Arab journalists in Washington reflect on post-9/11 experiences

porMohammad Al abdallah
Sep 9, 2011 em Miscellaneous

After 9/11, Arab journalists working in Washington found themselves covering one of the biggest stories of their lives in a society reeling from the tragedy and in a sometimes-hostile political environment. IJNet asked three journalists what it was like to be an Arab reporter in the aftermath of the attacks.

Joyce Karam, Washington correspondent for Al-Hayat, an international Arabic daily newspaper:

Having moved to the U.S. from Lebanon only few days before the tragic events of 9/11, I was able to feel first hand some of its impact. As a journalist, it certainly created interest in the Middle East in the administration and the American public.

The coverage was immense and sometimes very draining when the stories were related to the wars, Guantanamo detainees and Bin Laden tapes. It also brought some kind of wariness among some towards anything that is Arab or Muslim and that took an extra effort on my part to gain the trust of the average American [when interviewing them].

Nasser Hussaini, Aljazeera Washington correspondent:

Most Arab journalists in the U.S. had relationships with U.S. officials; it was not hard to reach them for information and interviews. After 9/11, things became more complicated for me as a correspondent for Aljazeera.

Because of the U.S. views toward Aljazeera, it became harder for me to be a political reporter in Washington. You would be able to report on the economy and social issues, but for political issues you would face obstacles because a group of U.S. officials had a position against Aljazeera…

We would call U.S. officials for interviews or information and get no response. This anti-Aljazeera sentiment became part of the culture during the Bush administration; it became like a political theme for the Bush administration to reject collaborating with Aljazeera…

The emergence of Aljazeera English has changed this sentiment, but it didn’t really stop until the second year of Obama’s presidency, as President Obama decided to engage all media organizations. The Obama administration had a policy of tolerance toward Aljazeera rather than the anti-Aljazeera stance, which didn’t help any of us, neither the U.S. administration, nor Aljazeera, nor the Arab audience.

Hisham Melhem, bureau director for the Alarabiya network in Washington:

The 9/11 attacks in the U.S. had mixed effects on the Arab media and journalists here in the U.S. 9/11 helped Arab journalists get better access to senior U.S. officials. The attacks pushed President Bush to re-discover the real Arab media and find out that this media is not just a part of the Arab government propaganda machine and that, after all, the U.S. government had failed to engage Arabs [before 9/11].

The U.S. administration started realizing the importance of the Arab media, especially satellite TV. And I think they manage to understand it. I interviewed President Bush once, and Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice four times each. This was part of re-engaging the Arab media. They realized that the Arab media were no longer the spokesperson for Arab governments.