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Al Jazeera English: Fighting Through Stereotypes

For anyone who can't resist betting on an underdog, Al Jazeera English is a 24-hour news network that might be worth watching. That is, if you can find it.

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Al Jazeera Englishs Washington bureau chief Will Stebbins and anchor Ghida Fakhry

Al Jazeera English's Washington bureau chief Will Stebbins and anchor Ghida Fakhry.

Photo By WWD Staff

WASHINGTON — For anyone who can't resist betting on an underdog, Al Jazeera English is a 24-hour news network that might be worth watching. That is, if you can find it.

"Our great frustration in life is that except for the closed circuit cable systems of the Pentagon and State Department, which serves embassies in Washington, in America we are only seen on a few very small cable systems, two in Ohio, one in Vermont and one in the Watergate complex [in Washington]," lamented co-anchor Dave Marash, the award-winning, Jewish, former correspondent who spent 16 years working on "Nightline,'' Ted Koppel's nightly news show. Al Jazeera English recruited Marash several months after ABC laid him off in a post-Koppel move to revamp the show. At the time, Marash took a lot of heat for joining an Islamic-backed network that had weathered heavy attacks from then-secretary of state Donald Rumsfeld and was seen by many conservatives as an apologist for Al-Qaeda.

Rumsfeld is gone, Al Jazeera is now seen as a major source of international news, and Marash is still breaking stories. The only hitch is that, even now, it's easy for his colleagues not to know they're take credit for "breaking" a story he did first.

Take New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, who last year reported that American troops and independent U.S. contractors had assisted Ethiopian soldiers in toppling the government of Somalia. When Marash broke the story days before, he asked Adm. Michael Mullen, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whether the tactic might become a paradigm for future U.S. military operations. Mullen agreed, calling it "one of the arrows in our quiver."

"Michael Gordon probably never saw the show,'' said Marash, knowing too well how public information specialists can spin a story once it has already aired.

Difficulties reaching viewers in the U.S. — despite a worldwide audience of 800 million households — aren't the only obstacles facing Al Jazeera English's Washington news team, though. Even after a year on air, Bush administration cabinet officials continue to assiduously avoid the Al Jazeera English option. "Alas, we are finding that American officials are still somewhat gun shy," said Marash, noting that in Congress, only Republican Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Democrat Neal Abercrombie of Hawaii have appeared.
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