The disappearance and probable murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi is the biggest Mideast development in a long time, and once again the U.S. mainstream media is ignoring or downplaying key elements of the story:
* The mainstream is rightly starting to focus on the repressive history of the Saudi de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but is not emphasizing that he is also responsible for the armed onslaught against neighboring Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians, maybe more, and triggered the largest cholera epidemic in human history.
* The mainstream is pointing to Donald Trump’s close ties to the 33-year-old Crown Prince, without noting that support for the Saudi regime is longstanding and bipartisan; in 2011 Barack Obama approved $60 billion in arms sales to the kingdom, up to that point the largest weapons transaction in history.
* The mainstream is not noting that Israel is in a de facto alliance with the Saudis, (thus once again discrediting the tattered Clash of Civilizations theory).
* The mainstream — so far — is not reporting sufficiently on the huge, well-funded Saudi lobbying and Congressional bribing apparatus in the U.S.; you have to turn to this excellent exposé in The Nation, which reported that “More than a third of the members of Congress contacted by such a [public relations] firm [registered to promote Saudi interests] also received a campaign contribution from a foreign agent at that firm.”
Instead of pursuing these angles, the mainstream U.S. media is focussing on the minute details of Khashoggi’s disappearance inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey, and giving too much space to unbelievable Saudi denials.
(A shining exception to mainstream failure is the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah, who was Khashoggi’s editor at the paper’s Global Opinions section and who is appearing tirelessly on television asking for answers.)
The worst overall mainstream offender, unsurprisingly, is New York Times opinion writer Thomas Friedman, who had been the Crown Prince’s biggest cheerleader. In a rambling, whining column, Friedman tried to exonerate himself after his latest blunder. He opened his plea by violating journalistic ethics — he revealed that Khashoggi had been the source of an anonymous quote in one of his previous columns. The quote itself may have seemed mild. But if by some miracle Khashoggi is still alive in a Saudi prison somewhere, revealing that he spoke anonymously to a foreign reporter could have enraged his captors and jeopardized his life.
Friedman nowhere admitted he had been terribly wrong to gush over bin Salman as a “reformer” — just as he has never apologized for his disgusting, full-throated endorsement of the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. We repeat our standing call: “Fire Thomas Friedman.”
(Friedman, and others, continue to call the Crown Prince by his initials, “M.B.S.”, dishonestly claiming he is “commonly known” in that fashion. It’s doubtful he’s known that way in the Arab world, and the usage tends to humanize someone who turns out to be a repressive murderer.)
On a positive note, the awful crime in Turkey should at least put Saudi Arabia under closer scrutiny. One place to start is the excellent 2016 book by Medea Benjamin, of Code Pink, called Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.