The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, along with mounting evidence that the Saudi government was involved in his killing, has brought a fresh round of scrutiny to the kingdom’s actions at home and abroad. Look no further than the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, where the entire above-the-fold space was dedicated to articles on Saudi Arabia. It’s not as if there hasn’t been good reporting on issues like the war in Yemen and the Saudi leadership’s underhanded tactics in the past, but the Khashoggi incident has thrust those stories onto front pages and into national news broadcasts.
The Times’s Declan Walsh and Tyler Hicks report from the front lines in Yemen, where the Saudi-led war “has ground on for more than three years, killing thousands of civilians and creating what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Walsh notes that “it took the crisis over the apparent murder of the dissident Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate two weeks ago for the world to take notice.”
The media world is increasingly, if belatedly, taking notice of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s repression at home and misadventures around the globe as the fallout from the killing of Khashoggi, an American resident and Washington Post columnist, continues. This morning, the Post’s front page features an in-depth look at the “sophisticated Saudi influence machine that has shaped policy and perceptions in Washington for decades, batting back critiques of the oil-rich kingdom by doling out millions to lobbyists, blue-chip law firms, prominent think tanks and large defense contractors.” Meanwhile, the crown prince’s detainment of the Lebanese prime minister, jailing of women’s right activists in Saudi Arabia, and blockade of Qatar have received fresh attention as the world reconsiders the image of a man who cast himself as a youthful refromer.
President Trump, who drew America even closer to the kingdom’s leadership, has reacted to Khashoggi’s murder with wildly inconsistent responses, accepting on Friday the Saudi explanation that Khashoggi died after attempting to fight his way out of the consulate only to tell the Post on Saturday that “obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies.” As he attempts to maintain the relationship an American ally, Trump faces a growing bipartisan consensus that the US must punish the Saudis for their role in Khashoggi’s death.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the crown prince was “shocked by the backlash” that has followed Khashoggi’s murder, and, as the Times’s Maureen Dowd argues, he has reason to feel that way. The American alliance with Saudi Arabia has “always been poisoned by cynical bargains,” Dowd writes. Trump isn’t the first US president to attempt to look the other way when Saudi leadership has been involved in an atrocity. “It was accepted wisdom that it was futile to press the Saudis on the feudal, the degradation of women and human rights atrocities, because it would just make them dig in their heels,” she continues. Why it took the murder of a journalist to spark more intense scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s role in the world is a question worth asking, but the media spotlight is now clearly focused on the kingdom’s leadership, and it does not appear to be dimming any time soon.
Below, more on the coverage of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and Jamal Khashoggi.
- Jamal Khashoggi, 1958-2018: The Post’s Sunday front page featured an obituary for Khashoggi, who was described as a man who “spent his life straddling uncomfortable boundaries between occupations and interests that often seemed in conflict.”
- Trump and a murdered journalist: CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope writes that “until the death of Jamal Khashoggi, it was possible to debate whether Trump was an opportunist or a showman or a poser, when it came to his public attacks against the media.” But the president’s reaction to Khashoggi’s murder has shown the truth: “Trump doesn’t care about a dead journalist because he doesn’t care about journalism.”
- The Post’s approach: CNN’s Brian Stelter covers the Post’s attempts to pressure the US government to act while also keeping Khashoggi’s memory alive. “It has taken a multi pronged approach: Newsroom reporters have dug for information and filed multiple stories a day while opinion writers have written forceful editorials and columns. And [Publisher and CEO Fred] Ryan has issued several statements, communicating on behalf of the paper as a whole,” Stelter writes.
- The Saudi image makers: The Times’s Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard, and Mike Isaac report on a “troll army” employed by Saudi leadership as part of “a broad effort dictated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close advisers to silence critics both inside Saudi Arabia and abroad.”
- No sanctions: Despite growing pressure from lawmakers, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it is too early to consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia, reports the Journal’s Ian Talley. Mnuchin, who will visit Saudi Arabia on Monday, said the two countries “have very important issues that we continue to focus on.”
- In the kingdom: The Post’s Kevin Sullivan reports that many Saudis are rallying around their prince, viewing Khashoggi’s murder and the backlash it has cause as part of a foreign plot. “Saudi media, largely controlled by the state, present a pro-government version of events dramatically at odds with what the rest of world’s media is reporting,” Sullivan writes.
Other notable stories:
- The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg visits Brownsville, Texas, where the news trucks have departed but the story continues. Back in June, journalists flocked to the border town to cover Trump’s family separation policy, “but that was when Brownsville was riding the crest of The Algorithm as the trending topic of the day,” Rutenberg writes in his look at the race for ratings and clicks in our modern media landscape.
- The Trump administration’s effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law leads the Times’s front page this morning. After the piece published online, Media Matters’s Matt Gertz highlighted credulous coverage of Trump’s supposedly progressive stance on LGBTQ issues during the 2016 campaign.
- In a surprise move, Facebook hired former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as its VP of global affairs and communications. CJR’s resident British correspondent Jon Allsop writes that, despite “withering bemusement” in the UK over the decision to hire the failed politician, Clegg is actually a good fit for Facebook as it faces stringent new oversight from the EU.
- On CNN’s Reliable Sources, Stelter, Dara Lind, and Max Boot examine the way Fox News and President Trump have stoked fear in their descriptions of a “caravan” of Central Americans making their way north. “It is demagoguery…It is also, I believe, racism and nativism,” Boot said.
- San Francisco magazine is “fighting for its life,” facing budget cuts and increasing editorial involvement from its parent company, reports CJR’s Andrew McCormick. All but two of San Francisco’s staffers quit or announced their intention to depart the outlet after the magazine’s owner, Modern Luxury, implemented recent changes, McCormick writes.