I was interested to read Power’s and Gilboa's chapter on Al-Jazeera's success in becoming a transnational political actor, not that that was its original goal. The fact that so many governments, in both the Middle East and Western countries have targeted Al-Jazeera, has actually given them more power.
One idea that struck me was about how Al-Jazeera views itself as creating two-way communication. I actually think it is more complicated than that. I think that they are allowing multiple voices to be represented because of both their internal and external agendas (giving a pan-Arab viewpoint, promoting democracy). I don't see the media in such polarized terms and reading their website doesn't give me the impression of a polar opposite view from western media. I understand that there is the symbolism in the idea of western/eastern ideas getting equal representation, beyond what the actual realities of daily reporting may contain. And I think that the work Al-Jazeera has been able to do on the ground in terms of access to images that western media does not get is important to expanding the dialogue in the public sphere.
I agree that the way that the Bush administration handled Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Iraq was very polarizing and alienating. It eroded the soft power of the US as well. As Nye discusses in his book “Soft Power”, the US public diplomacy efforts were very weak during the 2003 Iraq invasion, which was a mistake. Al-Jazeera gained its strength through its interactivity and innovation (p. 72, Powers and Gilboa) and was able to become a powerful influence in the public sphere. I’m not sure that I agree that this means it is actually setting the agenda. I think this is hard to trace and prove. I think they can definitely influence outcomes in policy because of their broad reach. And this is a form of soft power, where they can decide to pursue framing an issue in a way that will shift public sphere opinion and put pressure on political leaders to make changes. Of course, this is why political leaders across the spectrum have tried to shut them down.