The NBC Today Show on April 7 aired a Katie Couric interview (see below) with two new stars of Al-Jazeera International, Riz Khan and Dave Marash. The purpose was to convince the public that we have nothing to fear from the English language version of this state-owned terrorist propaganda operation. Here’s what Katie Couric, the future anchor of the CBS Evening News, forgot to mention:
– An Al-Jazeera employee is being held at Gitmo as a suspected terrorist.
– Taysir Alouni, the former Al-Jazeera bureau chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, is in jail in Spain after being convicted of being an agent of Al-Qaeda.
– The first managing director of Al-Jazeera left the channel after hard evidence, including a videotape, surfaced of his ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.
Coincidentally, on that same day of Couric’s interview, Al-Jazeera Washington, D.C. bureau chief Hafez Al-Mirazi was speaking at the University of Pittsburgh, encouraging Americans “to ask their cable operators to carry an English-language version of the television network when it debuts later this year,” as reported by Mark Houser of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Al-Jazeera International is meeting opposition to carriage in U.S. media markets because it is a state-owned entity primarily known for promoting terrorism and anti-Americanism. It is financed by the undemocratic regime in Qatar, which does not tolerate internal dissent. Al-Jazeera is allowed to say bad things about other governments, but not about the ruling elite in Qatar.
Khan, formerly with CNN, wrote an embarrassingly obsequious biography of the billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, an investor in News Corporation (parent of Fox News) and Time Warner (parent of CNN).
Marash recently wrote a piece for the New York Daily News on “Why I Joined Al-Jazeera.” Ignoring its record of death and destruction, including the incitement of murder and hostage-taking, Marash declared, “Al Jazeera in Arabic has become, in 10 short years, one of the most significant and positive developments in centuries in the Arabic-speaking world.”
On the Today Show, Marash claimed that Al-Jazeera’s airing of Osama bin Laden videos has had the effect of showing him to be a psychopath to the Arab world. In fact, the tapes encourage Arabs and Muslims to kill Americans. That is their intent and that is their effect.
NBC’s Lisa Myers noted in one of her reports on foreign fighters in Iraq that Saudis captured there say they came to kill Americans “because of pictures on Arab television network Al-Jazeera.”
Marash’s former colleague, Ted Koppel, declined an offer to go to work for Al-Jazeera International. Reuters reported that Koppel and producing partner Tom Bettag had lunch with an Al-Jazeera executive, but it “didn’t take long for us to decide that that’s not what we were going to do.” Koppel said, “I don’t think Tom and I entertained it more than 38 seconds.”
It shouldn’t have taken that long. Anybody who goes to work for Al-Jazeera either hates America or wants big bucks from the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
SHOW: Today 7:00 AM EST NBC
April 7, 2006 Friday
KATIE COURIC, co-host:
In May the controversial Arab network Al Jazeera will launch a new English-language channel. The 24-hour news network–excuse me–will be called Al Jazeera International, and it’s attracting some very big-name Western journalists. But the questions remain: Can this news―new channel, rather, draw an audience?
(Audio clips of reporters speaking Arab language)
COURIC: Across the Arab world, one channel has become a way of life for millions tuning in every day. Al Jazeera, which literally means `the island,’ has always been surrounded by controversy.
(Clip from Al Jazeera of Osama bin Laden video)
COURIC: It’s earned a reputation as the bin Laden network for airing more than 30 messages from bin Laden and his deputies. Critics claim there is an anti-American bias in its reports, which sometimes show grizzly images of insurgent strikes on US troops in Iraq.
And while American officials have appeared on its air…
Mr. COLIN POWELL: (On Al Jazeera) Yes, I’m very pleased…
Offscreen Voice: (On Al Jazeera, translating, foreign language spoken)
COURIC: …the network has often drawn fire from the Bush administration.
Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD: We’re dealing with people that are perfectly willing to―to lie to the world to attempt to further their case.
COURIC: Launched in 1996 and bankrolled by the emir of Qatar, its broadcasts reach 40 million viewers and are considered revolutionary in the region. Analysts claim that unlike most media in the Arab world, Al Jazeera is a voice of reform, offering uncensored political dissent and debate.
Mr. SHIBLEY TELHAMI (University of Maryland): Al Jazeera was bolder. It―it understood that there is something in common among Arabs, particularly on political issues and especially foreign policy. And it sought to reach out to that consumer in ways that no one else has been able to do.
COURIC: Now, Al Jazeera plans to extend its reach to the English-speaking world. Will Stebbins, who used to work for Associated Press television, is the new Washington bureau chief.
Mr. WILL STEBBINS (Al Jazeera International): We will always maintain the highest journalistic standards. Al Jazeera International will always be impartial, and we will always be objective, and we will always be accurate.
COURIC: Former ABC “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel reportedly turned down an offer to join the new network. But other high-profile and well-respected journalists, including BBC interviewer David Frost, have signed on.
When Al Jazeera International finally hits the air, it will already be making waves as the first channel based in the Mideast to bring news back to the West.
Former “Nightline” correspondent Dave Marash, a former colleague of mine at WRC in Washington, and former CNN International anchor Riz Kahn will both report from Al Jazeera International’s Washington bureau.
Good morning to both of you guys.
Mr. DAVE MARASH (Former “Nightline” Correspondent): Good morning, Katie.
COURIC: Let me ask you very simply, why did you want to work for this operation, Dave?
Mr. MARASH: Because it is a unique opportunity. The management of Al Jazeera wants Al Jazeera International to be a jewel in their crown. They want us to do the highest quality, most serious news of all the English-speaking news channels, and the opportunity to do that is truly fabulous.
COURIC: But Riz, is this to give the whole world an―an Arab perspective?
