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U.S. mainstream media ignores key elements of Saudi Arabia’s likely murder of Jamal Khashoggi

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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. 

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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25 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on October 9, 2018, 7:34 pm

    Media coverage of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

  2. DaBakr on October 9, 2018, 11:47 pm

    The “biggest” development out of the me ? I find it hard to believe the author really cares except to implicate Israel somehow

    • Misterioso on October 10, 2018, 10:38 am


      Sigh. Your comment further confirms that you have nothing of significance to say. It’s only a matter of time before Hasbara Central casts you adrift.

  3. Marnie on October 10, 2018, 2:05 am

    Such a great article James North. “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.”

    Are the United Kingdom’s politicians such filthy buggers who openly (or not) accept bribes like the united states do? I would normally call these types whores, but whores work quite hard for the money. Not the crooks in D.C.

    • HarryLaw on October 10, 2018, 11:44 am

      Marnie, yes they probably do accept bribes just like US Politicians, but Trump uses other methods on MbS “Trump told a campaign rally in Southaven, Mississippi, on Tuesday.
      “We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich? And I love the King … King Salman but I said ‘King, we’re protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military,”
      Don Vito Corleone: [Don Trump] “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”. In other words Trump is saying to the King ‘You have a nice dictatorship there, wouldn’t like anything to happen to it, know what I mean Guv’nor’.

    • John O on October 10, 2018, 12:44 pm


      This little poem by Humbert Wolfe explains how we do things in the UK:

      You cannot hope
      to bribe or twist,
      thank God! the
      British journalist.

      But, seeing what
      the man will do
      unbribed, there’s
      no occasion to.

      • Marnie on October 10, 2018, 7:23 pm

        Thank you @Harry Law, @John O

  4. John O on October 10, 2018, 3:59 am

    Never mind Friedman (whose favourite word is the first person singular pronoun). What on earth were journalists at the NYT thinking? Putting out material that, if Khashoggi is still alive, put him in grave peril. Do they not teach them how to cover kidnapping cases any more?

    • Lillian Rosengarten on October 10, 2018, 8:53 am

      Thanks for your fine article dear James North. By the way Da Bakr, I cannot stand your outrageous comments. Ugly and wasted.

      • captADKer on October 10, 2018, 9:48 am

        my impression as much about speculating israel in nefarious schemes as to rehabilitate medea benjamin after the orchestrated code pink kadebacle of the kavanaugh testimony. the unintended result, with certainty, has invigorated a monstrous progressive backlash.

      • DaBakr on October 10, 2018, 9:56 am


        So explain why, of all Middle Eastern , Turkish, Syrian(how many of them are dead, tortured or imprisoned?) and Russian plus Kurdish and Iranian journalists THIS story is the biggest “development” in ME politics? I am honoured you can not stand my commentary.

      • James North on October 10, 2018, 11:05 am

        Israel and Saudi Arabia are in a de facto alliance — which is why DaBakr and other minions of Hasbara Central will not criticize the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

      • Misterioso on October 10, 2018, 10:56 am


        “So explain why, of all Middle Eastern , Turkish, Syrian(how many of them are dead, tortured or imprisoned?) and Russian plus Kurdish and Iranian journalists THIS story is the biggest ‘development’ in ME politics?”

        Sigh. Once again, you shoot yourself in the foot. It seems the New York Times disagrees with you and considers the story to be of considerable significance.

        To wit:
        Breaking news, Oct. 10/18

        “Saudi writer was killed and dismembered in Istanbul consulate by hit squad deployed by Saudi leadership, report says.”

        “Top Saudi leaders deployed a 15-man hit squad to lie in wait for dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, The New York Times said in an explosive story.

        “Among the assassination team was a forensic expert who brought a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body after killing him, the Times reported on Tuesday, citing an unidentified ‘senior official’ as saying.”

        “The hit squad finished the murder operation within two hours and departed Turkey for various countries, said the Times’ source, citing information from ‘top Turkish officials.’

        “‘It is like Pulp Fiction,’ the senior Turkish official was quoted as saying, referring to the graphically violent 1994 Hollywood movie by director Quentin Tarantino.

        “Accusations the Saudi leadership directly ordered the alleged assassination of Khashoggi will put further pressure on the United States and other allies to demand a transparent investigation, with possible serious repercussions to bilateral relations if it does not come to fruition.

        “Saudi officials have denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and alleged murder, saying he left the consulate on October 2. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Riyadh prove his departure from the building.

