When Al Jazeera Comes to Town

A reporter from Al Jazeera named Gabriel Elizondo wanted to watch a high school football game in Texas, which, as he seems fully aware, is as unique an experience as viewing a bullfight in Madrid.  For pure aficionados of the sport, it just doesn't get much better.  But he seems not nearly as interested in the prospect of watching the game as he is in the cultural significance of the event: hot dogs, cokes, marching bands, the locals, framed by the panoramic Texas landscape. 

And what would such a night be without "slipping in a little 9/11" talk to an emotionally charged crowd of rural Americans on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy?

So Elizondo asked to speak with the principal, who apparently was all smiles until she was handed a business card that revealed his employer, Al Jazeera.  This unsettled her, and she immediately inquired as to what "spin" Elizondo expected to apply to any coverage he got that evening.  He said that he doesn't "have a spin," but the principal decided, and some might say wisely, to seek the counsel of the superintendent.  The superintendent, a man named Michael Lee, then returned to Elizondo and, after hearing that the interviews would be about reactions to 9/11, offered his opinion of the tragedy by saying "I think it was pretty damn rotten what they did."  Elizondo agreed with the superintendent's opinion, but he remained adamant that no filming or interviews would take place, though he invited him to watch the game.

The reporter just didn't seem too interested in doing that, however.  Apparently, any interest he might have had in taking in a unique cultural event was soured by the superintendent's refusal to let Al Jazeera reporters run around the bleachers and surprise spectators by dredging up painful memories to elicit emotional responses that, if given too harshly by any one spectator, might signify that the entire town is worthy of condemnation. 

Gabriel Elizondo did not offer the administrators an opportunity to praise the local Texas fanfare of small-town football and get honest American opinions as he claims in his blog.  He offered them a double-edged sword with which to impale themselves, to forever after be known as intolerant Islamophobes.  He could be allowed to walk around and speak with perhaps one or two examples of angry or prejudiced fans, use the privilege of editing to convey optimal intolerance, and paint the town of Booker as Islamophobic.  Or, he could not be allowed to do this, and paint the town of Booker as Islamophobic.  Which is precisely what he did in his blog.  He says it plainly.  Mr. Lee's refusal means that "Al Jazeera is not welcome here."  As if to say that anyone associated with Islam is not welcome here.

The disgust presented in Elizando's blog screams hypocrisy.  We have to wonder how he might feel about FoxNews reporters visiting a local soccer game in Anytown, Middle East, on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, asking how they felt about the event a year later.  What would we find?  Are they sad?  Are they angry at those who killed bin Laden, and if so, do they lump them all together as infidels?  And if some of them do, does that mean that they all do?  And if the Islamic administrators refused to let Fox interview the crowd, does that mean that they are all extremists?  My hunch is that any effort to do such a thing would be met with much stiffer resistance than Elizondo found, and to come to such conclusions would be viewed as an orchestrated attempt to demonize Muslims.  So why, when this exact strategy is employed to demonize a Texas town and disseminate that falsely ascribed generalization overseas, is the town vilified rather than the malicious tactics of an unscrupulous reporter?

And the most harrowing question is the one that isn't even asked: would apprehension regarding the nature of the interviews be justified?  Sure, not all Al Jazeera reports outwardly support terrorism, but some terrorists really seem to support Al Jazeera.  So when Al Jazeera comes to a local Texas football game asking for responses to 9/11, the logical assumption might be that the reporter is trying to interview locals about a very sensitive subject, and then spin the passionate responses to suggest Islamophobia and intolerance, just as the principal initially suspects.  And as is usually the case with logic, Elizondo would go on to prove that assumption correct.

William Sullivan blogs at politicalpalaverblog.blogspot.com.