“I log onto Al Jazeera every morning – you guys rock!” This was no news junkie this was Christopher, a fantastic salesman at a clothes store in central Washington. He tells me Al Jazeera is the first thing he reads on his Blackberry, and it is his first source for news. He loves us. And so do all his friends.
What a change from when I came here three years ago! Back then virtually nobody had heard of us. Out of those who did, one tried to bomb our offices several years ago. George W Bush and his gang suspected we were propagators of anti-American propaganda. And the other, a taxi driver, said: “You were them guys Bush tried to take out I know about you!” He was dead impressed there was a representative of a ‘terror network’ in his cab.
Before I felt like people here really thought I was Osama bin Laden’s mouthpiece. Now I feel like I work for the cool kids! Even US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is a fan. “You might not agree with it, but you are getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials,” she said of Al Jazeera in a Washington Post article.
Almost everyone I speak to – ordering my breakfast, buying a local sim card and booking to see Lady Gaga – knows who we are. A group of Americans I get chatting to in a phone shop recognise me from my reporting in Cairo during the Egypt uprising and want to know every minute detail of our time there and how we functioned, and of Qatar and what it is like to work for the “amazing Al Jazeera”. When they left, they thanked me for the impact our work has had on the world.
Three years ago it was hard to book a politician to come to our studios. Now everyone wants to talk to us. Senators – current and former – and top military men all want their views known. Republicans, Democrats, even Tea Partiers, are all keen to have us as their mouthpiece now.
Just the other day, the Libyan ambassador to the US was very emotional when he broke from the Libyan regime live on air. With any luck the momentum will get us more carriage in the United States. Hostility, fear and the Jewish lobby restricted us to a few outlets brave enough to show us, but nearly half our followers on line are from Stateside. We know that Barack Obama had his telly tuned to Al Jazeera to watch our coverage of Egypt (alongside CNN).
And clearly there is an appetite – as big and hearty as a full American breakfast – for us. As Hillary Clinton said: “Like it or hate it, it really is effective.”