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Morgan Fogarty heading to Al-Jazeera

By Mark Washburn
TV/Radio Writer
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Morgan Fogarty – whose outgoing, all-American image propelled her to the circle of best-known broadcasters in Charlotte – is joining the new Al Jazeera America network as it opens a campaign to capture eyeballs in the United States.

Fogarty, who anchors the 10 p.m. newscast on WCCB (Channel 18), will be one of Al Jazeera America’s main news presenters based in New York, the fledgling network announced Thursday.

Al-Jazeera, founded in 1996 in oil-rich Qatar as a pan-Arab news channel, came to media prominence in the United States after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan for airing videos from Osama bin Laden and anti-American militants.

Her role at the hard-news-oriented Al Jazeera America, which will debut the last week of August, will be a departure for Fogarty after eight years at the freewheeling and entertainment-focused WCCB news department.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to be part of a brand new network and to deliver in-depth, fact-based news to an American audience that’s being inundated by stories about Justin Bieber,” she said. “Al Jazeera America is going to be an American news channel for American viewers.”

Fogarty said she had no trepidation about the Al-Jazeera brand. “Al-Jazeera within the world of journalism and journalists is well-respected and held in high regard. When the opportunity came up, it was something I didn’t second-guess or question.”

Not on Time Warner

Al Jazeera America is a spinoff of the Doha, Qatar-based news service controlled by the Emir of Qatar. Al Jazeera Media Network operates Arabic and English-language international news channels and websites. In Arabic, Al-Jazeera translates as “the island,” referring to the Arabian Peninsula.

Cable and satellite availability in the United States is spotty because many providers have declined to pick up the network except in areas with high Arab populations like Detroit and Toledo, Ohio. In a deal in January believed to be valued at $500 million, Al-Jazeera bought Current TV, which was co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, expanding its reach.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Scott Pryzwansky said the company has no plans to carry Al Jazeera America in the Carolinas. Other major providers, including Dish, DirecTV, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, have reached deals to carry the network.

War coverage rankled

Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel was harshly criticized by the Bush administration for its coverage of the invasion of Iraq and U.S. policies in the Middle East. Four days into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera aired gory video of American soldiers in a morgue and broadcast interviews with captured U.S. POWs, their voices trembling and eyes darting nervously.

But in recent years, the network has grown more influential internationally and has gained praise, even in the West, for balanced and thorough coverage of the Arab Spring uprising and other events in the Mideast.

After the widespread Egyptian protests in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Al-Jazeera was a force shaping attitudes both in the Arab world and through its English-language channel in the United States.

“Viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news,” Clinton said. “You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads, and the kind of stuff that we do on our news, which is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”

During the protests in 2011, Egypt’s government ordered Al-Jazeera to close its Cairo offices and security forces briefly detained six Al Jazeera journalists.

Audience upscale

A 2008 study by a Queens University of Charlotte researcher found viewers of Al-Jazeera’s international English-language channel tended to be more upscale, better educated and more multilingual than the general population.

Viewers also tended to be less dogmatic in their previously held views, said Mohammed el-Nawawy, associate professor of communication at Queens. He concluded that viewers became more accepting of different philosophies because the network provided in-depth pieces – sometimes only two or three per hour rather than the sound-bite journalism popular on U.S. news channels – and provided multiple viewpoints.

Ali Velshi, CNN’s chief business correspondent, was the network’s first high-profile hire, followed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien who will serve as a special correspondent on the “America Tonight” show.

Fogarty, 32, is a Washington, D.C., native who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. She was a competitive equestrian from age 7 to college and grew up in a household thick with pets – dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, fish – and remains a determined animal advocate. Fogarty studied broadcasting and theater at Penn State.

She came to Charlotte in 2005 from WHAG, the NBC affiliate in Hagerstown, Md. She started on WCCB’s morning show, then moved up in 2007 to co-host “Fox News Edge” with Christopher Frederick, better known as radio’s Brotha Fred. In 2011, she moved up to permanent duty on the 10 p.m. anchor news desk.

Fogarty, who will remain on WCCB’s newscasts through the end of the month, is the third Charlotte broadcaster to jump to a New York network job in recent years, following Heather Childers of News 14 Carolina and Anna Kooiman of WCCB, both of whom went to Fox News Channel.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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