Former Marine Captain Joins Al Jazeera

Josh Rushing, a former Marine public affairs officer, has joined the controversial Al-Jazeera television network as a reporter.

Former Marine in media glare as he joins Al-Jazeera (USA Today, p.1)

Photo: 	Former Marine captain Josh Rushing is going to work as a reporter for Al-Jazeera, which has an office in Washington. 	Tim Dillon, USA TODAY Marine officers are taught to think ahead. So Josh Rushing, a captain in the Corps until last October, anticipated the unpleasant questions. Is he a modern-day Tokyo Rose, the nickname GIs in World War II gave to the women they heard on Japanese radio trying to turn them against America? Is he a propagandist set to tear down the country he once served? A collaborator aiding the enemy?

Rushing, 33, has taken a job reporting for a new channel for Al-Jazeera. That’s the Qatar-based network that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said is “perfectly willing to lie to the world” and has “a pattern of playing propaganda over and over and over again” for its 50 million viewers, most of them in the Arab world.

Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly branded it a “propaganda network … bent on encouraging violence and sympathetic to terrorists.” And Iraq’s new government temporarily closed the network’s offices in Baghdad, saying that Al-Jazeera incites insurgents by showing video of attacks and statements from Osama bin Laden and his deputies.

But Rushing, who will appear on a global, English-language news channel the network hopes to start by spring, considers his decision to work for Al-Jazeera noble, not seditious. “I’ve given my entire adult life to the health and well-being of this nation,” Rushing says. “I wouldn’t do anything to threaten that. “What the Marines trained me to do was to represent the best of what America stands for to a foreign audience. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

The network, heavily subsidized by the emir of Qatar, says it presents news from all sides in a part of the world in which most Arab media outlets are government mouthpieces.

[…]

Not everyone agrees with his reasoning. “I don’t see how in good conscience he can work for Al-Jazeera,” says Cliff Kincaid, editor of the conservative Accuracy in Media Report. “It incites Arabs and Muslims to kill Americans.”

Another former Marine also is concerned. “I wish I could count on him to further our efforts” in the war on terrorism “rather than hinder them,” says Keith Delp of Louisville. He spent five years in the Marines, leaving as a corporal in March 2004 after a seven-month tour in Iraq. Delp writes the weblog Kadnine. In an e-mail, Delp says he will “be watching Josh closely.”

[…]

In early 2003, when U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) set up a media operations center in Doha, Qatar, for the war in Iraq, he was ordered to go there. Though he was one of the youngest public affairs officers, he was made liaison to Al-Jazeera. “I wanted to learn Arabic,” Rushing says, “and when the Al-Jazeera guys showed up, they were the first Arabs I’d run into. … So I would go by each day and learn a phrase from them. “There were so many reporters in the media center, and we only had nine spokesmen, we divided them up into accounts. The boss said, ‘Rushing, you’ve got a pretty good relationship with those Jazeera guys, why don’t you take them?’ ”

The assignment would bring Rushing unexpected attention. When Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim first came to CENTCOM’s media center in Doha, Rushing and the other public affairs officers thought she was making a student film about the media’s coverage of the war. Instead, her documentary, Control Room, gained worldwide attention and brought Rushing a modest amount of fame. He’s the only American who figures prominently in the film, which focuses on Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the war’s early days.

Control Room captured Rushing’s growing respect for Al-Jazeera’s staff, particularly senior producer Hassan Ibrahim, with whom he had many philosophical debates. In one scene, Rushing talked about how revolted he was by Al-Jazeera showing dead American soldiers and interviews with American prisoners of war. Then he noted that he had seen video of Iraqi casualties on the network and not been affected by what he saw. “It upset me on a profound level that I wasn’t as bothered as much the night before,” he said in the film. “It makes me hate war.”

When the film was released in 2004, reviewers commented on Rushing’s candor. Rushing told The Village Voice that American media don’t tell the whole story when they cover a war. “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,” he said in that interview.

Soon after, Rushing was ordered not to talk to the media about the film. “I didn’t think it was appropriate for him to be speaking about this documentary — almost promoting it,” says Lt. Col Stephen Kay, deputy director of public affairs for the Marine Corps. “It was purely a decision I had to make as his commanding officer.”

My snarky reaction is that working for Al-Jazeera is not worse than working for CNN, which hires many retired senior officers. More reflectively, I’m a bit uneasy about Rushing’s choice but believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt in terms of his motives.

He’s right that the Western ethic of not showing the bloody side of war gives the public a distorted view of reality. Of course, that’s also true of the aversion to showing the bruality of the terrorists who saw the heads off of innocent civilians.

Still, the presence of a former Marine officer with a network that many feel is anti-American creates the potential for him to be used as a propaganda tool by our enemies. Reports, including distorted ones, of American misconduct in the theater will have much more credibility with him Rushing as the voice.

The bottom line is that he has every right to make this career move but he should not be surprised if he is shunned by his former comrades in arms. The saying that “there is no such thing as an ex-Marine” may not apply in his case.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    This just proves that some people will do anything for a buck.

  2. ICallMasICM says:

    Last I heard – it’s a free country.

  3. T-Bone says:

    As an active duty Marine officer, I support him 100%. I believe he will act in the best interests of the nation, and will perform invaluable service as a bridge between the Western and Arab worlds.

  4. James Joyner says:

    ICallMasICM: Sure. Read the last paragraph, lead sentence.

    T-Bone: I hope so. I’m 99% sure that’s his intention. Marine OTS is a pretty good screeing mechanism. We’ll see how it works out in reality, though. Spin can distort the results substantially, even if he acts 100% honorably.

  5. DC Loser says:

    Did any of you see “Control Room?” Rushing was a stand up guy trying to do his job at CENTCOM. He belives in his country and his mission, but couldn’t gloss over some of the things which went against his value system. And as a PAO, he did not lie to the press people he was responsible for.