Columbia Journalism Review

Subscribe to Columbia Journalism Review feed Columbia Journalism Review
Updated: 18 hours 24 min ago

Podcast: Brazil’s upcoming elections and the echoes of Trump in 2016

October 19, 2018 - 4:05pm
ON THIS WEEK’S EPISODE, CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope speaks with Sarah Maslin, the Brazil correspondent for The Economist, about the country’s upcoming October 28 run-off election. Lead candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the conservative Social Liberal party is running a campaign that challenges reporters there much as Trump’s 2016 run did the US press.

Yet another city magazine, this one in San Francisco, fights for its life

October 19, 2018 - 3:26pm
The November issue of San Francisco magazine will feature a 6,000-word true crime piece about a kidnapping in Mountain View, California, a profile of Bennet Omalu, the doctor who pioneered research on traumatic brain injury in the NFL, and a ten-page spread ranking the Bay Area’s 101 best cities. (Spoiler alert: San Francisco doesn’t win.) […]

Unknown in America, disliked in the UK: Nick Clegg is right for Facebook

October 19, 2018 - 1:17pm
Nick Clegg’s appointment as Facebook’s new vice president of global affairs and communications raised eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic—Brits’ in withering bemusement, Americans’ in “who he?” ignorance. In Brussels, Berlin, and Paris, however, the hire will have made perfect sense. Clegg has become a punchline in the UK; his spell as a centrist, […]

Midterm coverage beyond Trump

October 19, 2018 - 6:48am

After the 2016 contest for the presidency, when many media outlets missed the rise of Donald Trump, they were left grasping for explanations. There had been too much focus on the horse race, not enough coverage of people on the ground, a fundamental misunderstanding of what polls actually say. All were seen as missteps. Now, less than three weeks out from the midterm elections, it’s hard to quantify whether there has been any meaningful shift from empty prognosticating, though news outlets are talking a good game about having learned from the past.

For CJR, David Uberti notes that some newsrooms that got Trump’s election spectacularly wrong have done away with their numerical projections entirely. Others have taken steps to tell their audience understand what the numbers mean. “As news organizations rev up their coverage for midterm elections, the credibility of polling analysis is back on the line,” Uberti writes. “And the question of how to predict what might happen looms ever larger given the political stakes, leaving prognosticators to reconsider how they frame predictions for laypeople—if they produce them at all.”

The midterms have been cast as a referendum on President Trump, but competitions for Senate and House seats are inherently local competitions. Ahead of November 6, CJR invited writers from around the country to spotlight stories that deserve closer scrutiny in their states. The subjects that the writers chose varied from coal to racial divides to voter suppression, and several dispatches lamented the dwindling resources of local news outlets.

RELATED: Covering a country where race is everywhere

From Montana, Anne Helen Petersen writes that the local press “simply lacks the resources or wherewithal to pursue the larger issues, institutions, and money-flows in depth.” The state’s lone congressional seat is held by Republican Greg Gianforte, who assaulted a reporter on the eve of his special election in the spring of 2017. “How do you cover a candidate whose antagonism towards the press includes physical abuse?” Petersen wonders.

Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, is running for governor there. Kobach, a Republican who led President Trump’s voting fraud panel (since disbanded), has turned Kansas into the “epicenter of a national voter-suppression crisis,” Sarah Smarsh reports. “Readers, viewers and listeners deserve to understand the forces that might compromise the power of their ballots, from gerrymandering to unlawful purging of voter rolls,” she writes. “With pivotal midterm races across the country, no election coverage—in Kansas, and beyond—is complete without deep investigations into the voting process.”

And in Virginia, journalists are dealing with how to report on the racial demagoguery spouted by Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for senate who has been abandoned by leading officials in his own party. “The press and public,” Elizabeth Catte writes, are “putting lessons learned covering Trump, about being less reactionary in news production and consumption, in practice.”

Trump’s dominance of national news storylines and his desire to inject his role into hundreds of local races mean that midterm voters may be thinking more nationally than in years past. But as CJR’s dispatches from around the country show, there are plenty of local and regional concerns that deserve coverage, too.

