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New Gig

Why a TV pro moved from Channel 7 to Al-Jazeera.

Such memories returned to him earlier this year, when he heard about openings at Al-Jazeera International. Prior to an interview in March, he energetically researched AJI's parent organization, making sure to draw equally from insulting and complimentary sources. "I read it all," he says, "and I concluded that this was a groundbreaking network doing good, courageous journalism in the Arab world and telling stories that a lot of people in power would rather not have told." This approach extends to the network's willingness to screen shots of dead American soldiers, a tack rejected by virtually every mainstream U.S. news purveyor. "Clearly, Al-Jazeera shows the ugly side of war," Elizondo allows. "It's uncomfortable; it's not fun. But you know what? It's reality."

Before long, Elizondo was offered a programming-producer slot -- but prior to accepting it, he consulted with his wife and parents, knowing they'd be interrogated about his move as often as he was. Once all three of them gave the go-ahead, he took a leap of faith that he doesn't regret in the slightest. "I was really lucky to get in when I did," he says.

Whereas many news organizations are contracting, AJI is expanding into regions that have received little Western media coverage, and Elizondo is part of that process. He's charged with commissioning or purchasing content from documentarians and the like operating in the Americas -- anywhere from northern Canada to the southern tip of Chile. As part of his duties, he spent much of the summer in Colombia (where his wife is working for the International Organization for Migration on a contract basis), and the comments he heard about Al-Jazeera while there weren't derogatory in the slightest. "When I've been outside the States, people have for the most part had a very positive view of the network," he says.

Gabriel Elizondo is comfortable working with Al-
Jazeera International.
Charles Steck
Gabriel Elizondo is comfortable working with Al- Jazeera International.

Not so here, where Rushing's recent media blitz was met with derision by commentators who aren't buying Al-Jazeera's recent reputation-softening efforts. Typical was "A Marine's Dishonorable Service for Al-Jazeera," an October 7 Front Page Magazine piece in which scribe Debbie Schlussel called Rushing "a bigger boob than Anna Nicole Smith's entire chest combined," and pointed out that onetime Al-Jazeera correspondent Taysir Alluni had recently been convicted in Spain of, in her words, "financing, recruiting and logistically supporting Al Qaeda." Al-Jazeera stands behind Alluni and has announced plans to appeal the verdict.

For his part, Elizondo stops short of excusing away everything the Arabic Al-Jazeera has done. "Has the network probably made some mistakes?" he asks. "Yes, but so has the New York Times, so has CNN." Moreover, Al-Jazeera International has the opportunity to make a fresh start, and he feels it will do so evenhandedly. "We're going to offer a truly 360-degree view of the world," he promises.

Next year, viewers -- not to mention TV professionals with whom Elizondo once worked -- will be able to decide for themselves if AJI has accomplished this goal. But he's confident of the company he's now keeping. "There's a reason I joined this network," he says, "and it wasn't because I needed a job, because I had a good job in Denver. I joined it because I believe in what they're doing."

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