Al Jazeera honored for Middle East coverage

Al Jazeera is known for breaking some big stories during the “war on terror,” including the release of tapes of Osama bin Laden.

Its critics call it state-funded propaganda, others say it's more accurate than Western news. On Wednesday, Columbia University awarded Al Jazeera English its highest journalism prize for coverage of the turmoil in the Middle East, a move promptly denounced by conservative groups.

Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the channel “real news.” “Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective,” she said.

In Washington, D.C., some 200 people work for the satellite channel. Al Jazeera's bureaus for both its Arabic and English-language channels are housed in a non-descript building on K Street.

“Americans are paying a lot more attention to the killing of bin Laden than many, many people in the Arab world are,” bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara said. The channel was criticized for airing tapes of bin Laden.

“The airing of the tapes was done in the spirit of presenting a different facet of the political narrative,” Foukara said.

Many of the channels viewers are Arab, and so are some of its reporters. Reporter Wajd Waqfi says being from Jordan adds credibility, and viewers trust the channel.

Some experienced another side of 9-11. “I was shooting a standup here in D.C. in Arabic and a gentleman spit on me,” Waqfi said. Never generalize, she said, and remember there are two sides to every story, familiar mantras to all news organizations.