Former Al Jazeera English anchor Dave Marash talks to Howard Kurtz about his old employer’s takeover of Current TV.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST: Dave, is it fair to simply brand it the anti-American network? You worked there and had some experience with Al Jazeera network.
DAVE MARASH, FORMER ANCHOR, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH: It is a vast over simplification, and not a very useful one. One ought to point out Rupert Murdoch sold the biggest share in the Fox News enterprise, News Corps, to one of the richest guys in Saudi Arabia. Now, it’s true that he’s probably more aligned to American foreign policy than Al Jazeera might be, although the royal family, the Qatari, the owners of Al Jazeera have always been regarded as among America’s best friends and most reliable allies in the Middle East.
Al Jazeera has covered news and when they put — when they put Osama Bin Laden on television, they covered him as news. They didn’t just take his tapes and rebroadcast them. They took his tapes, extracted the newsworthy points from them, cut them down and then surrounded them by analysis of interpretation. That’s what journalists do. Anybody who thinks that Osama Bin Laden wasn’t a newsmaker is out of their mind.
HOWARD KURTZ: I think that Al Jazeera has put on some extremist voices, as a Muslim cleric who has been known to rant about Jews and supports suicide bombers and also put on other points of views, not unnecessarily unfavorable to the United States or Israel. You worked there, but you expressed some qualms about its fairness when you decided to leave. Talk about that.
DAVE MARASH: All right, first off, that’s Al Jazeera arabic. Al Jazeera English is a separate and different channel. For example, Al Jazeera Arabic has consistently reported the uprising in Bahrain not as part of the Arab Spring, but they defended the Sunni minority royal family in Bahrain. Al Jazeera English started down that road and took a lot of criticism and did a 180 and started doing remarkable documentaries and news coverage from a democratic one man, one vote standpoint in Bahrain.
HOWARD KURTZ: Circle back to why you left and what your concerns are.
DAVE MARASH: Well, number one, the channel had changed radically from when I was hired. When the Washington bureau was supposed to be one of four autonomous news centers, which would make its own correspondent assignments and create its own program lineup, what stories would be used at what length and what order. By the time I left, both functions taken over by Washington and had been taken over in Doha, the capital of Qatar. In Doha, there is what you might expect, the kind of post colonel, anti-colonel attitude and sometimes Al Jazeera English was willing to report its attitude rather than really report out of story. I, as the leading anchor in Washington, felt that I could not put my name on those kind of stories. So, when they would be launched from London they would run, but for the hours I was anchoring in Washington, those stories would not run because they didn’t, frankly, meet my standards. This, as you can imagine, created an editorial conflict.
HOWARD KURTZ: Isn’t Al Jazeera the new one, Al Jazeera America going to have a hard time getting carried on these cable systems because of its international focus and controversial reputation? I think it will achieve coverage and i think it will find an audience it already has on the Internet. It has in New York, where it’s been on Time Warner Cable for about a year and in Los Angeles it’s on for an hour or two a day on KACTV and it’s their most popularly watched program.