Al Jazeera America sets team for August 20 launch

With less than a month before it launches, Al Jazeera America has named Kate O’Brian as president and has chosen a senior management team for its U.S.-centric cable news channel.

Joining O’Brian, a 30-year veteran of ABC News and its senior vice president of news gathering, will be David Doss, a senior executive producer for CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” and Marcy McGinnis, a former top executive at CBS News.

Doss was named senior vice president for news programming, and McGinnis will serve as senior vice president of news gathering.

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Al Jazeera, the parent operation, said that Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director for international operations, would serve as interim chief executive of Al Jazeera America.

The hirings are the most significant executive moves by Al Jazeera since it unveiled plans to launch a U.S. network in January. The network has been actively recruiting on-air talent in advance of its Aug. 20 launch. Familiar faces joining Al Jazeera include Soledad O’Brien, Sheila MacVicar and Ali Velshi.

Al Jazeera America has yet to detail its programming lineup. Its flagship show will be “America Tonight,” an evening news program.

Al Jazeera executives have said the channel would focus much of its efforts on hard-news coverage of the United States. In an interview in June, Al Shihabi said Al Jazeera America would “elevate the mainstream voice.”


The network will have a staff of about 800 and has opened bureaus around the country including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans.

The network also has promised to steer clear of much of the political debates, murder trials and celebrity gossip that fill other cable networks.

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“Al Jazeera America will demonstrate that quality journalism is alive and well in the United States,” O’Brian said.

Al Jazeera acquired former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV this year for about $500 million to use as the platform for the new network.

But not all TV distributors are onboard with the change.

When Al Jazeera America premieres, it will be in only 50 million households, less than half of all pay-TV homes. Some distributors have expressed concern that carrying the network could alienate their subscribers. Time Warner Cable Inc., the largest cable operator in greater Los Angeles, does not have a deal yet to carry Al Jazeera America.

That was the case with Al Jazeera English, an English-language version of Al Jazeera. Owned by the government of Qatar, Al Jazeera has been accused of having an anti-American and anti-Israel bias in its coverage. That baggage made getting broad distribution a challenge, and some think the same will be true for Al Jazeera America.


“They are starting from deep in their own end zone,” said Allen Adamson, a managing director at brand consultants Landor Associates. “Going in, they will have to demonstrate more than others perhaps that they don’t have a bias.”

Al Shihabi has said that the negative opinions come from people not familiar with Al Jazeera’s product and that the perceptions have been changing.

“There is a bucket of resistance, but it is changing,” he said.

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