Al Jazeera America Demotes CEO Amid Ongoing Disarray

Al Jazeera America (AJAM) announced that it had demoted its unpopular CEO in the wake of several high-profile resignations, a potentially embarrassing lawsuit, and dismal ratings, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday.

A mere 48 hours after trying to defend the troubled news channel Al Jazeera America from allegations of sexism and anti-Semitism in an ill-conceived conference call with media reporters, interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi was demoted on Wednesday afternoon. …

Initial reports suggested Al Shihabi had been fired, and an official Al Jazeera America press release announcing the “immediate” appointment of the new CEO, veteran television journalist Al Anstey, the former managing director of Al Jazeera English, made no mention of a role for Al Shihabi, saying only that “Anstey replaces interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi who was responsible for launching Al Jazeera America in 2013.” (Nor did the release mention AJAM’s nominal president, Kate O’Brian, and how her role will be affected by Anstey’s arrival from Doha.)

An hour or so after the press statement was released, however, Al Shihabi sent his email, claiming to be “delighted” and “excited” about his demotion.

The turmoil at AJAM, including the departure of three high-profile females executives and a lawsuit alleging anti-Semitism and sexism at the network, prompted a closer look by The New York Times at how the network has failed to achieve its aspirations earlier this week.

Nearly two years ago, Ehab Al Shihabi, the chief executive of Al Jazeera America, took the stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival and proposed something grand: An American cable news station that would be thoughtful, probing and smart.

This station would dispense with shouting heads and conduct real investigations, and with financing from the deep pockets of the Qatar government, it would have a budget to match its ambitions. The benchmark for success was to produce quality journalism and “to win the mind and the heart of the American audience,” Mr. Al Shihabi said. …

Almost two years later, the ratings have not come, nor have the profits. The station has been a nonfactor in news, drawing about 30,000 viewers a night. To make matters worse, in the last week, a lawsuit and an exodus of top executives have brought to the surface a series of grievances that employees say reflects a deep dysfunction in management of the newsroom, undermining the network’s mission.

If the mission of AJAM was to be “thoughtful, probing and smart,” a March interview with white supremacist David Duke didn’t help maintain that image.

In a leaked confidential cable, America’s ambassador to Qatar called the station “an informal tool of [the Government of Qatar’s] foreign policy.”

[Photo: WGBH News / YouTube ]