        “The Turkish government hasn’t provided formal evidence that could back up the spate of anonymous allegations that the Saudi writer was killed inside the Istanbul consulate.

        “Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper with close ties to the government, named and published photos on Tuesday of the alleged 15-member Saudi assassination team accused of travelling to Istanbul on the day Khashoggi disappeared. The suspects are wanted by Turkish authorities for questioning.”

      • Mooser on October 10, 2018, 12:16 pm

        ” I am honoured you can not stand my commentary.”

        “Dabakr”, that’s not how you get the Blue Boxes filled.

      • DaBakr on October 10, 2018, 2:58 pm


        The dozens if not hundreds of journalists erdogan imprisoned, tortured and disappeared is not such a big story for you, I get that. Ditto for your favorite tyrannical regime of the mullahs. You’ll never rise above your partisan hack writing gig like this

      • DaBakr on October 10, 2018, 10:46 pm


        I will take your point of contention. I understand that in reference to Iran Israel and Saudi align but that hardly makes them friendly.
        . What I’m more interested in, and obviously I’m admitting I don’t know that much about the disappeared journo, why is this one reporter and his disappearance making such shock waves in us press. I understand why erdogan would milk it. But does the US admin really care about an insider to the KSA who might have gone off the rails. What’s his significance? (I understand the prince is more capricious then he likes to promote himself. Explain more if possible, I’m open. And I will totally criticize the alleged disappearance of it turns out the murder was true. This was not, afawk, a journalist working as a militant or spy. He was entitled to protection afaict. Angry Arab believes the mossad was involved yet at the same time accusers mossad of being the most inept service in the world.

  5. Boomer on October 10, 2018, 9:30 am

    I assume TF sees no reason to apologize for urging Bush to invade Iraq. After all, as he explained to Charlie Rose, after the fact:

    “We needed to go over there, basically, and take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble.… What they [Muslims] needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad and basically saying “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? You think this bubble fantasy, we’re just going to let it grow? Well, suck on this!” That, Charlie, is what this war was about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia! It was part of that bubble. We could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.”
    Charlie Rose (30 May 2003).

  6. HarryLaw on October 10, 2018, 10:30 am

    If thousands of deaths of men women and children through US supported bombing of Yemen and the resulting cholera epidemic cannot change US support from this depraved Saudi dictatorship one mans disappearance will not do it.
    This quote from the film ‘Ace in the hole’ tells you everything you need to know about both journalism and human nature….
    Charles Tatum [Kirk Douglas] One man’s better than 84. Didn’t they teach you that?

    Herbie Cook: Teach me what?

    Charles Tatum: Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn’t say with you. One man’s different, you want to know all about him. That’s human interest. Three more quotes from that film for all you budding journalists…
    Bad news sells best. ‘Cause good news is no news.
    • It’s a good story today. Tomorrow, it’ll be yesterday’s news and they’ll wrap a fish in it.
    • I can handle big news and little news. And if there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog.

    • Elizabeth Block on October 10, 2018, 12:57 pm

      Well, sometimes one person’s death has more effect than thousands. Think of Aylan Kurdi, the little boy dead on the beach, whose picture caused Canadians to demand that their government take in Syrian refugees, and caused many Canadians to take action. Toronto’s Quaker meeting is expecting its second family soon.

      As for Tom Freedman, yech. I am SO tired of him, and so tired of his opinions being accorded the respect they do not deserve. Did he ever see a war he didn’t like?

      • John O on October 10, 2018, 1:25 pm

        Judging by the readers’ comments at the NYT, they are heartily sick of him, too.

      • HarryLaw on October 11, 2018, 6:14 am

        Good point Elizabeth, I think what I really meant was that American interests [especially when one of its best friends is concerned, Israel or Saudi Arabia] always Trumps its human rights concerns. In the case of Saudi Arabia the petrodollar helps keep the US dollar as the worlds reserve currency, its purchases of military equipment running into hundreds of billions of Dollars keeps the US military Industrial complex rich in funds, and other financial arrangements favoring the US. Not forgetting the Saudis good relationship with Israel. When taken together this mans disappearance is more of an embarrassment to the US than anything else.

  7. Kay24 on October 10, 2018, 6:14 pm

    Of course they will not mention anything that hurts the US and Israel in this case.

    We are making billions of dollars in weapons for MBS to drop bombs over Yemen, and Saudis new best friend must be fully involved in training, logistics, and advice. This assassination reminds me so much of Israeli death squads that went into Dubai and assassinated a Palestinian.

  8. Citizen on October 12, 2018, 8:50 am

    The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy by @NatCounterPunch

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