For the past few weeks, Al Jazeera English correspondent Gabriel Elizondo has been on a very special road trip across America, talking to regular everyday folks about the legacy of 9/11. Last Friday, he went to a high school football game in Booker, Texas to get in on some of that H.G. Bissinger action. Bissinger’s seminal book, Friday Night Lights, observed one season in a football-mad middle-class West Texas community. Its depiction of booster rallies and quiet, oil-bust desperation vaulted it to permanent bestseller status and required-reading lists at our finest liberal-arts academies. So Elizondo figured a quick Texas stopover would do the same for his low-rated news network. All he had to do, really, was refrain from publicly summarizing his mission in glib elitist terminology:
What better a setting to immerse one’s self into Texas rural life than high school football…I easily imagine sitting in the bleachers, eating a hot dog (or three) and drinking a Coke, talking football (the American kind) with parents and maybe slipping in a little 9/11 if they allow me. It’s a no brainer for me. I love this stuff. I’ll take this over sitting in a White House press briefing any day of the week.
Hard to argue. After all, who doesn’t love that stuff? It’s adorable. So Elizondo, apparently, blew off the president to immerse himself in his true love of the American kind of football. But for some reason the hot dog-eating Coke drinkers didn’t immediately embrace him as he expected.
According to Elizondo, Booker High School principal Lisa Yauk (upon being ambushed with Elizondo’s camera crew and Al Jazeera business card) asked him what his “spin” was on the story. Smart woman.
When Elizondo continued to hang around making noise, school superintendent Mike Lee came over and asked him not to film, take pictures, or interview people at the game. They didn’t kick him out or call the police, but Lee allegedly did say, rather firmly, that he “expected” Elizondo to “respect” his wishes. Rather than stick around to watch the charming little Booker High Golden Eagles, Elizondo high-tailed it out of town. And why not? He’d already scored his touchdown.
Previously unknown to Big Media (save for three 2010 Huffington Post blog entries), Elizondo broke down the doors of web exposure on a streak of racial sanctimony, claiming that Booker High rejected his network’s presence on Islamophobic grounds. “Ten miles,” he wrote on Sunday in a blog post clearly tipping off his intentions. “That’s how deep I got into Texas before I was asked to leave.” Yahoo News featured his smug headshot and even the usually dignified people at Slate played right into his game, falsely announcing that he had been “Barred from Texas HS Football Game.” Wrote Slate:
Al Jazeera — Aren’t they the no-good varmints who bombed us on 9/11?
Um, no. But a connection between the increasingly influential Qatar-based broadcaster and the terrorist group al-Qaida seems to linger, at least in the minds of some Texas public school administrators.
And what of those insular slack-jawed yokels back at Booker High?
According to a wonderful response superintendent Lee wrote for the school’s website, he was dealing with “several situations in the few minutes prior to the start of the football game, my conversation with you (Elizondo) being one.” The fact that two elementary school children had not yet arrived at home and were technically missing being another. “We did not have prior notice and we certainly did not have time to verify who you were” Lee continued, adding that had Elizondo filmed in the bleachers, the FERPA rights for his students — especially those whose parents signed papers disallowing photos of their children on the web — would have been violated.
Or, you know, it might have just been racism.
The liberal media is correct here on one count: this was a shameful display of American culture at its worst. Rather than following our president’s once stated goal of breaking down barriers between red states and blue, Al Jazeera English chose to treat Midwesterners like test subjects, and to falsely bersmirch their names for the sake of a headline. In treating Texas like a forbidden planet and his “ten miles” of exposure to it as a bold journey into hostile terrain, Elizondo appealed to all the worst instincts of the coastal media establishment. Is Al Jazeera still clueless as to why DirectTV and Dish Network refused to carry it in the United States? The decision of those two satellite providers was not, as the Huffington Post‘s Jeff Jarvis bellowed, “un-American.” It was just ethically sound.
If Al Jazeera English plans to make a cottage industry out of race-baiting stunts, then its national reputation should reflect that. Elizondo’s network is no longer, as Hillary Clinton claimed, an underdog proponent of “real news.” Now it’s just a ratings-obsessed partisan outlet like all the others.
So congratulations, Al Jazeera English. Welcome to media.