The corporate shakeup at Al Jazeera America—prompted by a $15 million wrongful-termination lawsuit last week against the Qatari-owned television channel and a chaotic conference call on Monday with media reporters—has claimed its first casualties.
Former chief executive officer Ehab Al Shihabi—who was abruptly replaced on Wednesday by his bosses in Doha but insisted in an email to the staff that he would continue as chief operating officer—is out.
After an awkward senior leadership dinner at Manhattan’s trendy Craft restaurant, Al Shihabi hasn’t been seen in the office and is not expected to return.
“He basically appointed himself COO,” an AJAM insider told The Daily Beast. “He won’t be back.”
The future of AJAM President Kate O’Brian, an ABC News veteran who like, Al Shihabi, had presided over the August 2013 launch of the American-oriented cable news outlet, was also uncertain on Friday.
The blog FTVLive.com reported on Friday that AJAM staffers have been cataloguing her missteps to their new bosses, CEO Al Anstey and senior news executive Amjad Attallah, and demanding that O’Brian be fired.
Like Al Shihabi, O’Brian’s future role was not mentioned in a press release announcing Anstey’s appointment. She didn’t respond to an interview request by deadline.
According to blogger Scott Jones, O’Brian “is widely blamed for ‘enabling’ the alleged discriminatory conduct by Shihabi and his Qatari cronies.”
Jones continued: “O’Brian went along with decision to pull correspondent Nick Schifrin out of Middle East months ago (He hasn’t been on-air since) because management thought his coverage of Israel/Gaza over past year was too soft on Israel.
“And it was because of O’Brian that AJAM PR didn’t issue an internal email to staff or external press release noting Schiffrin was awarded the Overseas Press Coverage ‘spot news’ award last week for that very same coverage of Gaza/Israel.
“O’Brian also agreed with the decision to demote Marcy McGinnis (who recently quit AJA), who tried to stand up for Schifrin.
“O’Brian also lost newsroom support in December when she bragged to staffers, soon after layoffs, that she had purchased a new sports car for her husband for Christmas.”
Nick Schiffrin could not be reached on Friday. AJAM insiders, who confirmed Jones’s report to The Daily Beast, said that the sports car in question, a Christmas gift for O’Brian’s husband, is a used Porsche.
While Jones reports that staffers are urging their new bosses to bring back CBS News veteran Marcy McGinnis, who resigned on Monday with a blast at Al Shihabi’s management decisions, there is little indication that she would agree to return. She declined to comment for this story.
McGinnis, coincidentally, was briefly Al Anstey’s boss two decades ago when he worked the assignment desk at the CBS London Bureau and McGinnis was deputy bureau chief.
Also vulnerable, sources told The Daily Beast, is AJAM General Counsel David Harleston, whose alliance with Al Shihabi and O’Brian, along with his lack of support in the newsroom, could make him a short-timer.
Meanwhile, Senior Vice President Osman Mahmoud—whose allegedly misogynistic conduct and anti-Semitic rhetoric in the office were among the claims in fired video archivist Matthew Luke’s lawsuit—has been suspended.
It wasn’t clear if Mahmoud’s suspension, which occurred without fanfare early this week, was with or without pay.
According to allegations in the lawsuit, Mahmoud had been considered untouchable because of his long-term friendship with Dr. Mostefa Souag, the Doha-based managing director of the Al Jazeera Media Network, but he hasn’t been seen since Tuesday in AJAM’s Manhattan headquarters at the Hotel New Yorker.
“He is gone without explanation,” a staffer told The Daily Beast.