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December 06, 2006

That's funny, he didn't *look* like a demon...

He really doesn't. Doesn't sound like one, either.

Who? Josh Rushing, the former Marine PAO who found himself employed by Al-Jazeera.

That would be Al-Jazeera "dot.NET" vice "dot.COM," a distinction lost on many people. Including yours truly.

Debbie Schlussel wasn't impressed with him. Over at Euphoric Reality, "traitor" was tossed about.

Not surprisingly, the Left likes him.

Mother Jones likes him. I would note that the author of the Mother Jones piece, Daniel Schulman, obviously got nearly the same pitch we did here at Leavenworth, but it's certainly flavored differently. Whether by Schulman and his filters, by Rushing's targeted pitching to his audience, or my recollections being flavored by my filters.

The Salon story tracks well with the general outlines Mr. Rushing's pitch, as well. So, his story is generally consistent.

So, how did I manage to meet Josh Rushing? Easy - he was a guest speaker at the Command and General Staff College, where he was brought in to address the Information Operations elective. The college also runs a faculty development program, where many of the guest speakers or people who are here for other purposes are asked to address the faculty. As they occur during the normal instructional day, attendance at these things is usually low enough that non-faculty people like myself are invited to attend (That shouldn't reflect badly on the faculty, btw - these are targets of opportunity, and classes still have to be taught and students mentored!).a We've also had Ralph Peters, Max Boot, and Ry's buddy Tom Barnett come visit.

One of the interesting things that none of the stories about Rushing captures is... Al-Jazeera. And the fact that most of us are thinking Al-Jazeera.com, when the organization that Rushing works for is the english language arm of Al-Jazeera.net.

Hey, one's a magazine, one's a television network. And they're probably flip sides of the same coin, right?

Apparently not. According to the disclaimer on the .com site (which resulted from a trademark-infringement lawsuit brought by .net against .com) the two are not related.

From the "About Us" section of the .com website:

About Aljazeera.com Aljazeera Publishing owns and operates Aljazeera.com, bringing you the world today. Aljazeera Publishing is an independent media organisation established in 1992 in London. Aljazeera.com has a particular focus on events and issues in the Middle East covering major developments presenting facts as they happen.

Important note: Aljazeera Publishing and Aljazeera.com are not associated with the controversial Arabic Satellite Channel known as Jazeera Space Channel TV (also known as Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel) station whose website is Aljazeera.net.

Aljazeera Publishing disassociates itself from the views, opinions and broadcasts of Jazeera Space Channel TV station.

Emphasis in the original.

So, what did Mr. Rushing talk about? He was there to do what he normally does to his military audiences (which include the Counter-Terrorism Center at West Point, the National Defense University, and others), he talks about Public Affairs, his role in OIF, and how he got to where he is now.

To his military audiences, his thesis, broadly restated, is "We don't know jack." Especially about managing media in the middle east.

He uses al-Jazeera as his example. How? Basically he asserts (and I have no reason to think otherwise) that Al-Jazeera is more powerful in the middle east than any equivalent US news operation is in the United States.

CENTCOM did not understand that, nor the distinction to be made about the .net incarnation vice the .com incarnation. His example? "The "boot" was on Al-Jazeera." "Boot" being Marine slang for newbie. I.e., Lieutenant Rushing was the face of the American War Machine on al-Jazeera.

He made three points about how that affected things.

1. The issue of trust. Mr. Rushing asserts (and challenged us to find evidence to the contrary) that al-Jazeera television never once showed a beheading. Mind you - not that they didn't show excerpts from the videos (as did the US media) but that they didn't show the actual beheadings themselves. In other words, they reported no differently than US and other international media did. Mr. Rushing avers that the viewership of al-Jazeera knows this, and when Secretary Rumsfeld stood in front of the cameras lambasting al-Jazeera for showing the beheadings, he lost credibility with the audience.

2. Al-Jazeera as the "Mouthpiece of Al-Qaeda." True, al-Jazeera has been a preferred place for al-Qaeda tapes to premier. But Mr. Rushing points out the wording of the disclaimer on al-Jazeera.com - the part where it says "Aljazeera Publishing disassociates itself from the views, opinions and broadcasts of Jazeera Space Channel TV station." is explicit aimed at protecting the .com people from the fatwas issued against the network for their support of Zionism and us. Support being defined as not being a reliable mouthpiece for... al-Qaeda.

3. His third point, I've already covered - the distinction to be made between the .net and .com entities - a subject too complex for this post.

He then moved on to discuss what he thought the US should do in the arena. He called for 'limited strategic engagement'. Mr. Rushing says there are two centers of gravity in the ME. Mosques, and al-Jazeera. We can't realistically get into the mosques, nor should we. But we can, should, and in fact *must* get into ME television sets. Find the progressive journalists (in the ME context of progressive) and give them access. His point being that if we continue to stiff-arm the biggest television voice in the ME, *someone*, usually the opposition, will fill the void.

