Al Jazeera Reporter 'Not Welcome' at Texas Football Game
In one of the stranger Sept. 11-related stories you'll hear this week, a reporter was reportedly barred from interviewing crowd members at a high school football game this past Friday, after the school's administrators learned that he was working for Al Jazeera.
Gabriel Elizondo, the reporter in question, was on a two-week assignment for the television news network, which is based in the Arab state of Qatar, to drive across the U.S. and talk to Americans about the impact of 9/11 on American life. While driving last Friday, Elizondo decided to stop at a Texas high school to interview people. After all, he later wrote, "what better a setting to immerse ones self into Texas rural life than high school football."
Elizondo got into the game without a hitch, and even introduced himself to the school's principal, who was "all grins and good cheer," according to him. There was only one problem. Once Elizondo handed the principal one of his Al Jazeera business cards, she reportedly did a complete about-face, asking him how he'd "spin" the story.
The principal then left to briefly consult with the district superintendent, who happened to be attending the game. The superintendent, Michael Lee, then approached Elizondo, and the interaction unfolded as follows, according to the reporter:
I am pretty sure he said:
"I think it was damn rotten what they did."
"I am sorry, what who did?" I say, not sure exactly if he was calling me rotten, the terrorists rotten, Al Jazeera rotten, or all of the above.
"The people that did this to us," he says back to me with a smirk, still glaring uncomfortably straight at my eyes.
"Well, I think it was bad too," I say. "Well, do you think, sir, we can film a bit of the game and talk to some people here about just that?"
"No. You can't film, you can't take pictures, or interview people."
He said Lee wouldn't give him an explanation of why he was banned from interviews, instead saying, "I just expect that you will respect it."
Not looking to "make a mockery of 9/11 just for a cheap TV confrontation trick," Elizondo claims that he then left the stadium without bothering to get a refund on his $3 admission fee. Elizondo latertweeted, "Last night was kicked out of a high school football game in Booker, Texas because Al Jazeera 'not welcome.' A new day, off to KS."
Upon reading Elizondo's account of the night, Lee posted a response online, claiming that many of the night's events did not unfold as Elizondo described. Lee claims that he invited Elizondo to stay and watch the game, despite banning him from conducting interviews.
He said, however, that he would not change his mind about banning Elizondo from interviews, as Elizondo dropped by unexpectedly and the school "certainly did not have time to verify who you were."
"Also, I would have asked you not to do those things at a public event, on public property and at a public school function," Lee continued. "If you had done these, then the FERPA rights for our students would very well have been violated, especially for the students whose parents have signed papers not allowing the pictures of their children on the web."
Lee also explained that, at the time of the encounter with Elizondo, he was dealing with a situation involving two elementary children having not arrived home from school that night—a situation he described as "very stressful for an administrator."
We'll likely never get more than a he-said, he-said account of this interaction from last week. That said, this blogger is keeping his fingers crossed for an impartial eyewitnesses of last Friday's events to come out and set the record straight.
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