The Chilling Effect of Jamal Khashoggi

On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national and a permanent resident of the United States and a columnist for the Washington Post Global Opinion page, walked into the Saudi consulate — but never walked out. Since then, it has been speculated and widely assumed that he was killed by a team of men sent to Turkey by the presumptive heir to The Kingdom, Mohammad bin Salman.

The Turks say they have video and audio evidence proving Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the consulate as his finance’ waited, in vain, for him to come out. What was supposed to be a routine passport extension turned into a journalist’s worst nightmare.

Journalism, much like comedy, isn’t pretty. A newsroom is at once quiet and then a-buzz with the sounds of stressed out editors, reporters chasing down leads, copy editors and fact checkers scouring stories for mistakes both big and small. Production managers trimming stories, ad placement, column inches, word counts, deadlines, impromptu extensions, holding stories until the last minute. Early edition, late edition, Final.

That was my world for close to 25 years.

The story of Khashoggi is one of power, religion and truth. In his final column, written the day before he was killed and translated and published the day after he was reported missing, talked of the “old Arab order.” He mentioned that, according to the group Freedom House (https://freedomhouse.org/), only one Arabic country is ‘free.’ That would be Tunisia. Three others (Morocco, Jordan and Kuwait) are ‘partly free.’ The rest, aren’t. He continues:

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

He then writes of a friend and colleague, Saleh al-Shehi, a fellow Saudi who is now serving an “unwarranted” five-year prison term for speaking out against the House of Saud. He points out that Egypt’s government seizure of a newspaper “did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues,” nor did it “carry the consequence of backlash.”

It did however, create a sense of urgency at The Post. Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo, in a story online, reports that the staff is furious at the Saudi government and, not surprisingly, the White House for their changing stories and covering up a murder.

Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher, said a week ago, “The government of Saudi Arabia owes the Khashoggi family and the world a full and honest explanation of everything that happened to him, and we support the requests from Jamal’s family and the United Nations for an independent international investigation. The Saudi government can no longer remain silent, and it is essential that our own government and others push harder for the truth.”

They still haven’t. On Friday, in a twisted, Twilight Zone, 1984, Bizaro World statement, The Kingdom, after lying about Khashoggi’s ‘disappearance’ for two-and-a-half weeks, lied about what occurred in Istanbul on October 2. It is preposterous and outlandish to say the least and not worth writing. It is a lie, another lie governments tell to cover-up their dirty work.

By Sunday, the House of Saud had changed their story — again. Even in admitting their previous lies were lies, they couldn’t tell the complete truth. They admitted they killed Khashoggi in “a tragic mistake by ‘rouge agents’ within the Saudi government, but none connected to the Crown Prince. The Saudi’s arrested 15 men, including Mustafa al-Madani, the Khashoggi “body double” who walked out of the Saudi consulate in Khashoggi’s clothes and wearing a fake beard and glasses. CNN reports al-Madani was seen on surveillance video entering the world famous Blue Mosque about an hour before.

And if you believe that whopper, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale.

Further continuing in his final piece, Khashoggi writes, “There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.”

He also spoke of Radio Free Europe, which helped in the liberation of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. In closing, he wrote:

“The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

Then again, don’t we all?

Purveyor of Truth and Facts. Boarding school survivor. World traveler. Lifelong Detroiter. Loves good TV, movies, sports and friends and family. Mostly.