Below, more on the subjects that are driving some of the races around the country.

 

Other notable stories:

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi tries to figure out why the murder of Jamal Khashoggi captured the outrage and media attention that previous atrocities by the Saudi government did not. “The answer may be a combination of the time and place of Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the gruesome circumstances of his apparent death, which may have made his story more ‘relatable’ to American viewers and readers,” Farhi writes. “The accumulation of details has created the kind of sustained news coverage that the faceless victims of war and violence rarely receive.”
  • This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” Trump told The New York Times in a brief Oval Office interview on Thursday. The president acknowledged that he believes Khashoggi is dead, and that high-level Saudi government officials were likely involved, but “stopped short of saying the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.”
  • CJR columnist Trevor Timm addresses the Trump administration’s crackdown on journalists’ sources, focusing on the recent arrest of senior Treasury official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards. “Leak investigations strike at the heart of the press’s job,” Timm writes. “We should all consider this growing crackdown on leaks a danger to investigative journalism and stick up for the alleged sources involved.”
  • Meanwhile, at a rally in Montana, Trump praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” Guardian US Editor John Mulholland said in a statement. “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the President will see fit to apologize for them”
  • Jenn Suozzo has been named executive producer of NBC Nightly News, removing the interim tag from a position she’s filled since Sam Singal left the role this summer. Singal had led the program for three years.

ICYMI: Remembering the man at the center of an international crisis

Entertainment journalists scour fan theories for truth

October 18, 2018 - 2:26pm
Peter Dinklage recently reignited a Game of Thrones fan theory with just four words during acceptance speech at the 2018 Emmys in September. It’s a crock theory, and really only a handful of social media users jumped on his unintentional phrasing, but for several entertainment news websites hungry for any sort of Game of Thrones-related […]

The Trump administration’s new method for cracking down on leakers

October 18, 2018 - 10:26am
The Trump administration has now indicted at least five journalist sources in less than two years’ time—a pace that, if maintained through the end of Trump’s term, would obliterate the already-record number of leakers and whistleblowers prosecuted under eight years of the Obama administration. The latest case, which broke on Wednesday, shows the administration taking […]

Remembering the man at the center of an international crisis

October 18, 2018 - 6:45am

What comes next in the story of Jamal Khashoggi? As the grisly details of the Saudi journalist’s murder have become public and the focus has shifted to the official response from the White House, The Washington Post is trying to ensure that the man at the center of the story is not forgotten.

The Post’s Thursday op-ed page features an illustration of a smiling Khashoggi above his final column, received the day after he went missing in Istanbul. In the piece, Khashoggi notes the lack of free expression across the Arab world and argues for an independent international forum for Arab voices and stories. “The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011,” Khashoggi wrote, lamenting that grand expectations “were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.” Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the decision to publish Khashoggi’s column, his editor Karen Attiah said, “We wanted to bring it back to his words. To his ideas. To his thoughts, and who he was as a person.”

Meanwhile, the Saudis’ gamble that the international community would not much miss a single journalist has gone bust amid a deluge of coverage that has been driven by the slow drip of information from Turkish and American officials. Reporting by the Post, The New York Times, and other outlets has unearthed mounting evidence that suggests the Saudi crown prince at least knew of plans to harm Khashoggi and may have been directly involved in the operation that resulted in his murder. Yet President Trump appears eager to avoid any conclusions that would damage the US–Saudi relationship. The Post’s Shane Harris reported Wednesday night that “the Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president’s closest foreign allies.”

RELATED: Reexamining coverage of MBS after Khashoggi’s disappearance

Trump’s willingness to float the “rogue killers” theory, as well as his insistence that the kingdom’s leaders are being judged “guilty until proven innocent” has focused renewed attention on his penchant for excusing the actions of authoritarian leaders. The president “has had harsher words in the last week or so for Stormy Daniels, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Taylor Swift, than he has had for the Saudis responsible for the likely butcher and slaughter of a Washington Post columnist,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said on the air Wednesday.

