Jon Ossoff and Al Jazeera: The truth is far more interesting

At bottom, Republicans in Washington want you to believe that a nice Jewish boy raised in Northlake has been consorting with – dum, dum, DUM! – a “mouthpiece” for Islamic terrorism.

This is the essence of an attack ad that a Super PAC tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan has leveled against Jon Ossoff, the young Democrat whom Republicans are trying to keep from walking away with the Sixth District congressional seat on Tuesday.

Good people with good intentions can find legitimate reasons for judging Ossoff unworthy of their support. This isn’t one of them.

We have two indisputable facts to work with. Ossoff is CEO and managing director of a small documentary film outfit based in London called Insight TWI, Ltd. Secondly, one of his company’s many clients has been Al Jazeera English, a division of a Qatar-owned satellite television network that reaches into 100 countries.

Jon Ossoff rallied supporters at a library in Dunwoody on Tuesday. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

Republicans took Fact One and Fact Two, sprinkled them with some anachronistic thinking, and generated a slander. But the truth is far more interesting, and tells us more about Ossoff, and about the world of international journalism, than the fib ever could.

Once upon a time, a BBC TV reporter named Ron McCullagh struck out on his own with a small company called Insight News Television. He produced and sold documentaries. In 2000, CNN contracted with McCullagh for the film “Cry Freetown,” the account of the victims of the Sierra Leone civil war. It was very good.

Ossoff met McCullagh, via mutual friends, when he was still in his teens. “I was just fascinated at that young age by the work — because journalism has always been an interest of mine,” Ossoff said in an interview this week.

During a summer break as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Decatur, Ossoff briefly interned with the company. Ossoff would leave Johnson’s office for the London School of Economics, where he earned a graduate degree in 2013.

During his years there, Ossoff renewed his acquaintance with the ex-BBC reporter-turned-documentarian. Who asked him if he would be willing to take over the enterprise.

“It interested me. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing. It was hard-hitting, investigative work that holds powerful people accountable, exposes high-level political corruption, organized crime, war crimes,” Ossoff said. “I couldn’t think of a more impactful and rewarding use of my skills.”

Here we must interject that Ossoff comes from a wealthy Atlanta family, a fact that shouldn’t hurt him in the well-heeled Sixth. When his grandfather died, Jon Ossoff found himself with an inheritance.

It was a timely match. McCullagh’s TV company “always struggled a bit commercially,” Ossoff said. “I thought [my grandfather] would be proud for me to use some of those resources to invest in growing a company whose work I believed in.”

He renamed the company Insight TWI. (TWI stands for “The World Investigates.”)

Bloomberg still lists McCullagh as editor-in-chief. So I asked Ossoff what part of the business he was involved in. Everything, he replied.

“I’m involved intimately in every phase of production. Editorial development, field research, assessing the viability and security of the production plan. Pitching to broadcasters. Negotiating access with governments,” Ossoff said.

Most specifically, Ossoff is the fellow who markets his company’s work. “We pitch hundreds of proposals per year. We pitch the content that we’re in production on, on spec, and the content we’ve already produced — to everyone under the sun, distributors and to channels,” he said.

Ossoff said his best work has been a film on sexual slavery in Iraq and the women who have taken up arms to fight ISIS, commissioned by the BBC3. You can find snippets of it online.

Al Jazeera/Insight TWI

Republicans have preferred to talk about Al Jazeera, of course. But they do not dwell on the details that don’t fit their narrative. The bulk of Ossoff’s work for the Qatar-owned network has been directed not at the Middle East, but Africa.

The content isn’t that different from what you might see on any Atlanta TV station. “Name, shame and jail,” brags one promotional for “Africa Investigates” — which is the name of the series.

“It’s six episodes per year, and they run the gamut. We reach out to several hundred investigative journalists across Africa. We ask them to pitch ongoing investigations of organized crime or political corruption,” Ossoff said. “We bring the 10 or 12 strongest to a discreet location. We’ve done it in Nairobi. We’ve done it on the coast of Ghana.”

There the selected journalists are taught the basics of security and surveillance. (With an eye, one presumes, to specific laws within each targeted country.) When I ventured that smart phones can be a powerful investigative tool even in Africa, Ossoff disabused me. He spoke of high-resolution, pinhole cameras.

“You can’t walk into the office of a high court judge or a high-level politician with your iPhone in your shirt pocket and film that person soliciting a bribe,” Ossoff said.

Ossoff’s business can exist because of the explosion in mass communication of the last 20 years. (This eruption was sparked, in fact, by Ted Turner and WTBS in Atlanta. But that’s another story.) Satellite TV may be relatively cheap to establish, but it has created a bottomless need for content.

Al Jazeera sprang up in the mid-1990s, soon after the BBC pulled the plug on its Arabic station in a dispute with Saudi Arabia over content.

