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The View From Here

By Sam Adams

 

In a white dress shirt and safari vest, chain-smoking and drinking Coke, Samir Khader looks like central casting's idea of a journalist. But chances are central casting wouldn't send down a senior producer from Al-Jazeera, whose purported anti-American bias has been the subject of many a White House press conference and newspaper editorial. Claiming 40 million viewers in the Arab world, it makes sense that Al-Jazeera would be the preferred outlet for anyone hoping to reach the largest possible number of Arab viewers, but the network's decision to broadcast several video communiques from Osama bin Laden led to oft-repeated charges of complicity: a Google search on "bin Laden," "Al-Jazeera" and "mouthpiece" returns over 2,000 hits. To many Western commentators, what Khader and his co-workers produce is the very opposite of objective journalism. As Al-Jazeera's top-rated talk show, The Opinion and the Other Opinion, points out, there are two sides to every story.

Until now, Americans who don't speak Arabic have had little chance to evaluate the administration's claims, and no way to conceive of Al-Jazeera as anything other than a faceless mass. Giving institutions a face is what documentaries do best, and Control Room is a sterling example. Jehane Noujaim spent six weeks in Doha, Qatar, during the most recent Iraq war, dissecting the way not just Al-Jazeera but American networks covered the U.S. assault. The results could hardly fail to open a few eyes.



Samir Khader underlines the inherent
contradictions of Al-Jazeera's existence.

True, criticism of U.S. policy does fly inside Al-Jazeera's walls, from the well-reasoned rhetoric of correspondent Hassan Ibrahim, who sums up the country's attitude as "democratize or I'll shoot you," to the unnamed translator who mimes disgust at the screen after translating an American soldier's remarks. But the film is full of moments that complicate easy stereotypes: Though he criticizes America's government, Khader expresses great admiration for the country's ideals, saying that he'd gladly send his children to school in the U.S. and "trade the Arab nightmare for the American dream." (He also says he'd take a job at Fox News if offered, though he now says he feels the comment was taken out of context.) If Al-Jazeera's decision to broadcast images of both Iraqi and American corpses didn't square with the administration's plan to present the war as a bloodless "cakewalk," their power is asserted by none other than Lt. Josh Rushing, the U.S. press officer stationed at Central Command in Doha. Though he dutifully toes the party line as to the war's righteousness, Rushing's response to the Al-Jazeera footage is disarmingly straightforward: "It makes me hate war."

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