Lights! Camera! Al-Jazeera!

By Torres, Justin | The American Enterprise, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Lights! Camera! Al-Jazeera!


Torres, Justin, The American Enterprise


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Most Americans have now heard of the al-Jazeera television network. And many have thought seriously impolite thoughts about the channel that regularly incites vicious anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East. Yes, the presentation is slick, and the graphics oh-so-modern, but there is definitely an agenda behind the reporting. Which is why they always get the bin Laden videos and first claims of suicide bombings and beheadings.

So it was quite a shock when al-Jazeera recently took over four floors of my K Street office building in Washington, D.C. and built themselves a $7 million U.S. bureau. My first clue as to our new neighbors was watching three men of Middle Eastern descent roll a six-foot tall satellite dish through the lobby and into the freight elevator, heading for the roof. In the age of the threat index, this definitely counts as "something unusual," as Secretary Ridge might say. We may as well start calling this place Tora-Bora!

My only defense for having these politically incorrect thoughts is that I wasn't the only one. The reporters from the Baltimore Sun, on the seventh floor, looked aghast when they found out who the new tenant was, although one did wonder, "Maybe they've got good sources?" The building was abuzz in a way it hadn't been since the last concierge was fired.

After a while, our initial fears--does this make us a terrorist target? will the dell down the street go halal?--receded in the face of al-Jazeera's daily normalness. We began to forget we were sharing a building with the world's most notorious news agency.

It didn't even raze me when, one summer afternoon, I rode the elevator with an al-Jazeera producer, an attractive, fashionable young woman in an outfit that would put a Saudi vice cop's prayer beads in a twist. She was talking loudly into her cell phone. "I'll be in Turkey, then Lebanon, so I won't get to Kuala for a few weeks," she was telling someone at the other end. A pause, then a cackle. …

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