As the details of Khashoggi’s murder trickle out and the global implications reverberate, one conclusion seems clear: MBS, a rising star on the international stage, is now tarnished. “If there is any lesson to be learned from this terrible affair,” writes The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins, “it’s how blind so much of official Washington and the American press were to MBS’s true nature.”

Below, more on the latest developments in the Khashoggi case.

  • In the newsroom: Khashoggi’s death has galvanized the Post in its effort to spread his words and hold his killers accountable, reports Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo. “Khashoggi, as a contributing columnist who had only been writing for a year, didn’t have extensive ties or relationships throughout the newsroom, which operates separately from the opinion side,” Pompeo notes. “But his fate—the gruesome reports of what happened to him, the international implications, and what it means for a free press—has subsequently set the Post into a frenzy.”
  • Secondhand information: CJR’s Amanda Darrach writes on the difficulty reporters have faced in covering of Khashoggi’s (still not independently verified) murder. “The struggle to double check evidence when the only sources of information—the Turkish government and closely intertwined Turkish media—are politically biased has been a challenge for journalists reporting the Khashoggi case,” Darrach writes.
  • A cover-up in plain sight?: Commenting on the Post article about the White House’s attempt to spin the story, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall tweeted: “This is a remarkable piece. The first graf openly states as a matter of fact that the White House and the royal family are working together on a cover up of MBS’s role in Khashoggi’s murder.” The Post’s first sentence: “The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

 

Other notable stories:

  • President Trump has ramped up media appearances recently, giving near daily interviews in advance of the midterms. CNN’s Brian Stelter and Jeremy Diamond report that Trump has been invigorated by his media blitz as he takes on the role of the White House’s top spokesman.
  • The Times’s David Streitfeld profiles Craig Newmark, whose recent donation to New York Public Radio brings his total philanthropic efforts involving media to $50 million over the past year. The Craigslist founder tells Streitfeld that, “A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.”
  • NiemanLab’s Laura Hazard Owen dissects Facebook’s role in the “pivot to video” fad. The social network “vastly overestimated average viewing time for video ads on its platform,” according to a 2016 WSJ report, and a new lawsuit from a group of small advertisers alleges that Facebook knew about the issue long before it admitted to the discrepancy. “If that is true,” Owen writes, “it may have had enormous consequences—not just for advertisers deciding to shift resources from television to Facebook, but also for news organizations, which were grappling with how to allocate editorial staff and what kinds of content creation to prioritize.”
  • On the anniversary of the killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Margaret Atwood questions why justice for her murder remains elusive. “The case has stalled and there are major concerns about the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the Maltese authorities’ investigation,” Atwood writes. “Despite her reporting on corruption at the highest levels of government, no politician has been questioned.”
  • For CJR, Salem Solomon offers a solid critique of news outlets employing outsiders’ terms to describe cities and countries in Africa. “DW, a German outlet, has asked whether Johannesburg might be the ‘Dubai of Africa,’” Solomon writes. “MSN believes that Africa’s Dubai might instead be Addis Ababa. And CNBC thinks Joburg could be the New York of Africa. South Africa, after all, is the ‘America of Africa.’”
  • On Tuesday, NPR named veteran newspaper editor Nancy Barnes as the network’s permanent chief news executive. The position had been vacant for nearly a year after the firing of Michael Oreskes amid allegations of sexual harassment. Barnes had served most recently as the editor in chief of the Houston Chronicle, and had previously led the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

ICYMI: Civil’s token sale fails to hit target. What now?

The challenge of reporting the Khashoggi story

October 17, 2018 - 3:31pm
Since October 2, when Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, disappeared inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, horrific—and unverified—details have cascaded from the Turkish press to our own. Fifteen men brought a bone saw through Istanbul airport in the middle of the night, we heard. The consulate hurriedly repainted rooms in the days after his […]

The ‘North Korea of Africa’? Not so fast.

October 17, 2018 - 10:30am
For years, news outlets in Europe and North America have aimed to cover African places and people in terms familiar to their audiences. Such comparisons are usually well-meaning and may help readers connect with stories. But they can do more harm than good, by suggesting that Africa requires an external—and very often Western—benchmark to be […]

Civil’s token sale fails to hit target. What now?

