alleged murder of journalist reveals lack of accountability in U.S. foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman finally admitted to the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The government announced Khashoggi died in a fistfight with Saudi officers in their Istanbul consulate. Many are skeptical of this explanation.  

The suspected reason behind his death is much darker. It involves the torture and violent killing of a prominent journalist and outspoken critic.

President Trump and his administration have been reluctant to question Saudi Arabia and answer calls for greater accountability. When the president was asked if he believed the Saudi account of what happened to Khashoggi, he said, “I do. I do. Again, its early. We haven’t finished our review, or investigation.”

 A tweet from @FoxNewsResearch pointing out past business dealings between the Saudi royal family and the Trump Organization

A tweet from @FoxNewsResearch pointing out past business dealings between the Saudi royal family and the Trump Organization

This statement came just two days after the President insisted Saudi officials had no knowledge of the incident.

The reluctance of the Trump administration to hold the Saudis accountable is not anything new. It is a reflection of American foreign policy, starting from about the 1940s, towards the Kingdom. The U.S. has always turned a blind eye towards the Saudi government’s worst behavior.

Saudi Arabia serves as in important partner to the U.S. in the region. It promotes American foreign interests, is a major producer of oil and offers a geographic outpost for the military.

The Trump administration’s policy in the Middle East, for which the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner plays a key role, includes isolating Iran and depends on the wealthy Persian Gulf state to do this.

Past presidents, Republican and Democrat, have done very little to confront the vast human rights abuses committed by the Saudis, within the country’s borders and abroad. If the United States does not make human rights a priority in its foreign policy, the result will be more incidents like the killing of Khashoggi. By not holding tyrannical regimes accountable for their actions because it serves our foreign policy interests, we allow for abuses to persist.

 

President Trump celebrates journalist’s assault at Montana rally

At a rally in May of 2017, Greg Gianforte, a then-Republican candidate running for Montana’s only seat in the House of Representatives, was asked a couple of questions about his healthcare policy by Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs. Gianforte got angry at this and attacked Jacobs, picking him up and then slamming him to the ground.

Alicia Acuna, a Fox News reporter who was at the rally and witnessed the attack said, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” She said Gianforte then began punching him as he moved on top of the journalist while yelling, “I’m sick and tired of this.”

Gianforte was later charged with assault, which he pleaded guilty to. His punishment included a six-month sentence, 40 hours of community service as well as payments to the court and in restitution to Jacobs.

Despite this, voters in Montana still elected Gianforte and in a rally in Montana last week, President Trump praised Gianforte for the assault.

“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy.”

President Trump praises Montana's GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, at a rally on Oct. 18, for slamming a Guardian reporter to the ground

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin writes President Trump, “tonight celebrates an assault on a reporter in Montana at the same time as his Administration tries to minimize the murder of a reporter in Turkey.”

Encouraging violence, especially against journalists, is dangerous. It is a tool used by the autocrats of the world and signals that political opponents, or anyone that questions those in power, are not deserving of safety and protection.

 

Responsible Reporting practices during a mass shooting

One sign that something was wrong inside the Capital Gazette’s office came in the form of a tweet. An intern, Anthony Messenger, tweeted “Active shooter 888 Bestgate please help us.”

Soon after, reporter Phil Davis tweeted that a “Gunman shot through the glass door to the office” and opened fire on employees. Reporters who were not in the office also began tweeting, while reporters from other outlets who knew members of the Gazette staff tweeted out any information they could find.

A similar situation played at when students came under attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The first post came from Twitter user @TheCaptainAidan when he wrote, “I am in a school shooting right now..”

A snapchat video that was widely circulated on Twitter shows students huddled on the floor as gun shots go off in the background.

With information flowing through social media especially on platforms like Twitter where it’s difficult to discern what’s real and what isn’t, reporters should ask themselves: Where did this information come from? Is it factual? Is it relevant?

