Hauling four boxes that contained the printouts of 13,000 supportive e-mails, Al Antsey of the Al-Jazeera network came to the Comcast building on Tuesday looking for a major U.S. platform for the 24-hour, Qatar-based news channel that at one time was viewed as just a mouthpiece for Osama bin Laden.
It's time, he told officials with the nation's largest cable operator, to cast aside misperceptions of the Arabic news station as tainted with anti-American bias, and join the rest of the world.
About 250 million households around the globe have access to Al-Jazeera English - arguably the most sophisticated English-language news organization covering the Middle East - but fewer than three million of those households are in the U.S.
The network has viewership in three U.S. markets: Washington; Burlington, Vt.; and Toledo, Ohio.
With viewership on its Internet site up sharply because of Al-Jazeera's news coverage of the political upheaval in the Middle East, Antsey says this is a "turning point" for the news channel, and he is making the rounds of the U.S. pay-TV operators.
"We had a very fruitful meeting," Antsey said, adding that during his talks at the Comcast Center, the tallest U.S. building between New York and Chicago, he had "a fantastic view of the city over which we would like to broadcast our news."
A Comcast spokeswoman confirmed that the cable operator met with Al-Jazeera officials but would not comment on programming negotiations or discussions.
The cable giant has agreed to launch several new channels either owned by minorities or that targeted minority audiences as part of its deal to acquire a controlling interest in the news and entertainment giant NBC Universal Inc. Al-Jazeera would not be one of those channels.
One reason Antsey traveled with the 13,000 e-mails was to show that there were viewers with a real interest in the channel.
He had other statistics, too. Antsey, who spoke with the accent of his native London, said that traffic on the Al-Jazeera English website had spiked during the current Mideast political unrest and that 10 million minutes of live Al-Jazeera programming were now streamed daily over the Internet, with 45 percent of the views coming in the U.S.
"That tells us there is demand for Al-Jazeera in the United States," he said.
As for past perceptions of Al-Jazeera, Antsey said the view should be "consigned to history" and he pleaded "watch us!"
Sean Yom, assistant professor of political science at Temple University, said on Thursday that Al-Jazeera was highly regarded by experts and that it had access in the Middle East that reporters for Western news organizations lacked.
"People think the news is quite good and on the level of, say, BBC," Yom said. "The bias comes in with its commentary. While the channel is not anti-American . . . many of the guests that come on the commentary shows have an anti-American bias."
But Yom added, "I don't think they are any more biased than other news sources."