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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.

In addition, out of a current staff of 140, with 40 journalists and four cameramen, only one Al Jazeera English reporter holds a White House press pass.

But none of this seems to bother Will Stebbins, Al Jazeera English's Washington bureau chief, much. He puts a positive spin on the lack of access.

"When the White House makes a statement on immigration, for example, we aren't so much interested in being in the press room as we are in reporting from the border where the story is actually taking place," explained the 41-year-old, former Latin American correspondent for Associated Press Television, who recently hired Lucia Newman, CNN's Havana bureau chief, to run the network's Buenos Aires bureau.

Stebbins insisted he faces no shortage of talented journalists eager to join his staff, despite the pro forma chorus of criticism by administration officials who scorn the network for showing close-up shots of wounded American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

"Frankly, it was sort of an embarrassment of riches really," said Stebbins, who credits his stack of résumés to a growing frustration among journalists over news organizations trimming their international staffs. "Now would seem to be a time when U.S. viewers require much larger ingredients of international news in their evening newscasts, and yet, oddly enough, the coverage is shrinking rather than growing."

For Lebanese-born Ghida Fakhry, the bureau's lead female anchor, interviewing an undersecretary of state on matters of international policy is an opportunity worth fighting for. "It's always a bit of a boxing match,'' said Fakhry, explaining, "I enjoy interviews where I can challenge someone in a position of authority. Interviewing analysts is not the same as interviewing U.S. officials before an important U.S. move like the embargo of Iran."

Voted one of the hottest on-air female news personalities by Esquire magazine, Fakhry, a size 2 who favors Ann Taylor pantsuits for their fitted jackets and hip-hugger waistlines, is a formidable interviewer, as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner recently discovered. Noting France's own history of developing a nuclear bomb in secret, she questioned his government's saber rattling about the need to bomb Iran if that country didn't give up its nuclear aspirations.
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