October 17, 2018 - 6:55am

As Civil’s cryptocurrency token sale drew to a close on Monday, it seemed highly improbable the project would make its $8 million minimum target, and in fact it did not. Civil, which is building a blockchain-powered platform for independent journalism (and already hosts a number of newsrooms, including the Colorado Sun and Popula), missed the target by a wide margin, raising less than $2 million from a little over 600 people. But co-founder Matthew Iles said in a Medium post on Tuesday the project is going ahead with a modified token sale, one that will be “much simpler” than the original, which was widely criticized for being overly confusing.

“The CVL token sale didn’t succeed. We’re disappointed, but we’re as committed as ever to seeing Civil out in the world,” Iles wrote. “A new, much simpler token sale is in the works.” In the meantime, the existing newsrooms will continue to publish, thanks to $3.5 million in grants from ConsenSys, the blockchain developer and venture fund that is also an investor in Civil Media Co., the for-profit arm of the project. ConsenSys—founded by Joseph Lubin, a co-founder of Ethereum, the cryptocurrency Civil’s tokens are based on—wound up buying more than 80 percent of the tokens that were sold in the latest offering.

Existing buyers now have the option of asking for an immediate refund of the money they used to buy tokens, getting an automatic refund on October 29, or retaining the tokens and remaining part of the Civil funding drive. Some token holders had already asked to exercise the latter option, Iles wrote. “I write to ask if you can ensure I do not get a refund after Monday’s ICO closing date irrespective of the outcome,” Iles quoted one token holder as saying. “I wish my funds/pledge to be redirected into any future CIVIL plans once announced.”

So what went wrong with the token sale? Overly ambitious goals given the current state of the cryptocurrency market—which some believe is a bubble—combined with what even some Civil staffers have told CJR was an overly time-consuming process of buying the tokens. To the usual virtual wallet and token exchange, Civil added a quiz on some of the finer points of cryptocurrency (such as the difference between a “hot” and “cold” crypto wallet). In part, Civil says this was done to weed out speculators and others who might not be in sync with the goals of the project. But those methods also seem to have weeded out a lot of potential supporters.

By the time the company decided to allow purchasers to use “fiat” currency (i.e., US dollars) sent directly from their bank accounts, it was too late. Yesterday, after the failed token sale, Civil staffers remained determined to raise money to operate the platform and to fund the Civil Foundation, a non-profit that also administers the Civil Council. The question is: Will there be enough interest in helping, now the first attempt at funding has failed so publicly?

More information on Civil:

  • A new media ecosystem: For an in-depth look at what Civil is trying to build and why, see CJR’s feature on the project, based on interviews with all of the founders and senior executives, including Matthew Iles and Vivian Schiller, a former senior executive with Twitter and NPR who is now running the Civil Foundation.
  • Confusing and time-consuming: John Keefe, a developer with Quartz, wrote a piece for the NiemanLab in which he described the 44-step process he had to go through in order to buy Civil tokens, including uploading a copy of his driver’s license and passport to verify his identity and filling out the quiz on cryptocurrency.
  • A new constitution: One of the key documents in the Civil ecosystem is the Constitution, which the project has been crowdsourcing via an open Google Doc, as well as asking for input from media professionals in a series of symposiums both in the US and a number of other countries.
  • A council of advisers: Part of the non-profit Civil Foundation is the Civil Council, a group of media experts including Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia, law professor Ellen Goodman, Atlantic magazine Executive Editor Matt Thompson, and former Wikimedia Executive Director Sue Gardner.
  • Also a movie studio: In addition to Civil’s blockchain-powered platform for journalism, the company has also launched a number of other ventures, including Civil Studios, which it said will produce original content, including documentaries and podcasts.