Mr. Rushing pointed out that the US Gov engage with al-Jazeera. So, al-Jazeera then defaults to conservative think tanks to find people who will speak up *for* US interests. But the conservative think tanks don't trust al-Jazeera much either, and will usually only come on for a fee, with the attendant baggage that brings from a journalistic perspective. So they go to liberal think tanks, who are happy to come on for free - which then sets up the situation where people who *don't* really support US policy are brought on to *defend* US policy - and generally don't. Now you see why they're happy to come on al-Jazeera for free. Mr. Rushing suggests the USGov does itself, and by extension, the rest of us a dis-service by what he sees as the government's fundamental misunderstanding of al-Jazeera.

He talked about his own experience dealing with the USGov as an al-Jazeera correspondent. He said military people, to include senior military people, will engage him and al-Jazeera (hey, he was there talking to us, right?). But the senior DoD civilians stiff-arm him. He certainly knew his audience.

He had some other policy suggestions.

First - train soldiers down to the squad level on how to deal with the press. Not make them PAOs, but train them in how to engage with reporters, *and* report the results of those engagements up the chain, quickly, so that the PAO can be more proactive in responding. His term? A "media ninja".

On a more macro level, he brought up the "split branding" of the United States, i.e., on one hand, anger and annoyance with US foreign policy, while on the other hand, those same people many times can't wait to get here and make it home. He has a simple solution.

Be consistent. If we're going to act in what we perceive to be our best interest from a pragmatic point of view - then tell people that. But don't talk one thing and do another - or let the perception be that you're doing another if in fact you don't intend to be doing so.

More simply put - Change the message to match the policy, or change the policy to match the message.

Of course nothing in Life, the Universe, and Everything is that simple, is it?

Interesting fellow, who is treading an interesting path.

I don't know what I expected, but what I got was a tallish fellow with bright blue eyes, standing there looking tired in a blue suit, mauve shirt, and a striped tie.

He didn't look like the Devil Incarnate. He has an interesting view worthy of consideration. All in context. He does work for al-Jazeera, so he obviously has an interest in changing the perception of al-Jazeera.

But that doesn't mean that our perception of al-Jazeera is accurate, and that he doesn't have reasons other than the obvious professional ones for doing what he's doing.

Glad I went.

Comments on That's funny, he didn't *look* like a demon...
MajMike briefed on December 6, 2006 08:42 AM

very interesting.

and i shall accordingly suspend my prior pre-judgment until i learn more.

it does raise one question, though... you can tell that a shirt is "mauve"??

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 6, 2006 08:49 AM

Well, mauve is less cumbersome than "pale, bluish purple"...

As for Mr. Rushing, time will tell. He certainly has a good reason to tell the story as he does - but at the same time, his popularity on the military lecture circuit says something.

Maggie briefed on December 6, 2006 09:35 AM

I completely agree with Mr. Rush's assertion that the US needs to do more with Middle Eastern media outlets. Yes they have an agenda and yes it is counter to ours. So what? So does most of the MSM. I watched Al Arabiya when I was in Dubai and I read AlJazeera (dot com and dot net) and Jihad Unspun. You need to see all sides, heck, I listen to NPR. All kidding aside, AlJazeera is not the total terrorist tool it's made out to be. I read a hugely interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine about the fact that AlJazeera.net recognizes that it is for many Arabs their only portal on the rest of the world. They take that seriously and make an effort to include interviews with Israelis. We need to counter negative opinion in the Middle East and we can't do that from the sidelines.
If AlJazeera English was available on my cable listing, I would work it in. It wouldn't knock out CSpan or FoxNews, but it would beat out CNN. At least AlJazeera is upfront about their agenda.

Russ Sanders briefed on December 6, 2006 09:45 AM

Amazing!
Close mouth.
Suspend initial reaction.
Open ears.
Evaluate.

If you can teach this to the 80% of adults who are totally clueless in regards to this simple procedure, you would be worthy of a Nobel Prize.

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 6, 2006 10:56 AM

Maggie - go to Al-jazeera.net, select "English" and you can stream the video reports.

As Josh noted in his pitch "What you see depends on where you stand."

Trite, but true.

Cricket briefed on December 6, 2006 12:20 PM

You see, John, just HOW important your blog is?
I LEARNED SOMETHING here that means more to me than if I had sat in a classroom and listened to
an academician Of The Left. I would have not been as willing to listen.

You don't spin things...YOU PUT THEM IN CONTEXT.
A rare gift.

And that goes for the readership and posters too.
You have no idea how much I do take in when I am able to devote my full attention to something.