In its early years, Al Jazeera struck a hard Islamist tone, and raised eyebrows when it aired videos of Osama bin Laden and his followers. And yes, some called the network “a mouthpiece for terrorism.”

But it has changed.

“Where it started is not where it is now. When it first started, Qatar was really trying to push its own national and foreign policy agenda, which is a very Islamist-based agenda,” said Tally Helfont, director of the Middle Eastern program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

While the U.S. and Israel may have objected to much of the content, that wasn’t the Qatari intention. “They were using Al Jazeera against the Saudis as a way of competing with the hegemon of the region,” Helfont said. “The Saudis since then have brought the Qataris in line. And the Qataris have no longer been using their media empire in that same way.”

Given the threat of ISIS, the Gulf states are less divided, and their media outlets reflect that, Helfont said. And the outlets are more numerous. There’s Al Arabiya, and Al Sharqiya TV, too.

“They have their agendas, similar to how our media outlets have their agendas,” said Helfont — a reference to the Fox News, CNN, MSNBC divide. “Everybody knows what it is, and if you choose to watch one, you know what you’re getting.”

“They’re interviewing the same people that the Washington Post is interviewing. I think what was once polarizing or could have been problematic, today is simply just another [network] with a particular view,” she said. Helfont should know. She has appeared on Al Jazeera herself.

I was going to end this column with a quote from Ossoff on the irony of Republicans attempting to link a Jewish candidate with Islamic terrorism. Voters in the Sixth District “are too darn smart for this B.S.,” the Democrat said. And that might have worked.

But then I had a sudden flash of memory from last July. I was sitting at a sidewalk restaurant in downtown Cleveland, watching a mass of humanity flow to and from the Republican National Convention.

A familiar face suddenly appeared. It belonged to Bruce LeVell, who is now running against Ossoff and 16 other candidates in the Sixth District. I asked LeVell where he was bound.

As a representative of the Republican presidential candidate, LeVell said he was going to spread the Gospel of Donald Trump to a new and different audience. He was going to be interviewed by Al Jazeera.

Reader Comments 1

87 comments
William Linn
William Linn

As an independent voter who voted for Trump that the DNC brought no solutions to all the myriad of problems economic and foreign, the jobs created under the previous administration were low paying and part time. No Trump hasn't had the numbers, but he has saved higher paying jobs and the policies he proposes will not only created more jobs, but save those Americans have and create more high paying jobs. We already see tougher standards on foreign countries who have NOT been paying their fair share for NATO. A renegotiation of NAFTA and other trade agreements will create a better atmosphere for business. Also fixing the (UN)affordable Healthcare Law which has failed ( another debacle of the DNC ) and left MORE Americans uncovered won't be a perfect remedy, but doing nothing except continuing the AHCA is not trying to fix it. Don't need someone who will continue what has failed for the last decade!

ProudAmerican2017
ProudAmerican2017

In all of my years on this earth and being able to vote....I have never seen Republicans so sad and desperate.

Dick James
Dick James

The Al Jazeera connection is a distraction.  Jon Ossof has worked briefly as a political intern, and he has made a few documentaries.  He turned 30 in February.  His real world experience is light.  He needs a few more years working in the private sector to learn what it means to earn a fortune instead of inheriting one.


There are several Republican candidates whose backgrounds to be a US Senator are more appropriate.

Shelley Lange Rahiya
Shelley Lange Rahiya

So Jon's company is The World Investigates. They made a documentary on sex-slavery and it was picked up and shown by several tv stations including Al Jazeera in Africa. Point being- he actually did something to expose the horribleness of this industry!! Thank you Jon!

Kevin Post
Kevin Post

6 promises Trump has made about health care 1 ‘INSURANCE FOR EVERYBODY’ 2 ‘NO CUTS … TO MEDICAID’ 3 ‘NO ONE WILL LOSE COVERAGE’ 4 ‘NOBODY WILL BE WORSE OFF FINANCIALLY’ 5 ‘GET RID OF ARTIFICIAL LINES’ 6 ‘EVERYBODY’S GOING TO BE TAKEN CARE OF’

SabrinaJAbsher
SabrinaJAbsher

  Landon . you think Anna `s blog is really great, on friday I got a gorgeous Alfa Romeo after having made $9600 this last month and-also, ten-k this past munth . without a question it is the nicest-work I've ever done . I actually started four months/ago and straight away started making a cool over $77 p/h .

www.99rprofits.com

Mary Reynoso
Mary Reynoso

We need Jon Ossoff to help us fight against trump

Joanne Ward Lutes
Joanne Ward Lutes

AJC this is a very good pick for the Dems. I wouldn't vote for him but I'm not in the 6th, he seems so nice , well spoken, young, idealistic, JUST like Obama. And that is exactly what you would get. Can anyone in their right mind choose that path?

