CHICAGO (CN) – A Northwestern professor sued the State Department, demanding that it respond to her requests for documents about its purported aim of influencing Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the U.S. and its wars in the Middle East via American university satellite campuses.
Dr. Jacqueline Stevens is a professor of political science at Northwestern University and director of its Deportation Research Clinic.
According to her pro se complaint filed Friday in Chicago federal court, Stevens has done extensive research about Northwestern’s affiliate campus in Qatar and its financial ties to the Qatar Foundation, a government-funded nonprofit that supports education and research development in the country.
Her research focuses on the U.S. government’s use of university satellite campuses to increase U.S. influence in the Middle East, and she cites coverage of this issue by several high profile media outlets, including The Guardian and the Times Higher Education.
“In 2013, Northwestern University in Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding with Al-Jazeera, to ‘deepen ties between the two organizations,’” according to the lawsuit. “Several publications noted the positive shift in Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the U.S. in recent years, especially concerning U.S. drone strikes.”
Al-Jazeera is a news broadcaster based in Qatar that is often accused of having an anti-Western and anti-Israel bias. It garnered an international audience as the only news organization to cover the war in Afghanistan live from its office there.
To support her research, Stevens sought information from the U.S. State Department via three Freedom of Information Act requests made in 2015.
She requested documents about its communications with Northwestern regarding the opening of a satellite campus in Qatar, all planning materials pertaining to opening U.S. university campuses in foreign countries in general, and any documents maintained by the U.S. Agency for International Development about the Northwestern satellite campus.
A WikiLeaks release proved that such documents exist, according to the complaint. A cable reportedly sent by the U.S. Embassy in Qatar, publicized by WikiLeaks, describes the U.S. government’s interest in influencing Al-Jazeera’s coverage, and states that the campus “can act as a resource and help professionalize Al-Jazeera’s staff.”
However, the State Department has not responded to Stevens’ FOIA requests in two years, she says.
Stevens seeks a court injunction ordering the State Department to conduct a search for responsive records, and a declaration that the records are not exempt from disclosure.