Marash Joins Jazeera: “Marriage Made in Heaven”

Nightline veteran and former WCBS anchor Dave Marash has signed on to be the Washington-based news anchor for Al Jazeera International, the network announced this afternoon. The Observer first reported Dec. 5 that Mr. Marash was in talks with the brand-new Doha-based English-language satellite news channel, whose global launch is scheduled for the spring.

“This is a real sort of marriage made in heaven in terms of journalistic ambition and interest,” said Mr. Marash on the phone today.

Mr. Marash won three Emmys and one DuPont award during his time at ABC and left the network at the end of November, under not entirely amicable circumstances, after Ted Koppel’s last broadcast of Nightline.

Mr. Marash joins a number of other Western journalists, including Brit interviewer Sir David Frost and former CNN talk show host Riz Khan, in jumping to the upstart network, a sister channel to the controversial Arabic language version. Both channels are financed by the benevolent dictator of Qatar. Mr. Marash will anchor two and a half hours a day. He will also report stories around the world and moderate in-studio discussions, a la Koppel.

“Our niche, if you will, in the satellite news channel competition is to be the high end,” Mr. Marash said. “It is to be the most sophisticated, the most nuanced and the most sort of information-filled, and that all sounds great to me.”

Mr. Marash said he first approached Al Jazeera International shortly after May, 2005, when Mr. Koppel announced his intentions to leave ABC after a contentious few years with network brass. The International channel also approached Mr. Koppel, according to sources close to the anchor, but nothing came of the meeting.

Rebecca Lipkin, a former London-based Nightline producer who was among the first American journalists to switch to Al Jazeera, recommended the move.

“When she went and started talking to me about what she was doing, and the atmosphere and the ambitions there, I mostly just kvelled for her,” Mr. Marash said. “But then, when it became clear my Nightline future was drawing to a close, she said, ‘You oughta call them.’ I did, and I found them very receptive.”

Al Jazeera, which has made headlines recently as a possible one-time target of President Bush’s aggression (and bombs), is still in an uphill public-relations battle among Western audiences, distributers and journalists. Mr. Marash said he thought long and hard about that before signing with the channel.

“You’d have to be dumb and blind not to be thinking about these issues,” he said. “The fact is, of course, that Al Jazeera has never aired any beheadings. Their news standards seem to me to be very similar to our news standards.”

About the reports that President Bush was once narrowly dissuaded from bombing the Arab-language network’s headquarters in Doha, Mr. Marash said, “I hope he was joking.”

The Al Jazeera International announcement capped a flurry of other Nightline veteran news on Thursday. The New York Times announced that Mr. Koppel, in addition to serving as the managing editor of the Discovery Channel, will be writing a column for the New York Times. And NPR announced that Mr. Koppel will be providing commentary for its radio networks, as well. Michel Martin, a former Nightline correspodent, is also going to NPR, where she will host her own talk show.

“The Nightline Alumni Association is rockin’ today,” Mr. Marash said.

–Rebecca Dana