Sunday, November 27, 2022

Opinion | Why The Atlantic didn’t press Mohammed bin Salman harder on Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination

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Though Saudi leaders initially denied involvement, the Turks had bugged the constructing; this was an awfully well-documented atrocity. Faced with overwhelming audio proof of his nation’s culpability, Mohammed ultimately took duty with out taking duty. “Absolutely not,” mentioned Mohammed when requested by CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell whether or not he’d ordered the execution. “This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”

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He escaped prying journalists, too. The Atlantic’s March 3 piece, written by employees author Graeme Wood, famous that his final interview with a non-Saudi outlet was greater than two years in the past. During this era, the crown prince, wrote Wood, “hid from public view, as if hoping the Khashoggi murder would be forgotten. It hasn’t been.” (Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg joined Wood in interviewing Mohammed.)

The Atlantic’s interrogation of Mohammed on an early contender for crime of the century was skinny. Asked if he’d ordered the assassination, Mohammed responded it was “obvious” that he hadn’t. “It hurt me and it hurt Saudi Arabia, from a feelings perspective,” mentioned Mohammed. Mohammed additionally claimed that his presumption of innocence underneath worldwide human rights legislation had been violated and that Saudi Arabia had punished the accountable events, in distinction to U.S. atrocities comparable to torture at Guantánamo Bay.

We requested Wood if the Atlantic had questioned Mohammed in regards to the dismemberment and the bone noticed. He responded:

No, I didn’t ask what implements had been used to homicide and dismember Jamal, and my reporting didn’t focus on the mechanics of the butchery. It has been established to a excessive diploma of certainty that Jamal’s corpse was desecrated. To me that issues greater than the model of {hardware}.

MBS had already denied involvement, to us and to others, so these questions would have elicited extra of the identical. If this had been a televised interview, maybe we might have requested these questions for dramatic impact. Instead we wished to know what the longer term king thought of Islamic jurisprudence; the position of the non secular police; absolute vs. constitutional monarchy; U.S.-Saudi relations; corporal and capital punishment; his intra-family struggles; his resolution to imprison a few of his family and this resolution’s relevance to corruption in his household; and so on. The alternative was between asking about this vary of points or signaling my advantage, and I selected the previous.

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Withholding questions since you suppose the interviewee gained’t reply them shouldn’t be precisely fearless journalism. Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, says there are a number of key questions that Mohammed should reply, comparable to the placement of Khashoggi’s stays. The Atlantic didn’t ask about that, both.

And in a passage that many in comparison with an O.J. Simpson-style quasi-confession, Mohammed advised the Atlantic that if he did order the deaths of op-ed writers, the Post columnist wouldn’t advantage concentrating on. “Khashoggi would not even be among the top 1,000 people on the list,” mentioned Mohammed, who implausibly claimed he’d by no means learn a bit by Khashoggi. “If you’re going to go for another operation like that, for another person, it’s got to be professional and it’s got to be one of the top 1,000.” (See Post columnist Karen Attiah’s column on this entrance.)

This was the Atlantic’s probability to step in with a forceful corrective. Not solely was Mohammed credibly accused of ordering the assassination of Khashoggi, however right here he was dissing his sufferer as an ankle-biter who couldn’t presumably have pierced his autocratic radar. As The Post reported in 2018, Saud al-Qahtani — a prime aide to Mohammed — was sufficiently involved with Khashoggi’s work to position menacing calls to the columnist. According to “Blood and Oil,” the Saudi royal household had come to see Khashoggi as a “grave national security threat” by way of his means to unify Saudis who opposed “MBS’s reforms and style of running the country.”

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Instead, the Atlantic whiffed, permitting Mohammed to attenuate his dismembered countryman with out resistance. “We did not rebut this claim because our readers are not idiots,” responded Wood, suggesting that each one the readers who account for the Atlantic’s 830,000-plus complete circulation stroll round with a command of the Saudi dissident hierarchy.

None of that is to counsel that the Atlantic story is devoid of advantage. It’s a bit of enterprise journalism stemming from Wood’s seven reporting journeys to Saudi Arabia. There are compelling scenes, vivid characters and a low-to-the-ground analysis of how Mohammed’s reforms are enjoying out from metropolis to metropolis. There’s a piece on a program to reform former Islamist militants, one in all whom enthused to Wood about his video-production abilities: “I am a complete montage expert!” The writing is super.

Yet with these deserves got here demerits. “Of Course Journalists Should Interview Autocrats,” reads the headline of Wood’s March 6 follow-up, which sneers at objections that the journal gave its “platform” to such a person. By all means, give him your platform. But make him squirm, too.

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