CLEVELAND — Covering the Republican National Convention for Al Jazeera’s mothership Arabic-language network sounds like a tough assignment in a year when the party’s candidate has made barring the entry of Muslims into the U.S. a pillar of his campaign message.
In fact, the reception from GOP officials and delegates has been nothing but courteous, according to Al Jazeera Arabia correspondent Fadi Mansour. And the Trump campaign has reached out to establish a better line of communication with the Middle East’s most widely viewed news network.
“They are approaching us. They are interested in talking to us,” Mansour said Thursday as he prepared to cover Trump’s nomination acceptance speech at the Quicken Loans Arena here. “They are trying hard in their outreach — the Trump campaign and even the Republican party itself.”
Mansour, who is based in Al Jazeera’s Washington, D.C. bureau, said Al Jazeera was approached Thursday by a member of Trump’s national security team with an offer to talk in the coming weeks. He’s also been in touch with GOP super-delegates and Congressional leaders. “We are a reality they cannot ignore,” he said.
Speakers at the GOP confab have placed a strong emphasis on national security and the threat from ISIS and other terrorist groups. There is no doubt that many in the U.S. associate Al Jazeera with Islamist extremism, despite its well-established credentials as a global news gathering org. The image problem was one handicap that contributed to Al Jazeera’s decision to shutter its money-losing Al Jazeera America cable news channel in April.
Despite Al Jazeera America’s demise, the Qatar-based media company still has a presence in the U.S. with its digital Al Jazeera English service as well as Al Jazeera Arabia’s operations. The Lebanon-born Mansour has lived in the U.S. since 2004 and has worked for Al Jazeera Arabia since 2006.
In Cleveland this week, he’s ventured on to the convention floor to speak to delegates a few times, also without incident.
“I’ve talked to delegates — they were very frank,” Mansour said. “I know there are a lot of thorny issues here. But we are a credentialed media network. We have our reputation regardless of how it’s perceived by certain people.”
The overriding question that Mansour’s viewers want answered about America is the reason behind Trump’s positions about Muslims. There’s also interest in the root causes of the string of shootings and other recent tragedies, including the ISIS-inspired mass killings attacks in Orlando, Fla., last month and in San Bernardino, Calif., last November.
“We’ve been in Baltimore, Ferguson, Dallas, Orlando,” Mansour said. “We’re trying to understand what’s driving this kind of rhetoric. We want to understand why people are angry. We’re looking at the social and economic factors that are creating this anger and this fear that frankly many politicians will invest in and make the most out of in order to score politically.”
Generally speaking, Al Jazeera’s viewers in the Middle East don’t feel threatened by Trump’s tough talk as much as insulted. “Muslims are not a single, one-dimensional entity,” Mansour said. He also notes that for all of Trump’s “build a wall” sloganeering, he has plenty of business interests with Trump-branded hotels and real estate properties in the Middle East.
“At the end of the day, business is business,” he said.