Despite Bitter Exit from Al Jazeera English, Dave Marash calls AJE ‘Must-See TV’

By Gail Shister Comment

Dave Marash, who worked for Al Jazeera English from 2006-2008.

Will Al Jazeera English’s non-stop, live, on-the-ground coverage of the ongoing Middle East protests lead to increased carriage in the United States?

“I certainly hope so,” says Dave Marash, former Washington anchor of AJE and a 16-year ‘Nightline’ veteran. “I still think Al Jazeera is must-see TV.”

So does Al Jazeera. That’s why the Qatar-based network is stepping up its lobbying efforts with U.S. cable and satellite companies – virtually none of which carry AJE – to add it to their video dance cards.

“The logic of it is just too obvious,” Marash, 68, says. “The product is too good, too significant, to not have a market in the U.S., given the complete abdication of American networks and cable channels from actually covering international news.”

Marash joined AJE prior to its November 2006 launch. Two years later he left in anger, publicly accusing the network of anti-American bias in its coverage. “I was right to go and they were glad I left,” he says in retrospect. “That bridge is toast.”

Still, Marash remains bullish on AJE and its prospects here. The current situation is “tragic,” in his view. “It plays into the ignorance of American viewers, most of whom are clueless as to

what the world thinks and why. It’s very harmful to America’s effectiveness and stature in the world.”

AJE has always been available on the web, however, and its live, streaming coverage of the Middle East uprisings rates “an A-minus, at worst,” from Marash, just back from an African safari with his wife, Amy.

AJE presents news through a Middle Eastern, Islamic prism, Marash acknowledges, “but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do skilled and appropriate reporting from that point of view.” In the first days of anti-government demonstrations in Cairo, AJE correspondents, particularly the younger ones, were “openly cheering” for the protesters, Marash says.

As for journalistic objectivity, “nobody [in news] is absolutely objective,” he opines.

Besides, as Marash points out, Americans are no strangers to points of view on TV news. Fox News – “talkity, talk, talk” – certainly has one, according to Marash. So does MSNBC, whose boisterous host Ed Schultz, he labels as “Mister Ed, the talking horse.”

CNN is not immune from criticism, either. Absent a crisis, “you could watch for two hours and not see a well-prepared video report from anywhere,” says Marash.

Now a video-journalism consultant, Marash denies having any interest in returning to TV news. (Something tells us the feeling might be mutual.)

“To be really blunt, ‘Nightline’ and the first two years of Al Jazeera permanently spoiled me,” he says.

“With the exception of ‘Frontline’ [on PBS], nobody in American television is doing the kind of reporting I was able to do on ‘Nightline’ for 16 years.”