21 June 2007

Banned in the USA!

Democracy Now! interviews Josh Rushing, the former Marine press officer featured in Jehane Noujaim's film about the Al Jazeera TV network Control Room, who left the military and now works for Al Jazeera's international English-language network.

Rushing tells of an assignment in North Dakota where he encountered the curiosity of a local newspaper reporter and...some other folks.

JOSH RUSHING: Well, I go up, and it was kind of interesting, because a reporter came out on my first day there, a reporter from the local newspaper, and she said she was surprised at how I was dressed. And I thought, well, maybe I’m kind of casual to be on TV. I was in blue jeans. And she said, “No, I thought you’d be in robes and a head scarf.” You’ve got to be kidding. Why would I be in robes and a head scarf? “Well, you’re Al Jazeera, you know. And that’s what we were looking for.” So it was --

AMY GOODMAN: So she came out to do a story on you --


AMY GOODMAN: -- doing a story in her town.

JOSH RUSHING: Absolutely, right. And so, you know, I gave her a nice interview. She kind of got it. And a couple days later she called me, really terrified and upset. And she said a federal agent had been to her office, had asked her to step outside. She said, “Can I bring my reporter’s notebook?” And he said, “No. I’ll be the one asking questions,” took her out and started asking her questions like, you know, “Who did you talk to? Did he seem like a citizen? Did he seem like an American? Did he have a camera? He didn’t take pictures, did he?” “Of course, he took pictures. They’re doing a story, you know? A news story.”

And he said there were possible international implications to me being that close to the unsecured border. Let alone, I came from Washington, D.C., where my office is three blocks from the White House. Now I’m a danger in northwestern North Dakota. So it turns out he was from the Border Protection, Customs & Border Protection. He went around and did that to everyone I interviewed so that I couldn’t go back and get another interview. We were going to go back and do the high school graduation, and we were unwelcome at that point, because people were worried. They were worried -- are there international implications they don’t know about? Had they said something that would put the country at risk to me, or even worse, maybe put themselves at risk from their own country? At the time, it was the NSA wiretapping story that was in the news. And even this reporter worried about calling her mom, because was she now on the wiretap database, and would that put her mom on the list, as well? So I was going through this kind of weird time, where I’m being followed by federal agents. I’m just trying to do a story about the value of Small Town America.

Al Jazeera English has quickly grown into one of the three largest international news networks in the world, along with the BBC and CNN International. But you will cannot see it in the great majority of the United States, because the right-wing arbiters of Freedom and Democracy have decided there are certain things that should be hidden beyond sight of the dumb ol' proles, and have threatened any cable or satellite provider that would dare carry it with the unleashing of mass hysteria This, to me, is simply outrageous, and renders laughable any serious consideration of "press freedom" in 21st-century right-wing America. As much as we rightly ridicule Faux News as the American Pravda, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone suggesting it be blacked out.*

I have no opinion one way or the other on Al Jazeera English's content (how could I, after all?). I'm sure it's broadcast from an Arabic perspective (though the English channel has hired many ex-BBC and other Westerners) but there should be nothing grossly indecent about that, unless you're of the inclination that "Arab = terrorist" and vice-versa, which is something to which not even "liberals" are immune. I'm thinking in particular of last year's UAE port security fiasco, which many Democrats gladly jumped on ostensibly to prove the hypocrisy of the Bushies without realizing it meant they would be adopting the same fallacy.

I do know that all of Al Jazeera is financed almost entirely by the Emir of Qatar, a small gulf emirate made enormously wealthy by oil money, and he pours great gallons of it into his pet television network. This brings me to another rant; the great fallacy of "foreign oil," the great carrot that is used to sell alternate energies to the Heartland. The ethanol industry, which has become big backers of Indycar racing and supplies all of its fuel, ran ads touting the supposed benefits of its product, the most important of which, it reminded us, was lessening our reliance on "foreign oil."

Note that lessening our reliance on oil is not a bad thing, though I am told by various environmentalists that ethanol is mostly a red herring, but that is not what was specified here. The problem is "foreign" oil, because oil itself is not so bad so long as the profits go to nice Americans and not to dirty brown foreigners who aren't advanced enough to have it. (Sadly, "foreign oil" xenophobia is another trap "liberals" sometimes willingly buy into.)

*This would be the point at which someone mentions "RCTV" which I have not talked about in large part because I trust almost nothing written about Chavez or Venezuela, whether from the American press or the sympathetic leftist press. I will note, however, that whenever one of the above listed openly aids in the plotting of a coup against a democratically-elected leader, I may change my mind.