The FishbowlDC Interview with Al Jazeera English’s Josh Rushing, a Former U.S. Marine


Say hello to Al Jazeera English’s Josh Rushing.  He hosts Al Jazeera English’s Fault Lines, an award‐winning show on the Americas. His reporting spans the criminalization of the mentally ill in the U.S. and President Obama’s “surge” approach in Afghanistan, to more recently, a marijuana farmer with seriously big-ass plants that would blow your mind. In June 2007, he released his first book, Mission Al Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World. A 15‐year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he was in the doc Control Room, which depicted his struggles as the U.S. military’s lead spokesperson to the Arab world during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Rushing has a weird phobia. It has to do with “too many people on a floor,” like at a dance club. “I get really freaked out if I think there are too many people on it.” He has no qualms, however, about war zones, public speaking and going on TV. He describes war as “an addiction,” but is glad to no longer be in the military. “I like being in an organization where everyone is dedicated to a single mission,” he says. “The problem in the military is, you don’t get to pick your mission.”

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Clearly some kind of beer. On special, and draft.

How often do you Google yourself? Doesn’t everyone have a Google alert these days?

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? Saying “no” to the director of Al Jazeera English who wanted me to film something. It was something kind of contrived and I just wasn’t comfortable with it. He has moved on to another part of the company – probably not far enough that he won’t call me after he sees my interview.

Who is your favorite working journalist? David Grann. he did a great piece on  guy who was killed on Texas Death Row.

Do you have a favorite word? I don’t in fact have a favorite word.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Michelle Obama. I find Sarah Palin annoying. She just seems so self aware to the point that it creates a disingenuous quality to the point of being egocentric. All her little catch phrases are annoying. God, that would horrible. Sorry for the rant, deep into a moment about Sarah Palin.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? Whatever the IT guy gives me. I’m constantly breaking my BlackBerrys for whatever reason.  When I got out of a car it fell into a puddle, a deep puddle. It could have happened to anyone. There happened to be a puddle right outside my car door. Just don’t tell the IT guy that!

When did you last cry and why? I didn’t cry for a long time. I went to the doctor recently and found out I had dry eye. The last time I was in an interview with a father who watched his son get executed on death row. When he broke down,I cried, my cameraman cried. It was pretty hard not to.  On a flight to Seattle, I cried wildly. The flight attendant had to check on me. I had just broken my foot, was loaded on Vicacdin and headed to Seattle on a book tour. I was watching a movie, “Away from Her.” I was crying in the first act. I think I was scaring people on the plane.

What swear word do you use most often? Clearly fuck.

What word or phrase do you overuse? Clearly fuck. For sure. Particularly when you have little kids. I have three under four and one in college. I’m trying to stop saying that.

What TV show do you have to watch? If I had to watch one, “Mad Men” is one of my favorite shows. Or Texas Longhorns football.

Where do you shop most often for your clothes? My wife kind of leads the charge there. We just moved here from Texas. The Hugo Boss outlet. Certain cuts fit me well.

Whom do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Ellen, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? I have a job during the day. My favorite daytime talk is Riz Khan. He has a daily talk show on Al Jazeera English. He’s the Oprah of Al Jazeera, I would easily say that. That could be the truest thing said about Riz Khan.

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? I would easily take Jon Stewart over all of them. I was on his show for my book. It was very casual. Jon is kind of generous. The funniest thing they tell you before you go on, the producer will tell you, ‘Don’t try to be funny, leave that to John.’

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? Schwarzenegger, he seems like he’d be helpful. He’s fit. He’s gotta have some fun stories. And he’s probably not a whiner, you know?

Who is your mentor? A gentleman named Bruce Paisner. He was the president of Hearst Entertainment for many years.  I met him years ago because of the movie, “Control Room.” Bruce is a brilliant, generous guy. We struck up a genuine friendship.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? If you don’t want to be held accountable for something, then it shouldn’t come out of your mouth. You should be held accountable for everything that comes out of your mouth for the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean your views don’t change over time. “Control Room” was a huge lesson for me. I didn’t know they were making a movie. I still get e-mails and letters on it. It’s just something I have come to believe.

What and where was your first job in journalism? Here. This job. Presenting programs for Al Jazeera English. Unless you count combat correspondent for the Marines. I used to write and take pictures for internal Marine magazines and newspapers. 

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? One day I was on live talking about military stuff and I was so tired. The anchor asked me a question and I just went blank – absolutely blank – live on air. It was just terrifying. I had just come out of Iraq and ended up stranded in the desert. I had heat exhaustion. So they finally got me to the set and told me I had to go right on. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours.  At one point he [the anchor] turned to me and I was passed out asleep. Thankfully the camera didn’t catch it. What a horrible, horrible thing though. They didn’t pick up the snoring.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? I had a good interview with Admiral Mike Mullen. It’s good access getting to the top guy in the military. Mullen doesn’t stick to talking points like a lot of generals. It was a challenging interview so you had to be on point. Another was a guy growing marijuana in Humboldt, California. He had these massive marijuana plants that he was so proud of. All organic, mind you. No pesticides. Anyone who really loves what they do, I’m always really impressed by that. The dude was a brilliant farmer.  The episode comes out Oct. 7.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? I interviewed an Israeli spokesman for the consulate in New York and I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. I didn’t challenge him enough.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? Funny enough, it may have been that Mullen interview. He said Pakistan had been interfering in Kashmir for too long, the ISI. It was a big story in India. I didn’t come out thinking it was a big deal. We ended up doing all these interviews with papers in India. It was the lead story over there.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? I was with a  friend in Kabul and we were watching “Pineapple Express” in the hotel.

When and why did you last lose your temper? I really lost it in San Francisco with this guy on a  bicycle. We were trying to get the car out of the bike lane when he pulled up to the window and started giving me a kindergartener’s lesson on it. He put his bike in front of the car and I kind of lost it. I jumped out of the car, and my producer said ‘Go go, I’ll handle this.’ We’re not all right in the head.

Which movie title best describes your journalism career?  “Apocalypse Now” because I keep going back to war zones to cover them.

Who would you want to play you in a movie?  Sean Penn or Robert Downey Jr. could make my life funnier than it actually is. He’s clever.

Name some jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Mowing lawns; making pizza; delivering pizzas; making sandwiches at Subconscious Sandwiches in Lewisville, Texas; Marine; prison guard; corporate mover (that job sucked); and bartending.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. Make it good. What is the first thing you do in the morning?