Mr. RIZ KAHN (Former CNN International Anchor): It’s actually to give it a perspective that many people overseas feel is lacking, and that is not just a Western perspective, but also some understanding of how the Arab mind thinks, how the Asian mind thinks. The idea is to actually fill a gap that a lot of people overseas feel exists now with channels that are based mostly in the West.
COURIC: I know that―that Nigel Parsons, the managing director for the new channel, has said that the English-language Al Jazeera will offer an Arab perspective. So do you feel like it will be, obviously, not simply an Arab perspective, but, for example, will you be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause?
Mr. MARASH: Well, you know, what’s going to make our product unique is that every 24 hours we’re going to offer four perspectives. The news will be broadcast from Doha, the capital of Qatar in the United Arab Emirates, then from London, then from Washington, then from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. And each of those four bases is mandated to take its region’s voice, its region’s point of view, its region’s priorities. And so within 24 hours you should see four regional takes of the same major story.
COURIC: How do you think that’ll lead to greater understanding? I mean obviously to at least be aware of these different perspectives is one thing, but what about having it result―I mean it’s not necessarily your job, but just as human beings we all hope for greater world understanding. Do you think that will result from this?
Mr. KAHN: Well, Katie, we have great journalists from almost every background. I mean, just seeing the two of us, I―I grew up in Britain, I have perspective that covers Asia and the Middle East as well; Dave, a veteran journalist, highly respected. We have a great bunch of people who actually know what true international journalism is.
And the story I often quote is one that―it was an advert in Britain years ago for a―a British newspaper, which showed a series of photographs, revealing one after the other. And initially it has this gentleman, like a seedy gent walking along the street, and in each photograph revealing shows a skinhead, like a thug, running towards him with his face grimacing. And it carries on until everyone has the impression the skinhead’s going to attack this man, and he does, he knocks the man over, they tumble, and then the final shot, after a short pause, is bricks falling from a scaffolding. And it says at the end, “Make sure you get the complete picture.” And everyone’s impression up to that final picture was that this was an attack, not a saving. And this is a problem that many feel that final picture is missing. What we want to do with the four centers and with all our journalists is make sure we give the complete picture.
COURIC: At the same time, you all are both aware that Al Jazeera carries with it some pretty significant baggage. On some reports, for example, and on Al―on Al―on Al Jazeera, they’ve called Palestinian suicide bombers “martyrs.” It’s been criticized as―by US officials as having, quote, “a clear pattern of false and inflammatory reporting.” And I know that Al Jazeera’s had bureaus closed in 18 countries, its signal blocked in 30. So obviously, are you going to try to change the image that some people have of this network?
Mr. MARASH: Well, I think it’s a false image. For example, `the network of Osama bin Laden.’ Thirty…
COURIC: Well, it―it’s true though, they do broadcast a―all of his statements, right?
Mr. KAHN: So does everyone else.
Mr. MARASH: So does everybody else, I was going to say…
Mr. MARASH: …that the 30 times he’s appeared on Al Jazeera, all of those 30 times virtually every television network in the world has taken the video.
The question is, what happens to Al Ja―to bin Laden’s statement after he gives it to Al Jazeera, and the answer is it’s treated as news. It’s never shown live, it’s never shown unedited.
COURIC: But do you think they give―they give enough of a Western perspective in addition to―to showing that statement?
Mr. MARASH: Al Jazeera in Arabic does not, because―but we’re going to…
COURIC: Right, but obviously Colin Powell we saw, and other US officials realize that a certain population was getting one point of view, and so they wanted to get the other point of view across.
Mr. MARASH: Well, more recently than that, Karen Hughes…
Mr. MARASH: …the―the public diplomacy chief of the Bush White House, went to the Middle East and spent virtually an entire day at Al Jazeera. And when she came out, people said, `Well, why are you doing this?’ and she said `Because you can’t deal with the Arab world, you can’t deal with the Islamic world without dealing with Al Jazeera.’ It’s that central.
Now we’re going to have a different product for a different audience, and what we’re going to give you, as I say, are four different takes on the news.
COURIC: Who is the target audience?
Mr. KAHN: It’s the global audience, but what―one thing we do have is the advantage of now being in English language, going to the global audience, English-language-speaking. And as Dave was pointing out, the Arabic channel has broadcast to a region that never had free press or clearly free press across the whole region. It’s given something to the Arab audience―which is why when you say it’s being shut down, many of these governments haven’t been used to hearing a voice that says, `Well, look, this is what’s really happening.’ So actually, it―it’s―you know, in―in in your report you said it’s earned a controversial sort of label, actually what it’s earned is a reputation as a network that tells the truth, and showed something else.
COURIC: Well, we did, we stated that as well, and in fact…
Mr. KAHN: No, no, no, I understand. But…
COURIC: …it―it was the fir―one of the first networks that isn’t state-owned, that does encourage dissent and―and alternative points of view, but it certainly has not gotten a very good rap in much of this country.
Mr. KAHN: Well, it’s…
Mr. MARASH: Well, you know ironically, before 9/11, Al Jazeera was the favorite Middle East channel of the Bush administration. And after 9/11, as part of their general orientation, they―they were alarmed at the number of releases that started at Al Jazeera from bin Laden and Zawahiri and their lot. But you know what? Polls in the Middle East have shown that the more Al Jazeera shows the Arabic-speaking public of bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi at all, the more disaffected the public becomes, because the Arabic-speaking public knows psychopaths and sociopaths as well as we do.
COURIC: Well, Dave Marash and Riz Kahn, it should be an exciting and really fascinating adventure for both of you. Good luck.
Mr. KAHN: Thank you.
Mr. MARASH: Thanks, and good luck to you, too, Katie.
COURIC: Thank you, Dave.
And we’ll be back in a moment. This is TODAY on NBC.