Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Josh Rushing on The Daily Show

Josh Rushing was a spokesperson for the U.S. military in the Middle East, where he worked with Arabic-language news media, including Al Jazeera. When Al Jazeera launched its English-language channel, Josh joined the team in the Washington broadcast center. (Al Jazeera English has broadcast centers in Washington; London; Kuala Lumpur; and Doha, Qatar.) Monday night, he was the featured guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, back from a two-week vacation. They discussed the philosophy of a news channel that doesn't begin with the premise that the entire universe revolves around the United States. (Seriously, if you want coverage of Africa, South America, most of Asia, or the Pacific Islands, the U.S. news media are completely outclassed by Al Jazeera English.)

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,
original airdate 2007-07-16, ©2007 Comedy Central

Here is a transcript of the interview. Copyright ©2007 Comedy Central:
Jon Stewart: Welcome back; my guest tonight, a former Marine Corps media liaison for the U.S. Central Command, he is now a correspondent for Al Jazeera International. His new book is Mission Al Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World. Ehh, Heroes stole that. Please welcome Josh Rushing. Josh! Have a seat, please. The book is Mission Al Jazeera; now, I first — I remember you from the film Control Room. (Yes.) You were the CENTCOM media liaison (Yes.) and there was so much U.S. media and Arab media, and you really — it was — you were such a great character in that — I loved your acting — no, it was great to watch you struggle with trying to bridge that divide. How do you end up from that to working with Al Jazeera?

Josh Rushing: Yeah, kind of a long question. You know, in the movie — it's kind of funny, you say "acting," the truth is, that's really not me. It was edited to look that way — edited very well, it's a good movie — what looked like a long conversation between me and the Al Jazeera producer that happened over months was actually one conversation, one complex conversation, where I was trying to hold the government line, which was my job to do: explain why we were there. Now, I was also trying to understand how they could see it, because in my mind we were there to liberate the Iraqi people, and this must be a good thing. To anyone who's sympathetic to Arabs or Iraqis, they must want them liberated from Saddam Hussein, so we must be doing a good thing, and yet they didn't see it that way, so I was trying to understand how they could see it that way. It's a complex [inaudible] involved.

Stewart: And watching you really struggle with the position? (Yes, yes.) Ultimately you came to the conclusion that perhaps it might be — you might be able to accomplish your goals better working with some of their news people.

Rushing: It was a long journey before then. The movie came out — I didn't know a movie had been made!

Stewart: Now, you didn't realize that the camera...?

Rushing: It was introduced to me as a couple of grad students from the American University in Cairo...

Stewart: Did you think you were auditioning for The Real World? Is that what this was?

Rushing: It felt a little bit like The Unreal World over there, Bizarro World. But, literally, it was introduced to me as these are grad students from the American University in Cairo doing a project on Al Jazeera, and so I never realized, like, this graduate project would one day be a film in theaters in America — that was a complete surprise to me — and I didn't find out until after it was released at the Sundance Film Festival, as a matter of fact.

Stewart: Were you concerned, because someone struggling with the nuance of your position, at that time in the country, was viewed as — "not good"?

Rushing: Well, it was a razor's edge, to be sure, to try to hold the government line, and yet understand the way they saw it, and try to understand how both worlds could be right, it was a razor's edge.

Stewart: To have empathy. It seems, though, to be — it seems exactly what you would want from a media liaison — someone who can understand where the United States government is coming from, but empathize with the Iraqi position. You actually talk about a very interesting story, where you're talking about the day that the Virginia Tech shootings occurred (Yeah!), when you were working for Al Jazeera, and that gives an example of perspectives, I think.

Rushing: I don't normally do news for Al Jazeera, but this was a big story, and I'm in the Washington broadcast center, so I went out to Blacksburg, Virginia, reported on it for 3 or 4 days, I think, live. One of the secrets of news is, when you're doing a live report, you don't realize, but there's all these live reporters standing shoulder to shoulder, because they don't want each other in their shot, so all the cameramen —

Stewart: It's as though it's some kind of Potemkin village, some sort of game they're playing.

Rushing: Yeah, you can hardly imagine something like that.

Stewart: Exactly — interesting.