J.M. Heinrichs briefed on December 6, 2006 03:15 PM

Cricket
Not all the time. John likes to post photos out of context in order to see his faithful readers spin. Then comes the counter-spin as tangents and false leads are followed. Then the distracting "hints" ...

Cheers

ry briefed on December 6, 2006 03:43 PM

So the CUlture Centric Warfare people return and volley inthe tennis match that is the argument of Hammer vs CCW. Interesting.

He puts another bit into place for why I believe in the bifurcation of roles: Big War and Non-Big War. Asking for everyone in the military to be super-soldiers or Swiss Army knives cuts down on the viable population for service. How many people out there really are polymaths?

If he ever does a CSPAN taped event I'll be sure to watch.

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 6, 2006 03:53 PM

JMH: 8^)

Coach Mark briefed on December 6, 2006 04:04 PM

Well...I feel about as foolish as the others who had to close mouths and re-evaluate. Thanks for another eye opening lesson.

Maggie briefed on December 6, 2006 04:41 PM

I do watch the streaming video, actually I listen more than I watch. I was talking about having it on TV so when I was home I could just have it on. I don't really care to *watch* much on the computer. I like having it on while I do stuff around the house...........is this enough info about the Princess' viewing habits? Do you want to know what it is I'm doing? What I'm wearing?

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 6, 2006 04:52 PM

Nah, we've already heard all we need to about your undergarments and the differences between flashing and mooning...

Maggie briefed on December 6, 2006 05:33 PM

LOL, I am wounded! Are you saying the mystery is gone?

ry briefed on December 6, 2006 06:11 PM

Hey John, did Rushing have anything to say about CENTCOM paying for good press scandal that went on last year? Did he use that as proof of 'we don't know jack'?

Maggie briefed on December 6, 2006 06:29 PM

Why Ry? Do you have a problem with that? I think it's perfectly acceptable. It's common practice there. This is a case where "Everyone's doin' it." is an acceptable answer. It's not underhanded. It's the way things are done. Don't forget - they paid, yes - but the stories were true.

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 6, 2006 08:29 PM

Yes, Ry, he did as a matter of fact. I countered with the appalling attempt by Big Army to reel in bloggers with "exclusive content" that was not only not exclusive, but wasn't even well-disguised recruiting ads.

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 6, 2006 08:39 PM

Maggie - Rushing's point on that issue was... we talk about establishing a 'free and independent press' and then we start doing what all the local state-owned or cowed media does.

The message doesn't match the policy.

Maggie briefed on December 6, 2006 09:12 PM

Well ya gotta start somewhere! We advocate a safe democracy for them, but we're starting off with heavily armed curfews. We have to get our stuff in front of their disapproving little faces before we can establish a free and independent press.

US Navy Wife briefed on December 6, 2006 11:50 PM

Off the subject, only slightly... when we were stationed in Bahrain (before the US State Dept kicked us out in 2004) I was confused noting that the local and very popular grocery store was also named Al Jazeera! The name is everywhere. I, for one, wouldn't have automatically assumed the connection.

ry briefed on December 7, 2006 01:39 AM

"Why Ry? Do you have a problem with that? I think it's perfectly acceptable. It's common practice there. This is a case where "Everyone's doin' it." is an acceptable answer. It's not underhanded. It's the way things are done. Don't forget - they paid, yes - but the stories were true."
Ack. I'm not used to having the eye of the Blog Princess on me like this. Make her stop, Chief!

Maggs, I was only trying to feel out where Rushing was going. Trying to find out what he felt worked and was good tactics in the Public Affairs/Hearts and Minds arena. Just trying to feel out where the borders of his thoughts are in relation to mine own.

Though I do differ on the 'it's perfectly acceptable'. To me it was dumb because of the negative effect finding out the 'astroturfing' would have on the H&M campaign.

It's like finding out that a critical study on car safety was bankrolled by General Motors. It easily can generate the feeling that people are being manipulated, lied to, and the buyer/occupier is duplicitous(something the Arabs seem pre-disposed to based on my readings of Col de Atkine).

Fair? Probably. Order of the day in the region? Most likely. Effective and smart(particularly that we're dealing with a leak of secrets just about every week)?

The truthfulness of the reportage is immaterial if the general impression resulting from it is negative and counter-productive. I might just like this Rushing guy or at least agree with him on some crucial things. I am the most active member of the CCC after all.

"Yes, Ry, he did as a matter of fact. I countered with the appalling attempt by Big Army to reel in bloggers with "exclusive content" that was not only not exclusive, but wasn't even well-disguised recruiting ads." LOL. So you disagreed by agreeing to the 'we don't know jack' then?

