Jamal Khashoggi, the man and the myth

Jamal Khashoggi the myth is the guy we read about in the Washington Post — fearless democrat, opponent of tyranny. Jamal Khashoggi the man is more like the guy Joseph Duggan writes about in American Greatness — a charming, cynical Saudi power player for whom democracy was an ends to a means, at best.

That’s why even the New York Times could not quite go along with the version of Khashoggi the Post has been peddling.

Duggan says this about his lunch encounter with Khashoggi in 2012:

[Khashoggi] and I understood one another. Just as I did not commit the absurdity of claiming to be an independent energy issues writer who by pure coincidence happened to be on the payroll of the Saudi government’s oil company, he made no pretense that Al-Arab [the network he was launching] would be an enterprise in independent journalism. There was, and there still is, no such thing as independent journalism in Saudi Arabia. Al-Arab was intended as an elaborate influence operation to project Saudi power just as Al Jazeera projects Qatari power.

In other words, Khashoggi wasn’t a journalist or a democrat; he was a propagandist for an authoritarian regime. Did he ever become a genuine democrat? Duggan doesn’t think so:

Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia in late 2017, the same time that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman detained Khashoggi’s patron Prince Alwaleed and other royal and non-royal oligarchs at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton on allegations of corruption. Khashoggi soon was writing occasional columns for the Washington Post. Now that his faction of the royal family was on the outs, he had undergone an epiphany. He had discovered the desirability of respect for human rights, and even democracy! In his Post articles he waged a persistent campaign of criticism of the crown prince.

Was the new Khashoggi a lonely, idealistic individual or the instrument of Saudi factions in opposition to the ascendant crown prince? Common sense would suggest there’s greater probability in the latter thesis.

(Emphasis added)

What, then, was the nature of Khashoggi’s relationship with the Post? Duggan describes it this way:

Khashoggi, and whoever were his masters in the campaign opposing Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were in a transactional relationship with the Washington Post. They used the Post to undermine their rival and elevate their status. The Post in turn used Khashoggi for its ends of virtue-signaling and accumulating the sort of prestige and power it values. The Post and Team Khashoggi were cooperating, consciously and I daresay cynically, in influence operations for their mutual benefit.

I think Duggan is certainly correct about Khashoggi’s purposes. The description of the Post’s may be too harsh. What Duggan calls “virtue signaling” might be a genuine desire to see the Middle East become more democratic.

It may well be true, as Duggan says, that there is no democracy movement in Saudi Arabia, or any culture to support democracy there. Certainly, Khashoggi’s faction was not part of a democracy movement.

But there’s nothing wrong with the Post calling for democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia and running op-ed pieces by Khashoggi in support of this call. (Duggan hints that there may be some dark purpose, beyond “virtue signaling,” that underlies the Post’s decision to call for democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, but he doesn’t say what that dark purpose might be).

There is something wrong, though, with the Post’s dishonest lionization of Khashoggi. As Duggan concludes:

Jamal Khashoggi, while possibly having been a decent human being regardless of what he actually did for a living, definitely was a man to whom democracy, and the culture necessary for democracy, were alien. . . .

Big Media’s constant description of Khashoggi as having been a mere “journalist” is a huge and consequential deception. It’s not clear exactly for whom or for what powers and interests Khashoggi was working when he wrote his Washington Post columns, but anyone who understands how the world operates should have a high degree of confidence in saying that he was never a journalist in the sense that word is understood in the free nations of the West.

Of course, he had the writing, editing and broadcasting skills of a journalist, but so do a myriad of other foreign intelligence agents around the world who use journalism as a cover—and in the case of publishing or broadcasting enterprises owned by authoritarian governments, it’s a completely see-through cover.

To mischaracterize Khashoggi as having been a journalist is a disservice to the few independent journalists who remain on the planet. It’s a dishonor to women and men who don’t have lavish lifestyles and who report with integrity without being agents of foreign governments.

The Washington Post, which has a direct pipeline to the CIA that bypasses the White House, knows this all too well. . . .

Jamal Khashoggi was a lively, attractive, interesting human being. No one deserves his cruel fate. His murder was a horrific crime, not only against one man but also against stability and security in the Middle East. That said, justice is not served by Big Media’s misleading reporting. Justice requires reporting clearly and honestly who and what Khashoggi really was.

The man, not the myth.

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