Qatari foreign agents secretly paid $250K for PBS documentary

The documentary was part of Qatar’s sprawling propaganda operation against two adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

By Chuck Ross, The Washington Free Beacon

Qatar, the oil-rich gulf monarchy that harbors Hamas and other terrorist groups, has used a number of conduits to influence unwitting American audiences: tens of millions of dollars in funding for universities, think tanks, military museums, and alleged bribes to prominent members of Congress.

Add PBS documentaries to the list.

A Qatari-backed front group, Yemen Crisis Watch, paid $250,000 to travel journalist Burt Wolf from September 2017 to January 2018 for a documentary about the war in Yemen that aired on PBS affiliates, according to previously unreported filings with the Department of Justice.

The documentary was part of Qatar’s sprawling propaganda operation against two adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to federal prosecutors.

In the 30-minute documentary, Doug Watts, a longtime Republican operative who founded Yemen Crisis Watch, touts the organization as “all about raising awareness” about humanitarian issues in Yemen stemming from a war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition.

Wolf ends the show with a rebuke of Westerners for failing to heed the message of religious leaders Jesus, Moses, and Buddha in relation to Yemen.

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“When you think about what’s going on in places like Yemen, you’ve got to wonder why people are not getting their message,” said Wolf, who has produced thousands of travel shows for CNN, ABC, and public broadcasting.

It underscores the lengths to which Qatar goes to influence American policymakers and the public, while raising conflict of interest concerns for Wolf and PBS, which has aired numerous news stories decrying foreign disinformation and propaganda. Wolf did not respond to a request for comment.

Details of the propaganda scheme emerged as part of an investigation into Watts and his partner, Barry Bennett.

The Qatari government paid more than $2 million to the operatives, who owned the firm Avenue Global Strategies, from September 2017 to January 2018 to operate Yemen Crisis Watch, which portrayed the Saudis as aggressors against Houthi rebels.

Qatar, an ally of Iran, has been locked for years in a diplomatic standoff with the Saudis.

In addition to the documentary, the Qataris, through Yemen Crisis Watch, paid California-based pastor Robert Schuller $30,755 to write pro-Yemen op-eds and lobbied members of Congress in favor of Yemen, all without disclosing those activities to the Department of Justice.

Qatar has spent $6 billion since 2007 lobbying the American government and funneling cash to dozens of universities—including elite schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale—to burnish its image amid concerns over its human rights record and its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and the Taliban.

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Many of its influence activities are publicly known, but some of Qatar’s beneficiaries have gone to great lengths to keep the funding a secret.

Yale University failed to disclose nearly all of the $16 million in contributions from Qatar since 2012, a potential violation of federal disclosure laws, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

In 2022, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into former Gen. John Allen, then the president of the prestigious Brookings Institution, over unregistered lobbying for Qatar.

Qatari operatives have allegedly bribed prominent lawmakers, most notably Sen. Robert Menendez, who is currently on trial for bribery and foreign agent violations.

Prosecutors allege Menendez made favorable public statements about Qatar in order to help a business associate seeking investments from the regime.

One of those alleged favors includes Menendez’s statement on Aug. 2, 2021, praising Qatar’s “leadership” after donating $100 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen.

The National Medal of Honor Museum, which is building a monument to recipients of the military distinction, has obscured a $5 million donation from the Qatari embassy as a contribution from “the People of Qatar,” with no mention of the government’s involvement.

Wolf, who has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing, likewise withheld disclosures about the source of funding for his PBS documentary. Wolf’s show makes no mention of funding from Qatar or Yemen Crisis Watch.

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A spokesman for PBS said in a statement that Wolf’s show “is not a PBS program.” The spokesman did not respond when shown listings for Wolf’s documentary on PBS affiliates.

Wolf thanked PBS viewers in November 2017 for “mak[ing] my work possible,” and announced his participation in a fundraising cruise “for our PBS stations.”

In the DOJ filings, Wolf described the $250,000 payment as “for [a] PBS documentary.” He did not respond to a request for comment.