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From US Marine to Al Jazeera

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When it comes to Al Jazeera and its approach to newsgathering, it's tough to figure out where they're coming from. You can listen to me. You can listen to Aaron Barnhart out in Kansas City. Or you can listen to Josh Rushing, a former Marine who was press liason in Iraq in the early days of the war in Iraq.

Rushing, who first caught my eye in the film "Control Room" – a documentary about how different media outlets were covering Iraq – was born in Texas. He moved up the ranks in Iraq to deal directly with the foreign press, ultimately accepting a position with Al Jazeera after he left the Armed Forces. It was clear in the film that he was committed to his stance that America was in Iraq to do good and liberate Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, but he was curious enough to ask why the Iraqi people didn't see it the same way. As the Los Angeles Timesreported at the time:

Rushing, a Central Command spokesman assigned to escort the documentary makers during their time in Qatar, is among the film's most sympathetic characters, portrayed as a thoughtful young man moved over time by the grim reality of war.
At no point is he shown doubting the justness of the U.S. effort in Iraq, yet the film documents a budding friendship between Rushing and Al Jazeera reporter Hassan Ibrahim, and moments on camera when Rushing is wrestling with the film's central themes: war, bias and the Arab world's most powerful media outlet.
Talk about cred.

Rushing was on "The Daily Show" last night, where he discussed his military career, working for Al Jazeera, and the media. Some choice quotes:

  • On representing the Marines viewpoint while engaging in a dialogue:

    I was trying to hold the government line – which was my job to do, explain why we were there -- and I was also trying to understand how they could see it. In my mind, we were there to liberate the Iraqi people, which was a good thing. Anyone who is sympathetic to Arabs or Iraqis, they must want them liberated from Saddam Hussein – it must be a good thing. But they didn't see it that way. And I was trying to understand how they could see it that [different] way. … It was a razor's edge: to try to hold the government line, and yet understand the way they saw it, to try to understand how both worlds could be right.

  • On Al Jazeera's International's bias:

    There's a bias there, but it's a bias from an international perspective. It's a bias that says that what's happening in Africa may be just as important, if not more important, than what's happening in Hollywood. On a week where the news mentions hardly anything but Anna Nicole Smith, there are events happening around the world. I bet [people in wartorn areas] wish they had a life where it could matter who Anna Nicole Smith's baby's daddy is. They don't have the luxury of wondering who Anna Nicole Smith's baby's daddy is. They don't have the luxury of caring about Paris Hilton.

  • On reporting American news to the Middle East:

    I went out to Blacksburg, Virginia for three or four days to report on it live. And one of the secrets of news is that when you're doing a live report, [viewers] don't realize this but there's all these live reporters standing shoulder to shoulder because they don't want each other in their shot. … So you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other live reporters and you end up doing your reports kind of at the same time. So all the cameras are pointing at the same building in the background, you all do your reports at the top of the hour. Well the day that the report came out that Cho had sent his videos and writings to NBC News, that was the number one story in America by far. So I go out and I'm standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all these other live reporters. Top of the hour hits, and I'm waiting. They all start taking their microphones off and walking away and I'm waiting. For us, that was the fourth story in because on that same day there were about 225 people who died in Baghdad from six car bombings; the Nigerian presidential elections were getting started and there was fighting in Mogadishu. And then four stories in, it was "Josh, what's going on at Virginia Tech?"

    America still awaits a major cable provider to add Al Jazeera to its channel lineup – the only option most of us have is online with a monthly fee – so that we can all see their news presentation for ourselves.