 

Other notable stories:

  • A study of “news deserts” by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism shows more than 1,300 communities across the US have virtually no local news coverage to speak of, having lost their newspapers. More than 2,000 counties now have no daily newspaper and 171 have no newspaper at all.
  • Shelley Hepworth writes for CJR about the crisis at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, that country’s public broadcaster, where the former managing director was fired halfway through her five-year term, after the chairman of the ABC board tried to pressure her to fire one of her reporters.
  • Lesley Stahl, a veteran of the CBS news show 60 Minutes, said earlier this year that Donald Trump told her he uses the term “fake news” to discredit journalists he disagrees with. And yet she let him do exactly that in a recent interview without challenging him, says The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan.
  • Twitter has suspended about 1,500 accounts that were either created by or are associated with a troll campaign that started on the site 4chan, according to The New York Times. The accounts were fabricated to look like liberal and Democrat activists and spread misinformation about the midterm elections.
  • James Wolfe, a former senior staffer with the Senate Intelligence Committee, pleaded guilty to lying about sharing information with reporters. Wolfe admitted he lied to the FBI about exchanging information with Ali Watkins, who was then at BuzzFeed and is now a reporter for The New York Times.
  • Facebook told TechCrunch it will start down-ranking sites that scrape content or republish stories with little or no modification. Such sites will show up less prominently in the News Feed, the company said. Facebook also recently said it will remove posts that contain misinformation about voting.
  • Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp apologized Tuesday for a newspaper ad she published that included the names of a number of sexual abuse victims. Heitkamp said she found out later some of the victims did not agree to have their names used, and some of those named were not actually victims of abuse.

Washington: Holding police accountable for their use of deadly force

October 17, 2018 - 6:03am
Ahead of the November 6 elections, CJR invited writers to spotlight stories that deserve closer scrutiny, in their states and beyond, before voters cast their ballots. Read other dispatches from “States of the Union” here. In the week it took to report this story, in September, police officers in Washington fatally shot three people. In Marysville, a […]

How extensive restrictions have shaped the story in Xinjiang, China

October 16, 2018 - 1:41pm
From the moment reporters arrive in Xinjiang province, a remote region in northwest China, they are shadowed by security officials. Sometimes, it’s just a few. For reporters representing prominent publications, it can be nine or ten. Most of the time, the officials do their best to blend into the background—they wear plain clothes—but they’re always […]

What just happened at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation?

October 16, 2018 - 10:26am
On September 24, Michelle Guthrie, the managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was sacked by the public broadcaster’s board—just halfway through her five-year term. The ensuing fallout led the Australian news cycle for days. Some journalists on the ABC’s staff initially rejoiced at the announcement of Guthrie’s firing. In a tweet, the executive producer […]

Saudi Arabia attempts to explain away journalist’s murder

October 16, 2018 - 6:41am

Two weeks after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering his nation’s consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi government is preparing a report that will acknowledge his death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong. CNN’s Clarissa Ward and Tim Lister report that the Saudis will claim that the detainment of Khashoggi was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.

The about-face from the Saudi government is striking, as it has spent the days since Khashoggi’s disappearance claiming the journalist had left the consulate safely. Before reports of the Saudi plan broke, President Trump had appeared to boost the theory that top Saudi officials were unaware of the mission that resulted in Khashoggi’s murder, positing that it was possible that “rogue killers” were responsible for the journalist’s death. That statement, which appeared to suggest the president would not hold Saudi leaders responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, was met with outrage from journalists and some US politicians. “Been hearing the ridiculous ‘rogue killers’ theory was where the Saudis would go with this,” tweeted Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who expressed disbelief that Trump would act as the kingdom’s “PR agent.”

On Monday morning, after speaking to King Salman of Saudi Arabia by phone, President Trump tweeted that he would send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with the king. Later in the day, The Washington Post reported that Turkish investigators were finally allowed to search the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi was last seen.

RELATED: Reexamining coverage of MBS after Khashoggi’s disappearance

Khashoggi’s disappearance and reported murder have resulted in an international relations crisis for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who had enjoyed close ties with the US administration after consolidating his power in the kingdom over the past year. Despite a lack of explicit condemnation of the crown prince from the White House, MBS has come under sustained criticism from leading business and media figures in the past several days.

