The Media Today

Remembering the man at the center of an international crisis

October 18, 2018

What comes next in the story of Jamal Khashoggi? As the grisly details of the Saudi journalist’s murder have become public and the focus has shifted to the official response from the White House, The Washington Post is trying to ensure that the man at the center of the story is not forgotten.

The Post’s Thursday op-ed page features an illustration of a smiling Khashoggi above his final column, received the day after he went missing in Istanbul. In the piece, Khashoggi notes the lack of free expression across the Arab world and argues for an independent international forum for Arab voices and stories. “The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011,” Khashoggi wrote, lamenting that grand expectations “were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.” Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the decision to publish Khashoggi’s column, his editor Karen Attiah said, “We wanted to bring it back to his words. To his ideas. To his thoughts, and who he was as a person.”

Meanwhile, the Saudis’ gamble that the international community would not much miss a single journalist has gone bust amid a deluge of coverage that has been driven by the slow drip of information from Turkish and American officials. Reporting by the Post, The New York Times, and other outlets has unearthed mounting evidence that suggests the Saudi crown prince at least knew of plans to harm Khashoggi and may have been directly involved in the operation that resulted in his murder. Yet President Trump appears eager to avoid any conclusions that would damage the US–Saudi relationship. The Post’s Shane Harris reported Wednesday night that “the Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president’s closest foreign allies.”

RELATED: Reexamining coverage of MBS after Khashoggi’s disappearance

Trump’s willingness to float the “rogue killers” theory, as well as his insistence that the kingdom’s leaders are being judged “guilty until proven innocent” has focused renewed attention on his penchant for excusing the actions of authoritarian leaders. The president “has had harsher words in the last week or so for Stormy Daniels, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Taylor Swift, than he has had for the Saudis responsible for the likely butcher and slaughter of a Washington Post columnist,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said on the air Wednesday.

As the details of Khashoggi’s murder trickle out and the global implications reverberate, one conclusion seems clear: MBS, a rising star on the international stage, is now tarnished. “If there is any lesson to be learned from this terrible affair,” writes The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins, “it’s how blind so much of official Washington and the American press were to MBS’s true nature.”

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Below, more on the latest developments in the Khashoggi case.

  • In the newsroom: Khashoggi’s death has galvanized the Post in its effort to spread his words and hold his killers accountable, reports Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo. “Khashoggi, as a contributing columnist who had only been writing for a year, didn’t have extensive ties or relationships throughout the newsroom, which operates separately from the opinion side,” Pompeo notes. “But his fate—the gruesome reports of what happened to him, the international implications, and what it means for a free press—has subsequently set the Post into a frenzy.”
  • Secondhand information: CJR’s Amanda Darrach writes on the difficulty reporters have faced in covering of Khashoggi’s (still not independently verified) murder. “The struggle to double check evidence when the only sources of information—the Turkish government and closely intertwined Turkish media—are politically biased has been a challenge for journalists reporting the Khashoggi case,” Darrach writes.
  • A cover-up in plain sight?: Commenting on the Post article about the White House’s attempt to spin the story, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall tweeted: “This is a remarkable piece. The first graf openly states as a matter of fact that the White House and the royal family are working together on a cover up of MBS’s role in Khashoggi’s murder.” The Post’s first sentence: “The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”


Other notable stories:

  • President Trump has ramped up media appearances recently, giving near daily interviews in advance of the midterms. CNN’s Brian Stelter and Jeremy Diamond report that Trump has been invigorated by his media blitz as he takes on the role of the White House’s top spokesman.
  • The Times’s David Streitfeld profiles Craig Newmark, whose recent donation to New York Public Radio brings his total philanthropic efforts involving media to $50 million over the past year. The Craigslist founder tells Streitfeld that, “A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.”
  • NiemanLab’s Laura Hazard Owen dissects Facebook’s role in the “pivot to video” fad. The social network “vastly overestimated average viewing time for video ads on its platform,” according to a 2016 WSJ report, and a new lawsuit from a group of small advertisers alleges that Facebook knew about the issue long before it admitted to the discrepancy. “If that is true,” Owen writes, “it may have had enormous consequences—not just for advertisers deciding to shift resources from television to Facebook, but also for news organizations, which were grappling with how to allocate editorial staff and what kinds of content creation to prioritize.”
  • On the anniversary of the killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Margaret Atwood questions why justice for her murder remains elusive. “The case has stalled and there are major concerns about the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the Maltese authorities’ investigation,” Atwood writes. “Despite her reporting on corruption at the highest levels of government, no politician has been questioned.”
  • For CJR, Salem Solomon offers a solid critique of news outlets employing outsiders’ terms to describe cities and countries in Africa. “DW, a German outlet, has asked whether Johannesburg might be the ‘Dubai of Africa,’” Solomon writes. “MSN believes that Africa’s Dubai might instead be Addis Ababa. And CNBC thinks Joburg could be the New York of Africa. South Africa, after all, is the ‘America of Africa.’”
  • On Tuesday, NPR named veteran newspaper editor Nancy Barnes as the network’s permanent chief news executive. The position had been vacant for nearly a year after the firing of Michael Oreskes amid allegations of sexual harassment. Barnes had served most recently as the editor in chief of the Houston Chronicle, and had previously led the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.