Robert Willett
Robert Willett

Only everyone with half a brain. Who needs a jackbooted Nazi thug in the White House?

Shelley Lange Rahiya
Shelley Lange Rahiya

Yes - I much prefer Obama's economy to the republican president great recessions.

Joanne Ward Lutes
Joanne Ward Lutes

Recession caused by democratic politions, Barny Frank and boyfriend. As far as jackboot, the raiding of secret service, FBI, etc information to use in political campaigns and lord knows what else should should give you such a warm, cozy feeling. Signature Hilliary.

Betty Adams
Betty Adams

The best reason to vote for him. He is not a f..king Republican.

Edwina McInnish
Edwina McInnish

The Atlanta Journal is a faded old rag just like the Washington Post. Their lies are nothing but liberals foaming at the mouth against anything that will help this country. They don't know how to tell the truth anymore. It bothers me no end to see such a grand newspaper like the Atlanta Journal bite the dust of infamy. And if that is not bad enough are Americans supposed to start embracing Al Jazeera, the fount of age old Middle Eastern treachery? Whoopdedoo! NOT!

Robert Willett
Robert Willett

The only thing that would help this this nation is you leaving it.

Shelley Lange Rahiya
Shelley Lange Rahiya

The tv station Al Jazeera that Bruce Levell and many other republicans have been interviewed by? Okay.

Virginia Singh
Virginia Singh

Russia rigged the election for Trump,and that was OK.so leave OSSOFF alone,Al Jazeera or not,he still got my Damn Vote.

Edwina McInnish
Edwina McInnish

Virginia Singh, you are.deliberately deceiving yourself if you still believe the garbage about President Trump and the Russians.

Charles Katzel
Charles Katzel

You tell them! You are voting for your communist no matter what!

James Lorenzo
James Lorenzo

And Hillary rigged the DNC vote and even hired the woman who did it but you think Russia rigged the election LMAO

Virginia Singh
Virginia Singh

James Lorenzo,and Edwina McInnish.you need to watch Real News,they actually real TV channels,that has no fake news.

James Lorenzo
James Lorenzo

Use Google or Yahoo or whatever browser you want but it's not fake news. No rigging occurred but Hillary definitely hired the woman from the DNC that was caught redhanded. If that's not fishy, you better think twice. Also both the Democrats and Republicans put out fake ads but your mad that Russia influenced the election (if it's even true), oh the irony in that LMAO.... But let me guess, that's ok right?

Virginia Singh
Virginia Singh

James Lorenzo,Russia influence the election,hmmmm,I did read that from Google and Yahoo.but if Hillary did hire someone,I'm so sorry she got caught.now back to my man at hand,OSSOFF is still my pick,no matter what he's done.it's time for some Young people to take seats and in office.I love to see what they have to offer.What about you James Lorenzo? Lmao.by the way "nice robe"

Virginia Singh
Virginia Singh

You know I respect who you voted for.so only Republicans can tell lies and still get elected.OSSOFF THE MAN

Don Nicks
Don Nicks

Fake news .....come on Facebook you where supposed to fix fake news

Sandra Dale Sikes
Sandra Dale Sikes

Another caption meant to make you believe He ISN'T a "nice Jewish boy"......well, that part is right because he is a NICE (JEWISH) MAN.....

Robert Willett
Robert Willett

Not the the Trumpster and his GOP goons do. Not POTUS but IDIOTUS. Find dumpster insert Trumpster.

J.r. Rich-Bellerose
J.r. Rich-Bellerose

Agreed Robert Willett, although once in a while there are some moderate republicans with good ideas and a willingness to work with others, it's just we don't see those normally or lately. We don't have to be crazy ideologues and say "NEVER!!" just that until a really good one comes along we will stick with the democrats.

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

I believe unlike you he knows who his parents are and they actually met each other.

Chris Toler
Chris Toler

The article states it's the republican super-pac that's doing all the lying against Ossoff. I'm sick of the shortsighted crony politics that only benefits a few.

Chris Toler
Chris Toler

And where are you getting your information from Edwina McInnish? This must be more fake news from real journalist. Forgive me I'm southern.

Edwina McInnish
Edwina McInnish

"The article states......" That statement is not worth the paper it is written on. They are depending on so-called ignorance of people in the South to believe whatever they hatch up to say. Then, they complain about the other side lying. They lie so much until they forget which lie they are supposed to be in favor of - these Demos take the cake for sure.

Jason Rains
Jason Rains

Edwina McInnish what do you think is untrue in this story?

Virginia Singh
Virginia Singh

Chris Toler,I like to know myself.but I do think a fresh new face of 30 are shaking up some things,but I pray OSSOFF comes out on top

Trackbacks

  1. […] Jon Ossoff and Al Jazeera: The truth is far more interesting (politics.blog.myajc.com) […]

    Like