Joel Mowbray reports: Blaya deceives Congress

Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) has filed the another installment of his series on the government-funded Al Hurra television network. Joel reports:

Even by the normally low standards inside the beltway, the doozy delivered at a Congressional hearing last week was jaw-dropping. Testifying at a session investigating the new direction of U.S.-funded Arab TV network Al-Hurra, oversight board member Joaquin Blaya snookered Congress into believing that the network, until very recently, had no assignment desk, a mainstay of almost any newsroom.
In order to deflect Congressional criticism of embattled news director Larry Register’s decision to turn Al Hurra into a platform for Islamic terrorists and Holocaust deniers, Blaya told lawmakers that Register’s deliberate strategy was actually just a series of mistakes that happened because the network had no assignment desk.
It was the first time that Blaya, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), attempted publicly to explain exactly how Al Hurra had aired things like live speeches from the leaders of Hamas and Hezobollah and Hamas’s 19th anniversary celebration. He was even joined in his deception by Register’s direct boss, Brian Conniff, who spontaneously was invited to the witness table during the hearing.
But here’s the thing: Al Hurra had an assignment desk during the time Blaya said the network did not.
What Blaya did was tell a literal truth that was nonetheless utterly deceitful. He was truthful in the sense that the “assignment desk” wasn’t physically constructed until February. The assignment desk, though, had been functioning some five months already by the time the physical location was built at which the assignment editors could sit together.
Starting last September, Al Hurra had an assignment desk, and it was run by employees formally called “assignment editors.” This was more than a month before Register joined the network last November.
Even before last fall, though, procedures followed by the newsroom mirrored closely the functions of an assignment desk. Early every morning — often as early as 4 a.m. — there was an editorial meeting discussing the stories that would need to be covered that day. Reporters and correspondents were assigned to cover particular stories and given clear instructions on how to cover them.
Register’s predecessor, Lebanese-born Muslim Mouafac Harb, didn’t create a formal assignment desk because he preferred to maintain a very small circle, including himself, responsible for preventing the airing of inappropriate content. Anything with potentially controversial subject matter was cleared by Harb or one of his deputies.
By the time Register came on as news director, however, Al-Hurra had already established its assignment desk.
In September 2006 — more than a month before Register started — an assignment desk was created. An e-mail sent to the staff on September 26, 2006 announced promotions for two people to assignment editor and senior assignment editor. On every day of the week, at least one of them was at the office.
Thus, Blaya’s claim that there was no “assignment desk” hangs on the slimmest of technicalities: the actual, physical desk at which the assignment editors could sit together and jointly monitor video feeds was not built until this February. Between September 2006 and this February, though, the assignment editors were able to do their jobs and watch the Al Hurra feed — just at their own desks, as opposed to one built for them to sit side-by-side.
In other words, there were assignment editors performing the exact duties of an assignment desk at Al-Hurra before Register arrived. They just weren’t physically seated together at an “assignment desk.”
Not only did Al-Hurra have an assignment desk, but Register managed the editors on a tight leash, dishing out guidance and advice on how to cover each day’s stories at the morning editorial meetings.
As proved by internal memos that served as the outline for the editorial meetings, Register had advance knowledge of the hour and eight minute speech from Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah that Al-Hurra aired in its entirety on December 7, 2006.
Similar memos also show that Register was directly responsible for the set-up and execution of the puff pieces Al-Hurra did on Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference on December 11 and 12.
Given the wealth of evidence proving that Register had either advance knowledge of or direct reponsibility for almost all of the controversial broadcasts, it’s astonishing that Blaya stuck to the “mistakes were made” defense.
Much more shocking, though, is that Blaya did so by hoodwinking Congress on a rather significant issue, leading lawmakers to believe that Al Hurra had no assignment desk when Register started.
It’s such a daring deception, in fact, that it’s only fair to ask: was Blaya himself misled?

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