Kelly McBride and Anne Glover detail some steps reporters can take to verify information, report responsibly and stop the spread of misinformation.

An interesting point they make is that reporters should side on the side of safety for the person they’re contacting. If there is an active shooting taking place, a message could distract a witness or make them a potential target.

They also say reporters should go through a person’s Twitter feed and see if there is more context to a single tweet and to be clear and honest about their purpose for contacting a source.

Reporters also bear a responsibility to report in a way that doesn’t glamorize or highlight the shooter himself. This includes not showing the shooters’ picture repeatedly or talking extensively about the shooters manifestos or obsessions.

In an article for Vox, Jaclyn Schildkraut says “ideal coverage would emphasize the how of the attack (the methods though which the perpetrator was able to carry it out) and the why (motivation, mindset).” She says this can be done without talking about the who.

 

From Judge to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

On Saturday, October 6th Judge Brett Kavanaugh became Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Senator Susan Collins pushed Kavanaugh’s nomination with a 45-minute speech, which was sharply criticized by some and applauded by others. Washington Post columnist, Dana Milbank, calls Collins’ speech a “Declaration of Convince.”

Unlike many of Collins’ critics, Milbank doesn’t take issue with her defense of Kavanaugh based on the lack of evidence that a sexual assault took place. In fact, he claims Collins offered a nuanced defense of Kavanaugh on the allegations. Her “Declaration of Cowardice,” Milbank says, is encapsulated by the blame she placed on Democrats, without acknowledging the behavior of President Trump or Senate Republicans in her speech.  

One of the most common criticisms of Susan Collins I came across can be summed up by Alexis Grenell’s opinion piece in the New York Times. Grenell calls Collins a “gender traitor” and the kind of woman who agrees with “President Trump that ‘It’s a very scary time for young men in America.”

She goes on to say that women like Collins benefit from patriarchy by trading off their privilege to “monopolize resource for mutual gain.”

On the other hand, Collins’ supporters say she restored reason to the confirmation process. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, in an opinion piece titled “Susan Collins Consents”, says “her seriousness and thoroughness on the floor of the Senate” deserves gratitude for drawing her colleagues and the American people back to the “meaning of political responsibility.”

It seems that much of the disappointment from Collins’ “yes” vote came from the hope that she, as a frequent critic of the President and as a senator who has voted against party lines in the past, would stand up for women and take a stance.

We have to remember that Collins is one of five Republican women in the Senate, of which only one did not vote “yes” in the confirmation. Her opinions reflect those of many women in our country.

In an episode of The Daily, a podcast from the New York Times, Senator Diane Feinstein recalls being a college student watching the Anita Hill hearing. She talks about the rage she and many young women felt while watching. The following year, 1991, was coined the “Year of the Women,”

Judging from history, this hearing and many of the events that have taken place in our country over the past couple of years, could serve as a catalyst for a second “Year of the Woman”, bringing forth decades of change.

 

Turkey concludes Washington Post writer is killed in Saudi Consulate

Turkey has concluded that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor and prominent journalist from Saudi Arabia, was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week. Khashoggi entered the consulate on Tuesday to obtain a document certifying his divorce.

His Turkish fiancée waited outside for 11 hours, but Khashoggi never came out.

Turkish investigators say they believe a 15-member team came from Saudi Arabia with the idea of a preplanned murder.

Saudi Arabia has denied all accusations and claims Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after he arrived.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reiterated this statement but couldn’t provide any evidence.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have a strained relationships, as both powers are competing for influence in the region. The killing could mark an escalation in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to silence any dissenting voices.

The crown prince has recently overseen hundreds of arrests, many of journalists and activists, in a crackdown under the guise of “national security.”

On Friday, the Washington Post printed a blank column in its newspaper as a sign of solidarity with the missing journalist.

The U.S. has yet to release a statement on the potential killing but based on our trajectory as a strong ally and friend of The Kingdom, its seems unlikely that the President will take any kind of critical stance on Saudi action, let along the killing of a journalist.