The suggestion that a team of 15 Saudi operatives, including an autopsy expert at Saudi Arabia’s internal security agency, would enter Turkey to interrogate and possibly return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia against his will, all without the knowledge of Saudi leadership, is highly unlikely. Reports of the Saudi’s qualified admission, along with President Trump’s suggestion that the conspiracy may not reach all the way to the top, indicate that leaders of both countries are scrambling to find a way out of the crisis while still maintaining their close ties. But after the brutal silencing of a prominent journalist, the moment for compromise and cover-ups should already have passed.

Below, more on the latest developments in the Khashoggi case.

 

Other notable stories:

  • Military personnel in Myanmar turned Facebook into a tool for ethnic cleansing, reports The New York Times’s Paul Mozur. In one of the first examples of an authoritarian government using the social network against its own people, “members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group,” Mozur writes.
  • Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson dissect the media’s coverage of Brett Kavanaugh for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “For the press, one lesson from the Kavanaugh confirmation fight is already clear,” they write. “It was yet another political clash in which the truth was little more than an inconvenient obstacle for partisans to overcome.
  • For CJR, Jed Gottlieb writes that the media are covering hurricanes wrong, at least in the way they describe the strength of the storms. Relying on the Saffir–Simpson scale, which grades hurricanes from Category 1 to Category 5, provides only part of the picture and does a disservice to the public, Gottlieb argues.
  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi trails CNN’s Jim Acosta through an evening of selfies and screamed criticism at a Trump rally in Erie, PA. “Among the Trump faithful, Acosta-hate seems to be more of a feeling than a particular set of facts. It’s not something he’s reported; it’s just . . . him,” Farhi writes.
  • As part of CJR’s series on coverage of midterm elections, Lyz Lenz checks in from Iowa, where, “despite bipartisan support on the issue, the crisis of America’s digital divide has failed to become a headline grabber or garner any real action from politicians as midterms approach.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the location of the consulate where Jamal Khashoggi was last seen. 

ICYMI: How to cover Kanye West: Not so much.

Newsgeist un-conference: Facebook faces the music, sort of

October 16, 2018 - 5:55am
Newsgeist, which was held this past weekend in Phoenix, is an unusual animal. It’s invitation-only, co-sponsored by Google and the Knight Foundation (which helps fund CJR), and aimed at bringing journalists and academics and others involved in media together for an “un-conference.” That means there aren’t any sessions organized in advance: Attendees put their suggested topics […]

Meteorologists to newsrooms: Hurricane impacts defy categorization

October 15, 2018 - 1:30pm
Earlier this month, meteorologist and Washington Post contributor Bryan Norcross wrote about how the media’s focus on hurricane category does a disservice to the public. Norcross argued the obsession with the Saffir–Simpson scale, which is based solely on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed and runs from one to five, can come at the cost of […]

How is skepticism different than cynicism? Find the answer in ancient Greece

October 15, 2018 - 10:24am
A USA Today op-ed column created a stir in recent days. No, not the one supposedly written by President Trump that was followed by a fact check showing many of the claims to be wrong. This one said that in challenging Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination by supporting his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Democrats […]

Reexamining coverage of MBS after Khashoggi’s disappearance

October 15, 2018 - 6:45am

“There’s a streak in American journalism to allow glittering narratives about budding authoritarians to obscure less appealing facts,” writes The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg in the return of the “Mediator” column. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the budding authoritarian Rutenberg writes of, received glowing press coverage for much of the past year, right up until the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Salman, known as MBS, consolidated his power last year by arresting several leading Saudi businessmen and political figures, including members of his own family. He then embarked on a calculated media campaign, casting himself as a youthful reformer who planned to modernize the Gulf state. Many American journalists proved receptive to the effort, crediting him with launching an “Arab Spring, Saudi style” and following his every move on a whirlwind US tour that saw MBS meet with big names in business and entertainment.

In the days since Khashoggi’s disappearance, however, the narrative around MBS has sharply turned, with the focus shifting to the Crown Prince’s crackdown on dissent, his kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister, and the Kingdom’s ongoing participation in atrocities in Yemen. As reports continue to indicate that the Saudi government played a direct role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, business leaders and media organizations have pulled out of a conference in Riyadh scheduled for later this month.

