Al Jazeera America’s newsroom is in disarray and CEO Ehab Al Shihabi has created a culture of fear, according to an explosive New York Times report.
Marcy McGinnis, a veteran CBS producer who joined the start-up network in 2013 as senior VP of news gathering, and resigned Monday, said she was tired of working under a fear of retribution.
“I didn’t want to be there anymore because I didn’t like the culture of fear,”she told the Times in an article published Tuesday. “People are afraid to lose their jobs if they cross Ehab.”
She said the newsroom was in “disarray behind the scenes,” a sentiment dozens of other employees confirmed to the newspaper.
Fresh off a lawsuit by a former employee last week alleging anti-semitism and gender bias by a superior, a newsroom-wide meeting was held last week, where staff members spoke up and complained about women losing their jobs; fear that criticism of any kind will lead to retaliation; lack of promotion for the channel and the internal review process suddenly changing with no announcement.
In February, Ali Velshi, a former CNN anchor who hosts a primetime show, held a similar meeting, where he got into it with Al Shihabi. Staffers present at the meeting told the Times Shihabi shouted, “I’ll spend whatever I have to spend to bankrupt him in court…he’s finished here.”
It’s news to Velshi — and disheartening.
“To hear that public threats of litigation and of bankrupting me have been made, if true, is disheartening and deeply troubling,” he told the Times.
Al Shihabi denied making those comments and said, “We are creative thinkers, and we allow debates, we encourage debates and we encourage different views.” He also said the company will invest in improving morale.
Employees told the Times there are staffers who just stopped showing up for work, with no explanation from superiors why. Reporter Nick Schifrin has been MIA for two months, and nobody has a clue why.
McGinnis added that the dynamic in the newsroom is unpredictable and chaotic.
“It’s the uncertainty in the day to day,” she said. “What shoe is going to drop next? Nick Schifrin is a reporter, and nobody knows if he’s been fired, or let go, or he’s just gone. People are like, ‘Oh, my God, what show’s going to get canceled or revamped or what new executive is going to be my new boss today?”
Al Shihabi is a also a meddling CEO, dipping his hand into editorial and programming, she added, saying he “runs everything, every decision is his decision. When all of the decisions land on one person who is not a journalist, it can lead to disgruntlement because there’s a feeling he doesn’t understand journalism.”
The CEO denied that he runs editorial, saying he defers to network president Kate O’Brian. He also defended the network’s unimpressive ratings — about 30,000 viewers a night.
“Fox, if you read the history, they got their inflection point after four years,” he said. “Same thing with MSNBC. They started with one strategy and they shifted to other strategy and got their inflection point. Al Jazeera America will get its inflection point.”
Al Jazeera America did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment about the Times report.