Al Jazeera launches in Seattle … and runs into the ‘branding’ problem

Al Jazeera America launched its Seattle bureau yesterday in a small office on Lake Union.

So I wanted to ask its lead correspondent Allen Schauffler, a well-known and widely respected journalist formerly with NBC’s local affiliate KING TV, what it felt like to work for a news organization supported by those who some say foster militant extremism around the world and armed struggles in the Middle East.

Kristin Fraser, Seattle bureau chief for Al Jazeera America, discusses a developing story with lead correspondent Allen Schauffler
Kristin Fraser, Seattle bureau chief for Al Jazeera America, discusses a developing story with lead correspondent Allen Schauffler

I was talking about NBC, of course, which for most of Schauffler’s career was owned by General Electric – one of the world’s largest corporations, a player in the global arms trade that occasionally gets into hot water for things like illegally selling military hardware to Israel or, in the old days, making nuclear bombs (and lots of nuclear waste). GE helped launch Ronald Reagan’s political career, ran the chronically troubled Hanford Nuclear Reservation and also made the now disabled leaking nuclear reactors at Fukushima in Japan.

Schauffler mistakenly thought I meant Al Jazeera. Understandable.

“The name Al Jazeera carries a lot of baggage with some people,” Schauffler said. “There were some quiet moments, raised eyebrows, when I told people I was taking this job. We’re going to have to deal with that as a challenge of branding.”

They are dealing with it already.

One of the first stories for the bureau is a report on the use of drones — aka, unmanned aerial vehicles — by Northwest farmers to monitor the health of their crops. Sounds like a cool story (so stay tuned)! But just as Schauffler and his crew were heading out to film, the pilot of the drone called and said they couldn’t come.

“When he found out we were from Al Jazeera, he said no,” Schauffler said. They had to email him their American passports and eventually convinced him, later upon arrival being asked to show their IDs again. The pilot said he regarded them as foreign media.

“I think we’re going to get that from people, for a while at least,” he said. “During the war in Iraq, some people are going to remember how the US government characterized Al Jazeera.” (Not to mention that we also bombed the news organization’s office in Baghdad.)

aljazeera logoMany do believe that Al Jazeera’s coverage is simply pro-Arab or Muslim propaganda and hostile to Western interests in general. A critical report last fall claimed the Qatar government had too much influence over the network. Nearly two dozen Al Jazeera staff quit the news organization recently to protest what they felt were orders to report favorably on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. These are legitimate concerns, if taken in context.

But neglected in all this is how often Al Jazeera is attacked as ‘pro-Western’ or even ‘pro-Israel’ by Muslim extremists and authoritarian governments.

My friend and former Seattle PI colleague Dorothy (aka D) Parvaz is an Al Jazeera reporter. In 2011, D was thrown in a Syrian prison for reporting on the popular uprising and then secretly deported to Iran, for one harrowing example of just how serious Al Jazeera is about its journalism.

Also ignored by many in the media critiques of Al Jazeera is the bias demonstrated on a daily basis by many American media organizations. Why didn’t the staff of the New York Times quit in protest after that newspaper acknowledged its left-leaning bias or when, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the Times published numerous unverified and false reports (like Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction) that actually cost lives?

Eh, I guess it’s easier to point at the other guy’s bias. Especially if the other guy has a name like Al Jazeera.

When word came out that Al Jazeera was launching a new cable news network, AJ America, some of the responses were fairly predictable. The LA Times noted some still call it Jihad TV; others contained more muted critiques. Some were even celebratory of this as the latest — or only — piece of good news in the media industry in years. But nearly all of the stories included some mention of this concern for bias or undue influence – a Qatari emir behind the curtain.

“The proof will be on air,” said Kristen Fraser, a former CNN reporter and producer who is Seattle bureau chief for Al Jazeera America. “We can talk about it all we want, but what will matter is our stories. We intend to do great news reporting, cover this region well and do the stories that aren’t being told.”

Added Schauffler: “We’re going to do the best we can to walk right down the middle of the road, with a lot less yowling and celebrity crap…. Al Jazeera does serious journalism. Is it perfect? No. But this is now one of the biggest, or arguably biggest, news operations in the world today with more than 70 bureaus around the world.”

