Washington Correspondent Departs Al Jazeera
SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
In 2006, Dave Marash signed a two-year contract to become the Washington-based anchor of Al Jazeera English. It was a controversial move. The larger, Arabic language Al Jazeera, has often been criticized for broadcasting messages from Osama bin Laden, also showing brutal footage of American soldiers killed in Iraq, but Mr. Marash, a 16-year veteran of ABC's "Nightline," pledged that Al Jazeera English would be much more than just a translated version of its Arabic parent.
Last week, Dave Marash quit Al Jazeera English. He cited increased control over editorial content from the news channel's headquarters in Qatar and a growing anti-American bias for his decision.
Dave Marash is with us in the studio. It's very nice to meet you face to face.
Mr. DAVE MARASH (Former Anchor, Al Jazeera English; Former ABC News Reporter, "Nightline"): My pleasure, Susan.
STAMBERG: You came under a whole lot of criticism when you first took that job two years ago, people saying an American, and especially a Jewish-American, shouldn't work for an operation that gives airtime to extremists. Are you these days getting any I-told-you-so phone calls?
Mr. MARASH: You know, very few because all that controversy was based on a nightmare fantasy of what Al Jazeera English would be like. Once it was on the air, and you watch it for 15 minutes, it's clear that it's a straight-up news organization, not terror TV, not mouthpiece for the Islamists.
In fact, they're sort of polar opposite in the Islamic and Arabic-speaking worlds, and I have to say this. For the 17 months or so that I was on the air there, not only did I get to do a lot of things that I'm very proud of, but I never had any editorial interference at all.
STAMBERG: And so why leave?
Mr. MARASH: In part because I had, with company encouragement, made myself the American face of Al Jazeera English, and therefore everything that went on the channel, I in a sense had vouched for, and there were changes in the channel that headed it in a different direction.
STAMBERG: Give an example.
Mr. MARASH: Somewhere during my career, your career, too, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, news in America passed a speed-limit that was news at the speed of thought, and among the conceptual promises was that Al Jazeera's rolling news would be slower, fewer stories, greater depth.
Well, the pace has grown ever-more conventional, like CNN. Also, when the channel was conceived, it was structured with four separate news centers: in Doha, Qatar; London; Washington; Kuala Lumpur, and each of those bases was supposed to be autonomous in setting its priorities.
And its assignments, and over the 17 months, less and less autonomy stayed in Washington, more and more flowed to Doha, and unfortunately in Doha, there are a lot of, frankly, ignorant stereotypes about America, and those stereotypes and cliches were starting to work their way into stories that were getting on air, and frankly, these stories embarrassed me as somebody who had put his mug out and said this is my place.
STAMBERG: Dave Marash, you were talking about the breakneck pace of news reporting, Al Jazeera English never got any wide audience in this country. It was only available on a handful of stations, and maybe they, like everybody else, were looking for a bigger audience.
Mr. MARASH: Well of course, Al Jazeera had higher hopes of distribution than they've achieved in the U.S. so far, although let us praise the Internet. On the Internet, the Al Jazeera Web site itself gets more than three million hits a week from the United States, and the Al Jazeera page on YouTube is among the most popular at that site.
But on cable and via satellite, it's almost a complete shutout, and that may well have downgraded it as a priority at the home office, although that would be very short-term thinking, and this is not a short-term project.
STAMBERG: Thank you very much. Dave Marash, former Washington anchor of Al Jazeera English, former ABC newsman.
Mr. MARASH: Thanks, Sue.
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