Al Jazeera Hires an Ex-Marine

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NEW JOB: Rushing in Control Room

Josh Rushing, former Marine captain and an accidental star of the movie Control Room made news of his own last week when he signed on to become the American face of the controversial Arab news network Al Jazeera-International. Top U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have repeatedly complained that Al Jazeera's coverage is unfair or untrue. Yesterday, Rushing sat down with TIME for his first interview on why he took the job and what the new network will cover.

The 33-year old Rushing came to fame in Control Room, a movie critical of media coverage of the Iraq war as a military public affairs officer who increasingly questions how the war was being portrayed by the Pentagon. In the movie, Rushing is articulate and passionate in defending the troops and never directly criticizes the war. And his honesty draws viewers to his side—he describes his different reactions to seeing on Al Jazeera images of Iraqi casualties one evening and dead U.S. soldiers the next. "It upset me on a profound level that I wasn't bothered as much the night before," Rushing explains at one point in the movie. "It makes me hate war. But it doesn't make me believe we can live in a world without war yet." He admits—then and now—to being troubled by the "politicization" of the military command and what he describes as U.S. TV networks being "co-opted" by the Bush Administration.

One reason he wanted to leave the Marine Corps, says Rushing, is that his superior officers had forbidden him to speak to the press. He was torn between his loyalty to the Corps and his duty as a citizen. "I felt like I had a platform and something to say. I thought it would be a missed opportunity to say, take a public relations job in Houston, which I was about to do."

The journalists at Al Jazeera-International, says Rushing, are a mix of nationalities and most in the Washington Bureau come from established outlets like CNN, BBC, Britain's ITN and even Fox News. Rushing thinks that diversity will be part of Al Jazeera-International's appeal. "I'm an American and proud of it. If that affects my objectivity, then so be it," said Rushing.

Rushing will be based in Washington for Al Jazeera, which is backed by the government of Qatar and headquartered its the capital, Doha. Al Jazeera-International, which Rushing compares to the international versions of CNN and BBC, plans to start broadcasting in the U.S. in the spring of 2006. Rushing will likely do set pieces on issues, interviews and perhaps even have a 30-minute international affairs show. The format is still being finalized, but Rushing knows who he considers models: NBC's Tim Russert and Bob Costas, and National Public Radio's Terry Gross. The target audience, Rushing says (while recording our interview on his iPod) is global, English-speaking and owns iPods— people who have turned off the TV news in favor of the Internet.

Rushing says he looked into the accusations about Al Jazeera distorting the news, and found nothing to stop him from joining. "I'm not condoning everything they do but the Arab media is a key part of national security and how to deal with Arab world. The network has long been the only one in the region with a point-counterpoint approach, where many others are 'point-point-point.' Al Jazeera, for example regularly has Israeli spokespeople on." Rushing says the State Department and Pentagon have both shown interest in working with the new network.

Rushing thinks part of his mission is to educate the American public on the reality of war. "War in America has its own branding—it's the American flag, it's that Lee Greenwood song, it's a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. But Americans need to be aware of the consequences."

Like it or not, "Al Jazeera is the most influential Arab voice outside of mosques. It is the largest shaper of ideology," says Rushing. And if American voices are not heard in that venue, then they have no chance of having virtually any influence. "I've dedicated my adult life to the health and security of the United States and to representing the best of American ideas. I will maintain my credibility by continuing to do that." Rushing may discover that being a Marine might have been the easy part.