that is nothing short of grotesquely mendacious propaganda.

Or, as a certain president would put it, very fake news.

Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.