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The new American face of Al Jazeera

Paul Farhi

WASHINGTON – The moment Dave Marash told friends and colleagues about his new job, the questions began flying.Who? listeners asked skeptically. And why?Nearly nine months later, he’s still hearing those questions-and it turns out answering the first one is simpler.In February, Marash, a lifelong broadcast newsman, became the Washington-based anchor of Al Jazeera English (AJE), the English-language spinoff of the Arabic TV news network. Marash is the most prominent American face of AJE, which made its first globe-spanning broadcast Wednesday.Embedded in “why,” however, are two other questions: How can an American work for an operation affiliated with al-Jazeera, which achieved notoriety-and to some, infamy-by airing video communiques from Osama bin Laden, images of dead American soldiers and routine denunciations of the United States? Moreover, how could Marash, who is Jewish, work for an organization that has provided a platform for Holocaust denial and hate speech against Israel, Zionism and Judaism?Marash, burly and affable, seems almost delighted to be on the defensive. His short, glib answer: He was out of a job.AJE came calling after Marash was let go by ABC News almost a year ago. Marash, 64, had spent 16 years as a globe-trotting reporter for “Nightline” and a sometime substitute host for Ted Koppel. Marash, whom Koppel calls one of the few broadcasters “who can do anything” -was swept out when Koppel left the program and “Nightline” was overhauled.The long answer, Marash says, is that al-Jazeera is little understood in the West. What’s more, he promises, Al Jazeera English won’t be al-Jazeera.”The goal here is to be able to give the best-reported, most transparent report of all the English-language news channels,” he says.A new force in global news?In some respects, Al Jazeera English will be worlds apart from its established, decade-old sibling. Al-Jazeera focuses primarily on news of the Middle East, for an audience of mostly Arabic-speaking Muslims. AJE will have broader horizons, aiming to draw a billion-plus English speakers worldwide-for Muslims and for anyone else seeking another perspective on the day’s news.AJE has established four news hubs, in Washington, Qatar, London and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It has positioned many of its 500-plus journalists outside of traditional news centers in Europe and North America, in a necklace of bureaus spanning Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. (Until last week, the channel was known as Al Jazeera International; the name was changed at the eleventh hour to distinguish it from al-Jazeera, which reaches viewers in several dozen countries.)In broadcasting circles, Marash has credibility to burn-a newsman’s newsman with a long, varied and solid reporting career. He has been a local anchor, a network reporter and a sportscaster, as well as a foreign correspondent with so much experience that he’s lost count of how many countries he’s reported from.Koppel says Marash’s “wildly eclectic” interests and free-ranging curiosity made him an ideal jack-of-all-trades reporter. Al-Jazeera, he says, “has consistently offered a window of opportunity for Israel and Israeli citizens to speak to the Arab world. There is no contradiction between Judaism and al-Jazeera. As a Jew, I have always wished for and worked toward peace and civility in the Palestinian territories and Israel.”The meta message is a humbling one, which is that no one knows it all,” he says. “The more you know and understand how others see the world, the better you understand the world.”


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