Since reports first emerged in early October that Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident and a columnist for The Washington Post, had been killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by unknown agents of the Saudi government, those outraged by his brutal murder have been waiting for some kind of definitive statement from President Trump about how his government plans to respond to the crime. On Tuesday, they got a statement, but it’s not likely to appease anyone, except the Saudi Arabian government.
In a nutshell, the Trump administration says it has already done everything it plans to do to punish those responsible for Khashoggi’s death, by issuing sanctions against 17 Saudi citizens who were reportedly involved in killing the Post columnist and allegedly dismembering his body. And what about a CIA document that reportedly says Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the murder? The statement from the president dismisses this with a metaphorical wave of the hand, saying US intelligence agencies continue to assess all information about the killing, so “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
For the Trump White House, the most important thing about Saudi Arabia is not that its rulers appear to have ordered the extra-judicial killing of a journalist, or that it is arguably guilty of serious crimes against the people of Yemen (and against its own people). The most important fact is that the country is a close partner with the US in trying to keep a lid on Iran and Syria, and also that Trump says it has promised to invest $450 billion in the US economy, including $110 billion worth of spending on military equipment. The country “has been a great ally,” the Trump statement says. It goes on to say: “I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.”
The statement was too much for Karen Attiah, the Global Opinions editor for The Washington Post and Khashoggi’s editor at the paper. In a blistering response, Attiah wrote that the president was “doing his best to help the Saudi regime get away with the murder of a US resident and one of the Arab world’s most prominent writers.” If the Trump administration continues down this path, she said, “it will further destroy what is left of America’s moral credibility on global human rights and freedom of expression. It puts truth-seekers and journalists who dare to challenge the Saudi regime and other intolerant governments in grave danger, no matter where they live.”
The Trump government’s response was also attacked by Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, who said in a statement that it was “a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights, and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships. An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better.” Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the suggestion that “our silence can be bought with arms sales undermines the Presidency, the credibility of our intelligence professionals, and our role as a champion of human rights.” And Senator Dick Durbin said the statement “adds to [Trump’s] track record of ignoring his own intelligence agencies, and undermining American values at home and abroad, by giving Saudi Arabia a pass for the brutal and premeditated murder of a US resident and journalist.”
Here’s more on the Khashoggi murder and the fallout from it:
- The annotated Trump: Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake has annotated the Trump statement using the online service Genius.com, adding notes to the text that explain some of the rationale behind Trump’s statements and also some of the mistakes he makes in the process.
- Fictional money: Fact-checker Glenn Kessler has taken a look at Trump’s repeated statements about how many billions the Saudis plan to invest in the US and spend on military equipment, and found that they are mostly smoke and mirrors.
- A baseless slur: Tamara Wittes, a Middle East policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, looks at the whisper campaign against Khashoggi that tries to paint him as a radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and finds there is little or no truth to it.
- The Pompeo strategy: According to a report from Middle East Eye, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally handed Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman a document that laid out how to avoid repercussions from the Khashoggi murder, including a plan to pin the killing on another member of the al-Saud family.
Other notable stories:
- The Media Policy Project at the London School of Economics has released a report looking at the problem of misinformation on digital platforms and makes a number of recommendations, including the creation of an independent monitoring agency that would be funded by a tax on social media and digital advertising revenue.
- Emily Bell, who runs the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, writes for CJR about how Facebook is suffering from “the innovator’s dilemma,” in that it has spent so much time trying to grow that it has failed to change and adapt to new expectations around things like misinformation and hate speech.
- Tom Kent says a coalition of journalistic organizations wants to get the United Nations to adopt legal measures protecting press freedom, but that such an attempt could have unanticipated negative consequences, since one of the things it would have to do is define who qualifies as a journalist.
- Glamour magazine has joined the ranks of former print publications that are now digital only. Samantha Barry, editor in chief of the Conde Nast title, said that while the magazine’s print subscriber base is stable at about 2 million, digital is “where our audiences are, and where the growth is.”
- The Washington Post looked at the cable coverage of four hurricanes—Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 and Michael this year—and compared that to coverage of several major forest fires, and found that there has been dramatically less coverage of the fires.
- Media analyst Frederic Filloux writes about a “link tax” proposal that could become law in the European Union, and how it could backfire badly on the publishers who say they want Google and other platforms to compensate them for their content.
- Research by Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and The Center for Media Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin shows that those who are already suspicious of or don’t trust the media are more likely to be fooled by a fake news story.
Correction: A previous version of this post said the Khashoggi murder took place in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, but it actually occurred in the Saudi consulate.