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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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Among Al Jazeera English's viewers are three cable stations in Estonia, Global TV in Canada with 1.8 million households and YES satellite in Israel, which in January dropped the BBC in favor of Al Jazeera English. The network has also been successful on the Internet, with its English Web site receiving 4 million to 5 million page views a week, and 60 percent of its hits coming from America.

And the network continues to grab scoops — and generate controversy — worldwide. On Thursday it broadcast an interview with Vietnam's Thich Quang Do, 80, a prominent dissident and deputy leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, who has been under house arrest in Saigon for more than 25 years. A week earlier, Al Jazeera ignited outrage in Algeria when it conducted a survey on its Web site asking whether Al-Qaeda's attacks there were justified. The channel subsequently withdrew the poll and issued an apology.

Washington is one of the network's three international bureaus, along with Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and London, connected to headquarters in Doha, Qatar, by a round-the-world fiber ring. State-of-the-art equipment is strictly high-definition. No one here uses tapes. To put the shows together, producers rely on Samsung computers and the same Vizrt template graphics used by CNN and accessible through an Octopus newsroom system.

Housed in the same unmarked office of a Washington building across the street from McCormick & Schmick's seafood restaurant, Al Jazeera International and Al Jazeera English operate separately stretched over seven floors.

"We all joke that the place looks like the set from 'The West Wing,''' said a receptionist on the third floor where the Al Jazeera English top brass have their offices.

Among those who rate are Riz Khan, a former BBC trainee born in South Yemen and educated at the University of Wales in Cardiff, who previously hosted an interactive talk show for CNN where he interviewed world leaders including Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. In April 1998, he covered the Muslim pilgrimage, the hajj, live for CNN, almost a decade before joining Al Jazeera in 2006.

Also in the lineup is former U.S. Marine Josh Rushing, 35, the Texan who in 2003 was assigned to take questions from Al Jazeera as part of his duties as media affairs officer at the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha. He became something of a media star as the only American featured in Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim's critically acclaimed documentary "Control Room."
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