And now, one in Seattle. As a reporter (and editor, publisher, office manager and janitor) at a somewhat smaller news organization, Humanosphere, devoted to broadening our global perspective and enhancing our knowledge about all of humanity, this can only be good news. Humanosphere often cites Al Jazeera for stories we can’t find anywhere else. Most of them are well done. Some are biased. Some are just badly done. Like all media ….

Watch Al Jazeera and decide for yourself.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • meganle

    Very excited about this! Love this news source….and what a great punchline about NBC. So true.

  • Kyle

    Great piece! I could be wrong, but I thought Comcast bought owned 51% of NBC until March, when it bought out GE’s remaining stock.

  • singingfrogs

    I have watched Al Jazeera when I’ve been overseas in East Asia and have been seriously impressed by the quality of their reporting. Their news pieces are balanced, insightful, and comprehensive, and I often found myself coming away from a program saying, “wow, that really gave me something to think about.” They also seem to provide more content instead of spending 30% of their air time advertising their own programming like CNN does. AJ has improved dramatically and now rivals BBC for quality, far surpassing CNN and most other U.S.-based news stations (except perhaps 60 Minutes).

  • time cake

    Al Jazeera is the best, unlike the Corpo-rat ran US western media, AJ inform readers about the world and Americas vast crimes against the worlds people, their backing of evil depots, their interference in nations, their overthrowing of democratically elected governments, their wars and deaths of millions all over the globe.
    I can just imagine so many thick, brainwashed Yanks when they hear Al Jazeera~~~ well where is that Joe? some A-rab place?… Ah just luv the slop, crap, lies of Fox pure dung-pile with pussy to boot, wow… ma kind of news!!! Hey Joe? are we not the Greatest nation on earth! who we bomb now dude?
    Genitalia? what? is that in Italy dude, some pizza joint? sure sounds like it eh… grunt grunt!!!
    Aljazeera? for the Thinking person

  • Abey

    I have once made a comment on the Arab edition of alJazeera that that seemed not to be to the liking of its editors. That was the last time they would accept any of my comments.

  • Mohammad Ansari

    Egypt is now a province of Greater Israel
    Who exactly is Gen. Abdel Fattah Alsisi ?
    Born to Moroccan Jewish mother, Malikah Titani from Asefi, in 1954 which makes him a Jew and an automatic citizen of Israel.
    Al-Sisi’s maternal uncle (mamu) Uri Sibagh served in Jewish Defense League from 1948 to 1950 before migrating to Israel and was a member of David Ben Gurion Political Party. In the same perio…d during Egyptian Revolution and Gen. Abdel Nasser coming to power when Egypt and Israel considered to be at war, Uri Sibagh’s real sister Malikah emigrated to Egypt instead to a new Jewish State, obviously on a mission from Mossad. She had to give up her Moroccan Citizenship and adopt Egyptian Nationality to get married to resourceful Egyptian Muslim and to enable her son to join the Egyptian Military Academy.
    Malikah Titani married Saeed Hussain Khalili al-Sisi who run a shop, called Al-Sisi in Cairo’s ancient Khan al-Khalili Bazar. They have 3 sons and 5 daughters.
    Malikah Titani’s Mossad mission culminated when Mossad overthrew President Morsi and installed the Agent Al-Sisi. Al-sisi is today’s version of Elic Cohen who infiltrated the highest level of power in Syria under the name of Kamal Amin Thabet before he was exposed and hanged in Public Square in Demascus in 1965. According to Israeli Radio Report, Cohen’s spying helped Israel to hit the specific targets in the 1967 war to take over Golan Heights without facing any problems.
    After Morsi’s removal and Gen. Fattah el-Sisi’s grabbing of power the Israeli Ambassador in Cairo has told a minister that the people of Israel look upon Adel Fattah el-Sisi as national hero. Al-Sisi is not national hero for Egypt but for all Jews in Israel and around globe.

  • WARREN.STANLEY.POLLOCK1@GMAIL

    Hey, I’ll listen to anyone who doesn’t advertise me to death. I really like your fish-pirate role play. Do more of it, a lot more.