Jamal Khashoggi’s fake op-eds

The Washington Post has spent months lionizing Jamal Khashoggi — the victim of a brutal murder ordered, it seems, by the Saudi Arabian government — as a fighter for democracy and a journalist of the highest integrity. The Post lauded Khashoggi so persistently that Time Magazine named him its Person of the Year.

Though condemning the murder of Khashoggi, we have pushed back against the Post’s idealized version of its former op-ed contributor. We did so here and here, for example.

Now, buried in a Washington Post article about Khashoggi’s final months, we find this passage:

Perhaps most problematic for Khashoggi were his connections to an organization funded by Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis, Qatar. Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government. Khashoggi also appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organization. . . .

Editors at The Post’s opinion section, which is separate from the newsroom, said they were unaware of these arrangements. . .

(Emphasis added)

Liz Sly, the Post’s Beirut bureau chief, describes the news about Khashoggi’s op-eds as “worrying[].” This seems like an understatement.

The Post published op-eds that at times were suggested, researched, and drafted by an affiliate of the Qatari government, a government that since the mid-1990s has been sharply at odds with Saudi Arabia. In effect, these were fake op-eds. By running them, the Post became a tool of Qatar — an absolute monarchy, by the way. After Khashoggi’s death, the Post compounded the offense with a drumbeat of fake news about Khashoggi’s alleged independence and integrity.

I take the Post at its word when it says it didn’t know about Qatar’s role in producing Khashoggi’s op-eds. But in embracing Khashoggi, the Post ignored several red flags. Anyway, knowingly or not, the Post served as the vehicle for spreading Qatari propaganda.

As for Khashoggi, he was never really a journalist. It would be more accurate to describe him, as David Reaboi does, as “a highly-partisan operative who worked with a handler to publish propaganda at the behest of the Emirate of Qatar. . .in other words, an agent of influence.”

This doesn’t justify murdering Khashoggi. But the case for changing American foreign policy towards the Saudis — e.g. by no longer backing the Saudis in the Yemen war, by ending arms sales, and/or by working to topple the Saudi Crown Prince — rested not just on the murder, but also on the claim that the Crown Prince’s victim was a genuine journalist, not a Qatari operative.

I don’t believe the murder Khashoggi would warrant radical policy changes even if he had been a pure journalist and democrat. The killing by the Saudis of an enemy agent of influence certainly doesn’t justify such reversals.

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