The CIA’s report on Khashoggi which the Washington Post leaked was employed in such a clear and obvious way in the context of the internal American war between the famous daily and President Trump. The daily wanted to embarrass the president and provide live ammunition to his rivals to shoot him in the foot. It also, via its fierce attack on his strong administration’s alliance with Riyadh, wanted to damage his foreign policy.
However, it wasn’t long until we realized that the newspaper made grave mistakes and used twisted ways to push the report towards one inevitable result. The daily said there is a strong reason that supports the CIA conclusion, which is a call by the Saudi Ambassador to Washington Khalid bin Salman to journalist Khashoggi before his murder, proposing to Khashoggi that he travels to Istanbul. We now know that this is an entirely different story, but it’s also much more. The CIA’s anonymous source leaked this information to the daily’s editor considering it as conclusive evidence that the crime was planned by the highest ranks. It’s clear that the editor is hungry for any piece of information that convicts the Saudi leadership, and the anonymous source who does not know anything put it in his mouth. Despite this grave mistake, which greatly harms the credibility of the report, the daily continued to affirm that this is the final conclusion but in the end it was a mere analysis by anonymous sources based on false information.
The premises of this war between the media and Trump are purely and rooted ideological ones and any case can be employed to weaken the other party’s stance ideologically. This is why the Khashoggi case was invested in and taken out of its context to shake the relation between Trump’s Washington and Riyadh
No backing down
However, will the newspaper back down and reevaluate its vision after the American president himself, the first insider to actually know the real content of the report, said that what media outlets reported is inaccurate and after he confirmed the Saudi global role in fighting Iran and terrorism? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also made similar statements. The president and his senior administration officials cannot just appear and deliver false statements to the American public opinion. Despite that, it’s unlikely that the Washington Post will take a reformative stance because it has positioned itself as a party in the case, hence it’s difficult for it to convey other perspectives, and it’s difficult for it to swallow the other facts which undermine its original story.
There have been clear mistakes, twisted ways and anonymous sources and they’ve ignored other facts and held on to their preferred story although stories which oppose it emerged. These are frequent characteristics of ideological organizations and not media outlets, which pride themselves in the values of neutrality and professional justice. Above all that, we’ve seen some scenes that are bitterly ironic.
Due to the surge in the attack on Saudi Arabia and the American administration, Turkey, the country that imprisons and oppresses journalists the most in the world, turned into a country that defends freedoms and Turkish anonymous sources became the sources of the angry media outlets. The other strange scene was the article by Mohammed al-Houthi who lectured about the freedom of the press when he has caused the murder and disappearance of dozens of journalists. We cannot recall a phase when the standards of the American press fell as low as today.
The term “intelligence reports” must be cautiously dealt with for several reasons such as that the conveyed data may be entirely wrong, or the source is deceitful and he does not have any credible information, or he’s talkative with lots of suspicions and perhaps wishes. Another reason is related to complete bias when this anonymous source speaks to support his point of view and not to confirm the truth like what happened with the Khashoggi case. There are more suspicions when we know the stance of former intelligence senior officials towards Trump, such as the stance of former CIA Director John Brennan who never calls Trump “President” but “Mr.”, i.e. he does not acknowledge him as president.
Targeting Trump and his allies
It cannot be denied that in certain institutions, there is an atmosphere that is hostile to the American administration and everything it represents and everyone it’s allied with, hence they issue fabricated news that aim to harm Trump and his allies. A while back, I watched an interview with Michael Morell, the former CIA deputy director, who hates everything President Trump does. Morell attacked the president because he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, and one of his justifications for this anger is that climate change will in the future lead to wars between countries. It’s an exaggeration that cannot be digested; to make the future of the humans’ climate and the eruption of a barbaric war in search of water and pastures the responsibility of only one man. I mention this example by a senior at the CIA to confirm that big and important names can say the silliest things that are quickly turned into media reports that are put out as beyond doubt.
Another reason is the major dispute between Trump and media outlets regarding foreign policy. He is against the Iranian nuclear deal while they are with it, and he is with supporting the strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, which maintained regional stability for more than 70 years despite all the storms, and they are against it. They agree with the opinion of the former American administration in undermining this alliance or weakening it or replacing it with a new regional system where Tehran has a big role. The Trump administration is against political Islam and sees it as the source of extremist ideology (National Security Advisor John Bolton says the Brotherhood is terrorism’s smiling face) and these media figures believe that political Islam is the alternative to extremist Islam.
There is a radical change on the level of ideas and policies and on almost all fronts. Hence, the premises of this war between the media and Trump are purely and rooted ideological ones and any case can be employed to weaken the other party’s stance ideologically. This is why the Khashoggi case was invested in and taken out of its context to shake the relation between Trump’s Washington and Riyadh. In his last address, Trump directed his speech to his supporters and not to the press as he’s aware of its stance that will not change, and he clearly emphasized that a single incident will not harm this relationship that is important for the world.
Those surprised by the stance of media outlets that oppose Trump and that convict based on analyses and articles have not been following up on this battle that’s been ongoing between the two parties for more than two years, particularly since Trump became the Republican presidential candidate who would compete with the Democrats’ presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Most media outlets announced that they strongly oppose that a figure like Trump becomes a president and said they will do anything to defeat him.
Trump won and became president but the battle became fiercer, and ever since, we’ve seen hundreds of reports that accuse him of treason, collusion with the Russians, personal enrichment and others. All these were presented in the form of facts and based on well-informed intelligence sources, just like the Khashoggi case was handled, but none of them led to real convictions that led to toppling him. In many cases, we’ve seen breaking news and main headlines that rely on anonymous sources and that confirm beyond any doubt that Trump’s days are numbered, but they are mere wishes and dreams that evaporated into thin air.
Just like the Khashoggi case was handled, facts do not matter in this context as what is important is creating a story, complementing it and feeding it with unreliable information and rumors and ignoring what the other party is saying in order to tarnish the image of the rival. Therefore, we might see Saudi Arabia as convicted in Khashoggi’s murder and Trump as complicit with the Russians, regardless of the truth.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.