I often wonder how we would feel if the military came up with a compatent PR wing? Would we feel safe? Would we feel, collectively I'm speaking here, more afraid of the 'military-industrial complex'? Just because it's effective doesn't necessarily mean it is the right thing to do. Even if we aren't fighting a 3rd Generation type war but one centered mostly in the skulls of the American populace as the means to secure victory by our opponents. Am I nuts here? (mostly thinking on the fly).

Oh, and whatever you did has stopped the error messages. Which means my spelling goes back to complete crap from just mostly crap. Never would've suspected that I was once second overall in my elementary school all grades spelling bee would you? ;)

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 7, 2006 06:05 AM

And Navy Wife hits on the core of the copyright suit. al-Jazeera apparently means either 'the island' or 'the peninsula' in arabic, and is, in fact, a very common business name.

Kind of like the flurry of copyright suits that the french clothing designer Claude Montana was threatening to businesses in... Montana, for using the name Montana. He never did get around to trying to sue the state itself.

IIRC (and I could be wrong) he was taking advantage of then-recent changes in EU copyright laws, and was bringing actions mostly to show he was trying to protect the brand, without really having an expectation of winning. Still, musta been scary to be some little business getting threatening letters from high-powered lawyers.

Maggie briefed on December 7, 2006 07:44 AM

But Ry - It didn't hurt us over there and that's what mattered. The bad taste in the mouth happened back home and frankly, who cares! The MSM almost universally picks at whatever we do over there so F#$^% 'em. The point of the operation was to get our story out to that population. The people of the ME thought nothing of our paying to get it there.

John of Argghhh! briefed on December 7, 2006 07:52 AM

Maggie - Rushing's contention is that it *did* hurt us over there, because our actions didn't match our words... IOW, we were little different on the issues of the Press than are the local governments over there - yet we are claiming to be.

And that the locals note the failures more than the successes, and since we're trying to buck the tide, we have to be more consistent - and consistently different.

I'm with Ry on this one.

Cricket briefed on December 7, 2006 09:44 AM

You know, what has me wondering is this: Why would the media accept Dan Rather's obviously
faked memos, the photoshopped evidence, yadda yadda if there was no propaganda value in it that served an agenda? I mean, come on. If we are to insist on accuracy in reporting, we need to hold those who lie accountable.

That isn't censorship to demand integrity in reporting.

But to not understand a culture like Islam in light of what they are given to percieve is naive. Having an American former member of the military in there will be interesting to see how he walks the walk.

I wonder, all you former commanders out there; would you go with just perceptions if you had to deploy your troops in harms way, or would you want to know more about the cultural climate (the reality) before you did so? And which would be more helpful?

And does anyone even understand what I just asked, cause I am not sure I understand it...
*takes deep breath to quit hyperventilating*

ry briefed on December 8, 2006 05:55 AM

Rushing states it better than I can. 'Acts don't match message.' If they think we're exactly like the regimes they've lived with there's nothing stopping them from throwing support to someone who is THe Big Guy on The Block. There's no moral or ideological difference so why not go with the guy who is controlling the streets, and then switch loyalties if it earns me a couple of bucks and keeps my family safe? They're all lying bastiches who use the people and abandone them when it suits----that's the message it sends, or can send.

And in case you keep missing what I'm saying about the talk to Iran and Syria thing: losing the domestic US audience means game over, Last Helicopter Outta Saigon all over again. It matters Maggs.

I could give a flaming crap about what the MSM does. I hated English and Communications majors when I was an undergrad because I thought they were useless twits unable to think about anything other than 'am I being paid attention to?' with all their concern about having great leads and 'hooks' in their writing. Just because they're jerks who don't care about the ramifications doesn't mean there aren't any and WE should worry about same. They can go screwball themselves. But acting like them does breed cynicism---look at how we think of the media.

I think I get what you're asking Cricket, but not the expert you want the answer from. You're asking if a commander wants some real understanding of the region and the culture he's about to deploy into? Foreign Affairs Officers exist. So I'd say yes. THere's even an institutional slot to make sure such knowledge is available. But I'm not ex-military so you might want someone to corroborate or totally destroy my answer before you accept it.

Cricket briefed on December 8, 2006 07:57 AM

But even FAOs are suspect. Journalism is about
integrity in recording history. To be fair, one does have to report the other side, but outright
lies? Is that Al Jazeera's perception of us, or
propaganda based on an agenda?

The Rathergate scandal led to a victory in the elections for our side, but that was a case of bloggers hollering foul loud enough that the MSM couldn't ignore it.

Those who point out factual errors within the theopolitics of Islam are silenced. Let us look at Al Jazeera's take on the Flying Imams.

So does Al Jazeera have an American posterboy to
silence criticism or to explain cultural differences or spin?

And I appreciated your answer, Ry. I would call that honest.

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