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2006-08-16

Fox News Producer Resigns Over Middle East Coverage

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Two weeks ago, two producers working for Fox News in Amman, Jordan resigned in protest of the network’s coverage. In their resignation letter, Serene Sabbagh and Jomana Karadsheh wrote "We can no longer work with a news organization that claims to be fair and balanced when you are so far from that." We go to Amman to speak with producer Serene Sabbagh. [includes rush transcript]

As the ceasefire in Lebanon enters its third day, the Middle East crisis continues to be one of the top news stories in the US press. But the coverage of the conflict in the corporate media has come under criticism from some quarters.

Two weeks ago, two producers working for Fox News in Amman Jordan resigned in protest of the network’s coverage. In their resignation letter, Serene Sabbagh and Jomana Karadsheh wrote "We can no longer work with a news organization that claims to be fair and balanced when you are so far from that." They went on to write "Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House, and Israeli propaganda, you are war mongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism."

One of the two authors of that letter joins us on the line from Amman, Jordan.

  • Serene Sabbagh, freelance TV producer who has worked with CNN, ABC News, Al Jazeera and Fox News. She joins us on the line from Amman, Jordan.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Two weeks ago, two producers working for Fox News in Amman, Jordan resigned in protest of the network’s coverage. In their resignation letter, Serene Sabbagh and Jomana Karadsheh wrote, "We can no longer work with a news organization that claims to be fair and balanced when you are so far from that." They went on to write "Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House and Israeli propaganda, you are war mongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism."

One of the two authors of that letter joins us on the phone right now from Amman, Jordan. Serene Sabbagh is a freelance TV producer who has worked with CNN, ABC News, Al Jazeera. She worked with Fox News for three years until her resignation. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Serene.

SERENE SABBAGH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your concerns? What work did you do for the networks and particularly for the one that you resigned from, Fox?

SERENE SABBAGH: Well, for CNN and the rest, I produced for a while. I was their unit manager producer here in Jordan. And for Fox News, we basically handled logistical support for their operation in Baghdad. And up to the start of the war in Lebanon, we were also handling that end of the conflict. So basically, my work, I covered also the hotel bombings for them in Amman back in November. So it was basically logistical unit manager producer type of work.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you leave Fox?

SERENE SABBAGH: After three years and watching their coverage, I thought I could make a difference working with them. I could influence some of the people that are coming into the region, because they have recently just, you know, come into this part of the world. I thought that I could give them an insight of how things are run here, the politics of — the complicated politics and history of politics in this part of the region.

But from the onset of the war in Lebanon, I was devastated at the way that Fox was handling the coverage from Lebanon in the U.S., and I felt there was bias, the slant, the racist remarks, the use of the word "we" meaning Israel, and it was just unbearable up until basically the massacre at Qana. And as a mother of three, watching the images, the raw images of children being pulled out of the rubble, and then I switched to Fox News to hear some of their anchors claiming that these little kids that were killed, these innocent victims that were killed, were human shields used by Hezbollah. And one of the anchors went as far as saying they were planted there by Hezbollah to win support in this war. And it was unbelievable. For me, that was the breaking point, and this is when I decided, me and my colleague Jomana, to hand in our resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you try to have conversations with them, though you talk about this as a sort of breaking point, over the three years?

SERENE SABBAGH: When I signed with Fox News, when I started working with them, I knew that they were very pro-Israel, that the coverage of the Middle East was very slanted. And I did have conversations with reporters that I worked with and producers that I also worked with. I got to know a couple of people from management who came to visit in Amman and who went on to Baghdad, and we sort of had conversations. We never had a direct conversation regarding their coverage, all in all, but they all knew what we felt like in Amman in the Amman bureau.

AMY GOODMAN: Serene, two Fox — reporter and photographer, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, look like they’ve been kidnapped in Gaza. Can you talk about what you understand has happened, and do you know the reporter, Steve Centanni, and Olaf Wiig, the photographer?

SERENE SABBAGH: Olaf Wiig actually is a cameraman. I’ve met Olaf on a couple of runs for him in Baghdad. He’s a freelance cameraman that’s worked with Fox News in Baghdad. He’s a very nice man. Steve Centanni, I met very briefly also on his way to Baghdad. They are both good people, and they are both doing their job.

I think that I don’t have the details. I know what you people know, that they were kidnapped and they were taken against their will. I think if, for any reason, it had anything to do with the fact that they were foreigners or that they worked with Fox News, I do not know, but I believe that what happened was completely wrong, and if somebody was trying to send out a message, this is the wrong way of sending it out.

AMY GOODMAN: How often does this happen, from your experience of covering this, the capture of these two men, the kidnapping of these two men?

SERENE SABBAGH: Well, in the past six to eight months, it has happened in Gaza and the West Bank, that some foreigners were taken for 48 to 72 hours, and then they were released. Some of them were taken for political reasons, some of them for financial reasons, not asking for a ransom or anything, just putting pressure on the Palestinian National Authority, on the PNA, because there were delays in paying salaries of their employees. So usually things like that are not as dangerous as they are in Iraq. And I’m hopeful that these two journalists will be released eventually.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what kind of negotiations are going on behind the scenes to free them, and do you know — is there any discussion about who took them?

SERENE SABBAGH: I have no information regarding that, and I don’t think Fox News is going to discuss it with me or anybody else. I think it’s just direct negotiations between Fox, probably, and the Palestinians and Israeli authorities on ways to release these two men.

AMY GOODMAN: Serene Sabbagh, I want to thank you very much for being with us, freelance TV producer, has worked with CNN, ABC, Al Jazeera and Fox for three years. She recently quit Fox with a letter announcing her resignation from Amman, along with her colleague Jomana Karadsheh.

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