Rushing: But — so, you stand shoulder to shoulder with all the other live reporters, and you end up doing your rpeorts kind of at the same time, so all the cameras are pointed at the same building in the background, you all do your reports at the top of the hour; well, the day that the report of Cho — he sent his videos and his writings to NBC News to show, went on — that was the #1 story in America by far, so I go out, and I'm standing shoulder to shoulder with all these other live reporters, doing the same thing, top of the hour hits and they all go on, and I'm waiting. They all start taking their microphone off and walking away, and I'm waiting. Well, for us that was about the fourth story in, because on that same day there were about 225 people died in Baghdad from 6 car bombings, the Nigerian presidential elections were getting started, and there was fighting in Mogadishu, and then four stories down, maybe it was, hey, Josh, what's going on at Virginia Tech today? That's a real difference in the way Al Jazeera reports the news. To say that —

Stewart: Well, they're reporting for their audience (From an international perspective.) — Exactly. So, what is the U.S. missing, then? What aren't we getting about the propaganda war or the news war or any of those?

Rushing: Well, you have to realize, on a week when the news hardly mentions anything but Anna Nicole Smith, there are events happening around the world.

Stewart: Are you suggesting that in, let's say, Mosul (الموصل) or Kirkuk (كركوك\كه‌ركوو) or Ramadi (الرمادي) , they don't want to know who is the baby daddy? (الذي يكون الأب من آنا نيكول سميثطفلة؟) Is that your suggestion?

Rushing: The truth is, I bet they wish they had a life where it mattered who the baby's daddy was. They don't have the luxury of wanting to know who Anna Nicole's baby daddy is. They don't have the luxury for caring about Paris Hilton and what her trials are in the jail saga. There are real things happening around the world.

Stewart: And you feel like right now, the Al Jazeera that you're working for — you know, because a lot of people look at that as a propaganda arm as well —

Rushing: Well, they haven't watched it, then. They just haven't watched it. There is a bias there, but the bias is simply from an international perspective. It's a bias that says what's happening in Africa may be just as important, if not more important, than what's happening in Hollywood.

Stewart: Ha! Good luck with that!

Rushing: I know, it's not a profit model. I know.

Stewart: Your report — and we check in with E! — it's a fascinating journey and a fascinating story. We really appreciate your being on the show. Mission Al Jazeera, on the bookshelves now; Josh Rushing!
If you live in the United States, you don't have Al Jazeera English on your cable or satellite system, unless you're one of the tiny tribe of people with the big satellite dishes, the size of a small car. That's because the right-wingers have so frightened the cable operators with the specter of being painted as colluding with an anti-American propaganda mill. Thing is, as Josh said, if that's what you think of Al Jazeera English, then you clearly haven't been watching. Anyone with a web browser can watch on the Internet; the free feed is even tolerable on a dialup line, although I recommend forking over the $7 to $10 per month (depending on which distributor you choose) for the high-quality feed if you have broadband. You can also watch a number of recent programs on Al Jazeera's YouTube™ page.

Every week, Al Jazeera English has a panel discussion on the situation in Iraq, Inside Iraq, which is required viewing for anyone who wants to get an unbiased view of events on the ground. Lest you think it's an anti-American tirade, the host previously worked as a translator for the U.S. State Department. He criticizes Bush and other U.S. officials, but he is equally blunt in criticizing Iraqi officials, Iranians, Syrians, and anyone else, especially if they're trying to throw spin or parrot a party line. It's what Meet the Press should be. I also recommend most of their other programming (well, except the sports news; I couldn't care less about my local teams, much less a soccer match between Mongolia and Mauritania), particularly People & Power, Witness, Everywoman, One on One, and occasionally Frost over the World. Their news hour is also top-notch. Watch this channel; the very survival of democracy as we know it depends on having a well-informed citizenry with access to more than just one point-of-view.

As news anchor Ghida Fakhry (a.k.a. "Peppermint Gomez") Barbara Serra says in one of their promos, "If it's newsworthy, it goes on air — whether it's Bush or Bin Laden." [corrected 2007-09-19]

Some other transcripts you might want to check out...

Inside Iraq
on Al Jazeera EnglishThe Daily Show with Jon StewartReal Time with Bill Maher

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