Thursday was a strange day in Washington, D.C. There was the government shutdown, of course. And then in the afternoon, a terrifying car chase outside the Capitol that ended with the shooting death of a Connecticut mom who appeared to have lost her mind. That the chase was caught on camera made the day all the more surreal—and the fact that the cameraman worked for an obscure television network named Alhurra was even weirder.
In government circles, Alhurra is well known. It’s an Arab-language station that’s financed by the U.S. government but broadcasts solely in the Middle East. Founded in 2004, at the height of the Iraq War, Alhurra was meant to be a pro-American alternative to Al Jazeera and other Arabic language news networks that were seen at the time as anti-American. Yet outside the Beltway, few had heard of it.
That is, until yesterday, when an Alhurra cameraman named Danny Farkas happened to be outside the Capitol building shooting B roll. When he heard the sounds of a car chase, he turned his camera and captured the dramatic scene as it unfolded: a black Infiniti sedan driven by Miriam Carey sped around the Capitol grounds until Capitol Police eventually opened fire. The video Farkas took has since become the defining images of the events Thursday.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that funds Alhurra, as well as other federally funded foreign news networks like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, has been exempted from the government shutdown because it’s deemed “essential to national security.” Alhurra broadcasts commercial-free programming to the Middle East 24 hours a day. It has a budget of $110.3 million and employs 763 people.
Unlike Al Jazeera, which just launched an American channel, Alhurra is totally unavailable in the United States—-and not just because there isn’t the demand. Because it’s totally funded by the government, Alhurra is considered propaganda, which means it’s forbidden to broadcast domestically under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. This same prohibition applies to all other networks funded by Broadcasting Board of Governors.
So why did it emerge from the shadows this week? First, it aired on Alhurra, after someone retrieved the video from Farkas and rushed it back to the studio. Then other networks asked for permission to use it, and the rest is viral history. Very few Americans had any idea what the network is, Farkas said in an interview with The Daily Beast, so it’s “very good” they do now.