Remote Control

A new film goes behind the scenes at Al Jazeera

Al Mirazi admits that some of the criticism leveled at the station is valid, and he is especially concerned about the tendency of some field reporters to editorialize. "But the problem is not really the effect Al Jazeera has on the Arab world," he says. "The [issue] is the pressure Al Jazeera puts on editors and the government here." This is the chorus from many of the channel's correspondents—that the shouting coming from all sides just proves that the network is doing something right.

On a monitor, Cofer Black, the State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, is starting to look impatient. "Where's Doha?" asks Al Mirazi, again.

Al Mirazi says he has seen Control Room, and has his concerns. "In general, I'm against giving too much access in 'the kitchen,' " he says. "When you go into the kitchen and get an emotional and natural reaction . . . sometimes it gives the wrong impression. Like a doctor who is operating on a soldier. He walks outside the operating room and makes fun of the soldier. It doesn't mean he's not doing his job."

Noujaim: Friendly filmmaking
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Noujaim: Friendly filmmaking

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    Noujaim gets close to her subjects, consistent with her belief that "friendly filmmaking" moves her toward her own objectivity. "If you're not close to the person," she says, "they're not going to feel relaxed and open enough to show you their weaknesses or their other sides."

    This is the same instinct that gets Al Jazeera in trouble. Its reporters have been accused of bias, and of cozying up to shady characters to get access. David Shuster, an NBC correspondent, was one of the few journalists allowed by a Western network to appear in Control Room. "Jazeera's reporters are just as diligent and fair as any Western journalist," he told the Voice. "And if you're a hard-charging journalist, you'll have contacts that are unsavory."

    Fans of Al Jazeera say it presents a subversive challenge to the victor's account. Its critics say it exists to "incite" Arabs. Sameer Khader, the Al Jazeera producer who slouches and chain-smokes his way through Control Room, articulates a different mission. "To educate the Arab masses," he says. "Wake up! Wake up! There is a world around you. You are still sleeping."


    Today, Lieutenant Rushing has been promoted to captain, and he works in Los Angeles, where he helps movie studios depict the Marine Corps. In a phone interview with the Voice—his first for Control Room—he remembers his time in Qatar as one of the most "profound moments" in his life.

    In the film, Rushing seems a breed apart from his fellow military press officers, a man increasingly at odds with his government's version of the world—especially the view of Al Jazeera. "People don't understand what a complex organization Al Jazeera is. They say it's all Islamists, or Baathists, or Arab nationalists. You have all that, but you have really progressive voices too," he says. One of those progressive voices is correspondent Omar Al Issawi, who appears briefly in the film. Rushing and Al Issawi struck up a friendship, and would lunch together frequently. "He's just a fascinating guy," says Rushing. But the friendship caused friction with his American colleagues. "One guy told me I better check the name on my uniform, meaning the Marine Corps."

    Rushing says he avoided the news after he returned from the Middle East. He had just seen the pictures of the naked Iraqi prisoners, several days after they were released.

    "I think it should all be shown, the dead on both sides," he says. "In America war isn't hell—we don't see blood, we don't see suffering. All we see is patriotism, and we support the troops. It's almost like war has some brand marketing here." Rushing says he will participate in some Q&A's for Noujaim's film. He was nervous at first, but is becoming less so.

    "Al Jazeera shows it all," he concludes. "It turns your stomach, and you remember there's something wrong with war."

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