The Arabianizing of the American Media

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The Arabianizing of the American Media

Kurt Barlow
This post was updated on .
Perhaps there's a down side to a never ending war in Arabia (besides hundreds of thousands of dead people)

"An Improvised Explosive Device

News of the News: How operatives used the Khashoggi murder and the American press for political ends

Jamal Khashoggi was not, as the press had insistently reported, a U.S. person, meaning a permanent U.S. resident, a green-card holder, or an American citizen. Rather, he was a foreign national who owned an apartment in northern Virginia, and was in the country on an O-1 visa, granted to individuals with "extraordinary ability."

The media patched that hole by inventing a new category for Khashoggi. Rather than a U.S. person, he was a U.S., or American, resident--a phony designation that could just as easily apply to an exchange student or an undocumented alien.

Then, in the wake of the operation's success, a week after the Senate vote, the Washington Post dropped a story in the middle of the holiday lull that sought to launder the paper’s role in the operation. Buried halfway through an article describing Khashoggi's difficult and lonely American exile was evidence that he was neither a dissident nor a journalist. He was something else, evidence of the new direction the press has taken in the Trump era, a sign of something troubling that no one really wants to explore in prime time.

Khashoggi had requested $2 million from the Saudi government for a think tank in Washington, which, according to the article, would "work on behalf of Riyadh 'to regain its positive role and image.'" In other words, he was brokering his services to influence U.S. policy and public opinion on behalf of MBS, until he was pulled in the other direction--by Saudi Arabia’s Gulf Cooperation Council rival, Qatar.

The background of this bidding war was that, in June 2017, Saudi and its allies, particularly the United Arab Emirates, had launched their own campaign against Qatar. The reason, according to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, was Doha's support for Sunni extremism, its flirtation with Iran, and efforts to interfere in the domestic affairs of other GCC states. A major battleground in this inter-Arab conflict is Washington.

It is no secret that much of Washington is now getting paid directly by one side or the other, or otherwise drawing on the deep pockets of oil-rich Arab states who are engaged in a vicious propaganda war against each other, with the aim of influencing U.S. Middle East policy. The New York Times, for instance, sourced a story about Trump donor Elliott Broidy to emails that Broidy alleges were stolen by Qatari hackers--the Times euphemistically described the source as "an anonymous group critical of Mr. Broidy’s advocacy of American foreign policies in the Middle East."

From there, the terrain where the GCC proxy war in Washington intersects with the larger partisan conflict between Trump and anti-Trump is easy to read. Because Trump is close to the Saudis, and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has reportedly developed a working relationship, maybe a friendship, with MBS, Democratic operatives see Riyadh as a proxy target in their efforts against the White House. Saudi Arabia has long been seen by Democrats as a province of the Republican party, at least since the days of George H.W. Bush. And those pushing realignment with Iran, including former Obama officials, believe that whatever hurts Saudi Arabia helps Iran.

Jamal Khashoggi was used as a pawn in a multilevel game of chess. Yes, he was himself an intelligence operative. His jobs at Arab media organizations came courtesy of the powerful patrons, like former head of Saudi intelligence Turki al-Faisal, whose interests he represented for decades through the media. But the Post story suggests, inadvertently, that Khashoggi was not the mastermind of anything. He was outmaneuvered, not only by the forces lined up against him but also by those who ostensibly supported him.

Khashoggi was handled on behalf of the Qataris by former U.S. foreign service officer Maggie Mitchell Salem, an executive at the Qatar Foundation International. In WhatsApp messages that, as Salem explained in a tweet, she shared with the Post, she urged him "to take a harder line against the Saudi government." In brief, she used Khashoggi's byline to run an anti-Saudi campaign through the Washington Post. The Qatar Foundation International did not respond by press time to an email asking whether Qatari officials directed Salem to assist Khashoggi or if any were aware she was assisting him.

As the story revealed, Salem proposed story ideas to Khashoggi. She drafted articles, and reviewed them before publication. Contrary to any normative journalistic practice, neither Salem’s name nor any mention of the Qatar Foundation International appeared anywhere in those articles.

As it turns out, the holder of a U.S. visa granted to those with extraordinary abilities didn't even write English. Because his "English abilities," according to the article, "were limited," Qatar Foundation International paid for a translator, who as it happens also worked at the Qatari embassy. When asked by email whether the Post was aware Khashoggi's English-language abilities were limited when it began its relationship with the author, and if the paper helped him obtain his visa, editor of the Post opinions page Fred Hiatt did not respond.

The translator delivered the last column attributed to Khashoggi the day after he was reported missing, according to a note Khashoggi's editor at the Post, Karen Attiah, appended to it. According to Hiatt, the final column was filed a day before he entered the consulate. Hiatt did not respond to an email requesting clarification.

It appears that Salem approached the Post with her correspondence with Khashoggi because she and the paper had a stake in controlling the damage in case the text messages were hacked--hacking people's phones and computers, often by foreign states, and handing the resulting products to favored journalists now being part of the common practice of journalism at both the New York Times and the Washington Post, not to mention ostensibly less scrupulous outlets. As Salem tweeted "the state of surveillance of him is clear. And with it, the risk others would deliberately distort our relationship."

Yet the entire story about Khashoggi--that he was a U.S. person, a dissident, a journalist--was false. He was a Saudi national whose murder was used to launch a successful intelligence operation targeting his home country and U.S. policy. The news was fake, but the information campaign set off by his murder was real."

The dagger war continues, both in the light and the shadows.
No matter what you do, you'll never ride away from you.
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Re: The Arabianizing of the American Media

How do I cash in on this?

I mean, give ME the $2 million and I can do a whole lot of Tweeting, man.
"You wanna be a witch? Then burn."