Al Jazeera's U.S. Face
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
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. When AJE begins its first globe-spanning broadcast today, Marash will be its most prominent American face.
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?
But Marash -- affable, burly and possessed of gloriously resonant voice -- seems almost delighted to be on the defensive. His short, glib answer: He was out of a job.
AJE came calling shortly after Marash was let go by ABC News almost a year ago. Marash, 64, had spent a decade and a half as a globe-trotting reporter for "Nightline" and as a sometime substitute host for Ted Koppel (before that, Marash was an anchor at Washington's Channel 4). But 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, and frequently misunderstood, in the West. What's more, he promises, Al Jazeera English won't be al-Jazeera.
"I have been deeply corrupted by 16 years at 'Nightline,' " Marash says. "It was professional heaven. I grew accustomed to having the reporting time to present a picture of what was there in reality."
Now, he says, "The goal here is to be able to give the best-reported, most transparent report of all the English-language news channels."
As for a Jewish journalist working for AJE? Well, there's an even longer answer.
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