Al-Jazeera Sister Channel Hires 'Control Room' Marine
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Marine Lieutenant Josh Rushing became a central figure in the documentary movie titled "Control Room." The film is about the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera during the Iraq War. Rushing was a spokesman for US Central Command in Doha, Qatar, at times a surprisingly ambivalent and candid spokesman.
(Soundbite of "Control Room")
Lieutenant JOSH RUSHING (US Marine Corps): In my office, we say it all the time on the other side of the wall there: `No spin. Don't spin it.' And we catch ourselves doing it. I catch myself doing it, taking an event and spinning it so strongly in one light that I have to pull back and say, `Whoa, wait a second. Wait a second. That's not what I'm here to do.'
BLOCK: Rushing left the Marines after the movie came out and after his superiors barred him from talking to the media. Now Rushing has joined the media. He's been hired by Al-Jazeera International. He'll be a host and correspondent based in Washington for the 24-hour, English-language network, which is set to launch net spring.
Mr. RUSHING: Al-Jazeera International is the first international, English-language news to not come out of the West. Al-Jazeera International will come out of Washington, London, Doha and Kuala Lumpur. It's taken the idea of having a broadcast center, split it up into four, put it around the world, and each one will handle roughly a quarter of the day's programming. So as the sun goes around the Earth, a story that's being covered--i.e. Katrina--will essentially be the same story at each broadcast location but will have the local flavors. And the perception will affect the story.
BLOCK: What was appealing to you about this notion? You haven't been a journalist before. Why'd you join?
Mr. RUSHING: I joined, I guess, one, because they asked me. Two, the Marines taught me do the right thing for the right reason, and I thought about what they taught me to do, and that's engage with the press, the media, to engage an audience, particularly I was trained at engaging foreign audiences, to represent the best of American ideals to them. And this seemed to me to be very much the same thing but on a larger platform.
BLOCK: In the film "Control Room," you were quite critical of some of Al-Jazeera's coverage of the war, the invasion of Iraq. You said, `They're biased towards Saddam Hussein.' We have an outtake that was included on the DVD, as a DVD extra, and I want to have you listen to it and talk about what you said then and what your job is now.
(Soundbite of "Control Room")
Lt. RUSHING: Al-Jazeera edits out scenes; that even though they're news and even though they're happening, they don't show them. For example, Iraqis celebrating when we take over a town and we give the power back to them, and we give them food and water, and they're dancing in the streets, they don't show it. And I find that disappointing. And I think that's one of the things that's fueling the Arab rage against us. And the problem is it's not accurate; it's only one side.
BLOCK: You were talking about Al-Jazeera there. You're going to work for Al-Jazeera International. But aren't you, in some way, helping to validate an organization that you had agreed was biased, one-sided?
Mr. RUSHING: I think their coverage of the war when I was there was biased, and I'd still have this discussion with them today. I was just recently in Doha having this discussion with some people who still work at Al-Jazeera. And their point was that they had a story that they needed to tell that the rest of the world wasn't hearing from the other news sources. Even though I had qualms about their coverage during the war, I was always very proactive about saying, `We should engage it. American officials should be on it as much as possible.' And when I got out of the Marine Corps and I went around to the press talking about these issues, I was very critical of our government for not engaging it more, for not being on there representing the American idealism that I love, the values that I love. And if you don't go on there and represent it, how are people supposed to understand what we're doing in their region? They're fantastically important, and I think that was missed by our government.
The fact is the organization that I joined, Al-Jazeera International, is a complete separate organization than Al-Jazeera Arabic. We have complete separate and independent editorial control of everything that happens at the station. My boss is from the BBC, and his boss is from AP Television, and the entire organization is made up from people who came from ABC and Fox and CNN and these respected news institutions. And they bring with them the same ethic and journalistic standards that they had there. So while we're going to try to do something very, very different, I think that journalistic standards that you're probably used to are exactly what you're going to see on Al-Jazeera International.
BLOCK: I want you to listen to another outtake from "Control Room." This is a DVD extra on the film. And you're talking about American nationalism and whether American audiences really care about the rest of the world.
(Soundbite of "Control Room")
Lt. RUSHING: If the consumer wanted to know, there would be an international channel on cable that everyone would be watching. But it's just part of the American ethos that they don't care much about world perspective.
BLOCK: Josh, you're smiling as you listen to those words.
Mr. RUSHING: I don't think I've heard that, and I don't remember saying that.
BLOCK: Do you admit that that's your voice?
Mr. RUSHING: I admit that that's my voice. And I will tell you that that's the challenge with distribution. It isn't that, `Oh, you know, Jazeera is'--whatever all the negative stuff people have heard. The distributors are saying, `Americans don't want to see international news. They don't care.'
BLOCK: You think that's true?
Mr. RUSHING: If they did, they would run BBC World and CNN International, and they don't. They don't run them because Americans don't care. I think it's going to become more and more less true. I think Americans--and Thomas Friedman writes about this in "The World is Flat"--are far more engaged with the rest of the world than they even realize right now. You give your taxes to the local CPA, and he e-mails them to India overnight and gets the answer back, you know, by morning. And as I think these new kind of globalized relationships become more and more evident, Americans are going to want to understand more and more about what these cultures are and these countries are and where that comes from.
BLOCK: If what you're saying is that the news organization that you're joining, Al-Jazeera International, is going to be different from Al-Jazeera Arabic, how is it going to be different from what's already out there, CNN International, BBC TV? What will set it apart?
Mr. RUSHING: I've watched a lot of CNN International 'cause I've traveled a lot overseas as well as BBC World. And while they're very good, they're quite different than what this network is trying to do in terms of--you may watch BBC World with a spot of tea in the afternoon, where what Al-Jazeera International is going to do is very kind of young and edgy. And it's a lot of documentaries that don't spend six months in the editing bay, you know, looking beautiful. They're--the guy just stepped off the plane, and we put the film on and talk about it. And it's a lot of first-person-type reporting. So I'm really excited about what they're doing. And I think there is going to be a distinct difference between them and the other international news that's out there right now.
BLOCK: Josh Rushing, thanks for coming in.
Mr. RUSHING: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: Josh Rushing is a former US Marine. He'll be a host and correspondent for Al-Jazeera International, which is set to debut in the spring.
NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.