Shannon High-Bassalik is not a journalist who buries the lead.
In a federal discrimination lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Thursday against her former employers at Al Jazeera America (AJA), High-Bassalik starts by saying the network quickly abandoned its stated mission of providing "unbiased, fact-based, in-depth stories of U.S. and international news."
Her experience shows a network "where truth and objectivity are set aside to cater to the Company's pro-Arabic prejudices," the lawsuit says. "As ratings failed to live up to the expectations of management, Al Jazeera openly decided to abandon all pretense of neutrality in favor of putting the Arabic viewpoint front and center, openly demanding that programs be aired that criticized countries such as America, Israel and Egypt."
The government in Qatar bought the cable news out let to bring "the Arabic viewpoint to America," employees were told. Concerns about the reporting bias were turned away, often angrily.
The network dismissed the lawsuit's allegations as "unfounded." But some of the allegations are supported by internal emails obtained by the National Review just after the January shooting massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by radical Islamists taking revenge for the magazine's depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Al Jazeerah employees questioned whether it amounted to an attack on free speech and criticized the public's "Je Suis Charlie" signs offered in solidarity with the dead.
An earlier lawsuit by another former employee also alleged discriminatory and politically-driven management.
High-Bassalik says producers were instructed to treat conspiracy theories about a CIA role in the 9/11 attacks – popular among some in the Arab world – seriously. The head of the network's investigative unit allegedly likened Israelis to Adolph Hitler. Statements by network senior vice president that "Anyone who supports Israel should die a fiery death" went unpunished, while people who complained were fired.
Al Jazeera America "systematically favored its Arabic and male employees," the lawsuit alleges, while women and non-Arabs were treated "as second class citizens who are constant targets of abuse and degradation."
Internally, Arab employees received better performance evaluations and promotions. The marketing department hired a manager whose resume topped out with a position at a Sunglass Hut.
High-Bassalik was AJA's senior vice president of programming and documentaries before she was fired, in what she claims was in breach of her three-year guaranteed contract and the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit also targets Interim Al Jazeera CEO Ehab al Shihabi, who also serves as its international operations chief.
Women were given inconsistent directions, belittled and left out of important meetings. High-Bassalik says her firing was an act of retaliation after she complained about AJA's "misogynistic and racist treatment of its employees."
The news bias is "often at the expense of Jewish people" especially during last summer's Gaza war between Hamas and Israel, when employees were "explicitly instructed" to "cast Israel as the villain" and the network aired anti-Israel programs.
Al Shihabi screamed at people who raised concerns, and said he was steering news content to please his bosses in Doha.
Read the full lawsuit here.