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Al Gore's sale of CurrentTV faces backlash in court

By Phillip Swarts

Monday - 3/25/2013, 6:40pm  ET

Just two months after selling his television network, Al Gore is back on the defensive.

In January, Gore sold his network, CurrentTV, for $500 million to Qatari-based Al Jazeera, and immediately faced criticism for selling to a Middle Eastern outlet.  Some expressed worry about political motivations Al Jazeera might have.  Others noted the network has been funded by "oil money," a contrast to CurrentTV's pro-environment stance.  

Gore, who is reported to get between $70 million and $100 million from the deal, has taken to the media to try to win over the court of public opinion. "I think Al Jazeera has obviously long since established itself as a really distinguished and effective newsgathering organization," he said on NBC's Today Show.  Gore also declared in a speech that Al Jazeera was an "honest-to-goodness news channel" that will make American cable TV better.

But the former vice president is once again on defense - this time in the court of law where a lawsuit threatens to expose the backroom discussions that led to the deal as well as the American suitors who felt they were spurned in their bids for CurrentTV.

A former ally is suing Gore, claiming he came up with the idea of selling the network to Al Jazeera.  Now he wants the credit - and part of the profits - claiming that Gore and Gore's business partners went behind his back to complete the sale.  

John Terenzio, a "media consultant, executive and producer of television programming" according to court documents, is suing for $5 million, claiming he first conceived of selling CurrentTV to Al Jazeera.  The lawsuit has been filled in San Francisco, where Gore's network is currently headquartered.

"CurrentTV's vast distribution network would provide a unique and instantaneous gateway into the American market for Al Jazeera and its Qatari owners," the court records said.

Terenzio claims that he and business partner Richard Nanula approached Richard Blum, a member of CurrentTV's board of directors and the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with the idea for the sale.  A July 2012 meeting was arranged, and Terenzio put together a presentation on how the sale could be done, taking into consideration how the deal might be perceived by the public-at-large.

"Terenzio's PowerPoint presentation included a step-by-step approach for making the sale of the liberal media outlet to Al Jazeera palatable to U.S. lawmakers, pro-Israel factions, cable operators and, most importantly, the American public," court documents said.

For all his hard work, Terenzio "would be compensated if CurrentTV moved forward with Terenzio's idea for the sale of CurrentTV to Al Jazeera," the suit alleges.

And his involvement wasn't going to stop there.  Terenzio was supposed to head a team that would oversee the sale and transition of the network, as well as adapt Al Jazeera programing for American audiences, the suit says.

According to court documents filed by Terenzio, the idea was pitched to Gore, who adamantly refused "to sell his liberal, environmentally friendly network to the oil-rich Qataris who owned Al Jazeera." 

So it no doubt came as a surprise to Terenzio when, on January 2, 2013, CurrentTV announced the sale to Al Jazeera without his knowledge.  The networks had even agreed to a new name: Al Jazeera America, a moniker Terenzio claims he pitched in his meeting with Blum.

Representatives for Gore and Terenzio could not be reached for comment.  Al Jazeera, meanwhile, has been keeping mum on the suit.

"By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase our newsgathering and reporting efforts in America," said a statement from the network's Director General Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani.  "We look forward to working together with our new cable and satellite partners to serve our new audiences across the U.S."

According to the statement, the acquisition of CurrentTV will double the number of Al Jazeera employees in the U.S. to around 300.  Demand is high, bin Jassim Al Thani said, as 40 percent of all online viewing of Al Jazeera English comes from the U.S.

"Our commitment to the voice of the voiceless, bringing stories from under-reported regions across the world and putting the human being at the center of our news agenda is at the heart of what we do," he said.  "Everyone at Al Jazeera takes great pride in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and courage of our journalism. I look forward to bringing these standards to our new American audiences and working with our new colleagues at Current.”

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