What real journalism looks like
Hat tip msexpat for this article on Al Jazeera in GQ.* Ever wonder how AJE got that camera set up in Tahrir Square? Here's the story:
Though Mohyeldin's journalistic reputation continues to grow—born in Egypt, raised in Michigan, started as a gofer for NBC News, reared as a producer at CNN, first appeared on-camera for Al Jazeera in 2006—his is hardly a household name, not in America at least. And yet he's the closest the network has to some rough approximation of an Anderson Cooper, good-looking, with a boyish air of derring-do. While his Facebook fan page debates his looks versus his talent—You can talk for hours, dear, and one never tires looking at you, writes one breathless female—the 32-year-old journalist was one of the few international reporters on the ground in Gaza in 2008 when Israel unleashed a barrage of air assaults that, by the time the fighting ended in 2009, would leave nearly 1,500 dead, many of them civilians. He's interviewed Qaddafi and Bush. And after a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire—a biblical act of protest that, ironically, was digitally projected to the world, catalyzing the Tunisian uprising—Mohyeldin went to Bouazizi's village to file a report, then stayed on in Tunis, which is where he was when the Egyptian protests first flared in Tahrir Square.
With an eye on the Twitter feed—the numbers of protesters kept growing, 10,000...30,000...50,000!—Mohyeldin hurried home to Cairo's Al Jazeera bureau, a slightly shabby three-room setup a short walk from the square, where already a handful of crews were at work, before crashing at his apartment in the tony Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek. In the rush of unfolding events, the Egyptian government had begun to cut off Internet service, an amazing feat in itself, and were moving to cut Al Jazeera's signal. Mohyeldin's first order of business was to go out and secure a vantage point from which to capture the action in Tahrir, one that would be good for live feeds. After a number of failed attempts to persuade people to open their well-perched patios to an Al Jazeera crew—the paranoia about reprisals was rife—he tried an eight-story apartment building, talked his way past the doorman, and caught the rickety elevator to the top floor. There, a door drew back to reveal a disheveled man, pot-bellied, wild-haired, wearing a Che T-shirt that read REVOLUTION. Behind the man lay a huge, cluttered apartment. "Who the hell are you?" he said.
"Do you want to make television history?" Mohyeldin had asked.
In subsequent days, Al Jazeera's crews hustled to possess the story, giving narrative shape to the rise and resolve of the moral flash mob, to the armed clashes, to the ensuing capitulation of the military, which finally led to the implosion of a dictatorship. Before it was over, seven Al Jazeera English staff had been detained, including Mohyeldin. ("It's absurd for me to talk about it," he says of his detention. "Al Jazeera journalists have been killed, spent years at Guantánamo, been harassed and beaten and groped, and I spent nine hours in a holding cell.")
The stenographers at Pravda and Izvestia have, of course, forgotten how to report like this. To be fair, that's not their job; their job is to maintain the flow of mis- and disinformation ("the narrative") through the Goebbelsian propaganda apparatus in which most Americans are immersed.** That's what controlled state media do.
Did the POTB know it, Al Jazeera is rather innocuous; they've got talking heads from Brookings Doha, and they're funded by an Emir, for pity's sake. But "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" is the cry that goes up everywhere, and our famously free press is that increasingly diaphanous and tattered curtain.
NOTE * Funny, isn't it, how an article like this can't be run in any major media outlet, like, say, The Sunday Times Magazine, or a multipart thumbsucker in WaPo. Same deal with Matt Taibbi reporting in Rolling Stone, when in respectable slick magazines like the Atlantic we get Megan McArdle. To its credit, the New Yorker, despite Kool-Aid drinker Hendryk Herzberg's derelections in 2008, runs Jane Mayer and Seymour Hersh every so often.
NOTE ** I've repressed it, but one of the nine-days wonders of the last decade was an interview with a prominent American journamalist who said, paraphrasing, that the role of the press was to convey the government's views to the citizenry. Readers, can any of you remember that?
NOTE I didn't expect the paywall at the Times to have an effect on me, but it did: I read it almost not at all, generally if somebody else links to it. So, no teebee, no NPR, and now no national newspaper. (Although WaPo is a daily, it circulates to a small, provincial town, so it doesn't count.) And the effect is greater than I thought: I feel, now, almost completely detached from "the news" ("the olds"). I'm media free! The feeling is curious; if I drove, I might compare it to loss of traction. But where is the wheel to turn into the skid with?