RELATED: Jamal Khashoggi, feared murdered, on press freedom in Saudi Arabia

Why it took the disappearance and reported murder of a well-known journalist to expose the lie behind MBS’s reformer façade is a question worth exploring, but for the moment, the focus is still on Khashoggi’s fate. Saudi Arabia has continued to deny any involvement in the matter, but it has provided no evidence that he left its consulate after entering. The case has taken on international relations implications, with pressure mounting on President Trump, who has enjoyed a close relationship with the Saudi government, to take action. “There’s a lot at stake,” President Trump told CBS’s Lesley Stahl in an interview aired Sunday evening. “And maybe especially so because this man was a reporter….You’ll be surprised to hear me say that. There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case. So we’re gonna have to see. We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.” Trump, however, balked at the idea of imposing sanctions that would threaten an arms deal he had agreed upon with the Saudis last year.

As Rutenberg notes, it’s not uncommon for the American media to celebrate foreign leaders who promise reforms only to be forced to reconsider that perception after atrocities are exposed. Both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi were once held in high esteem before a brutal war and the jailing of journalists led to their respective reevaluations. For MBS, the time for a shift in narrative has clearly come. “When the Crown Prince took over and started talking about wanting to bring reform, it was legitimate for the media and for others to give it a chance and see what happened,” Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told CNN on Sunday. “But I think even for people who wanted to give MBS the benefit of the doubt, this has to be a watershed moment. This is—if the reports are true—a crime of an entirely different caliber. It should not be possible for anybody to go back to business as usual.

Below, more on Mohammed bin Salman, Jamal Khashoggi, and the media.

  • Duped by a false reformer: MBS played Kushner, Trump and his other American acolytes for suckers,” writes the Times’s Nicholas Kristof. “It’s a disgrace that Trump administration officials and American business tycoons enabled and applauded MBS as he imprisoned business executives, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, rashly created a crisis with Qatar, and went to war in Yemen.”
  • Saudi coverage: Media in Saudi Arabia are treating Khashoggi’s disappearance as “a foreign conspiracy to denigrate the image of the kingdom,” and have claimed that Qatar, a regional rival, owns The Washington Post, reports The Intercept’s Lee Fang.

 

Other notable stories:

  • One week after the UN released a dire warning about our changing climate, the story has “essentially disappeared from the news,” Politico’s Dan Diamond tweeted. He notes that the Newseum’s collection of Sunday front pages from all 50 states included just one with a story that mentioned climate change. President Trump, questioned by CBS’s Stahl about whether he still thinks climate change is a hoax, admitted that “something’s happening,” but equivocated over whether human activity plays a role, and accused scientists of having a political bias.
  • As part of CJR’s series on coverage of midterm elections, Elizabeth Catte checks in from Virginia, where Republican Corey Stewart is running a failing campaign challenging Senator Tim Kaine. Stewart trafficks in racial demagoguery that has made him unpopular even among other conservative candidates, and Catte writes that “so far, coverage of Stewart reflects a workable mix of ignoring the cheapest shots, reporting significant campaign events, and contextualizing Stewart’s political style and ascendency as a product of a hard-right fringe.”
  • The New Yorker’s Sheelah Kolhatkar has a big piece on the influence of Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local television stations in the country. She writes that the company’s stations, which include affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, “enjoy the trust of viewers because they appear independent, even though much of the content is dictated at a national level.”
  • The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reports on “the strange story behind the departure of the New York Times’s Baghdad bureau chief.” Margaret Coker left the paper due to what the Times called an “internal personnel matter,” and Wemple reports that her departure “stemmed from a bizarre set of run-ins with her colleague Rukmini Callimachi.”
  • CJR’s Zainab Sultan reports on fact-checking efforts in Brazil amid a hotly contested presidential race. “As Brazil faces one of its most consequential elections in recent times, news organizations are battling the same kind of misinformation that has plagued voting in the US and elsewhere,” she writes.

ICYMI: Yes, Hurricane Michael is a climate change story

How to cover Kanye West: Not so much.

October 12, 2018 - 2:47pm
Fans of Kanye West, from any era, are by now familiar with the vertigo of watching his descent into irrationality, and with the strangeness of watching a man who once seemed so capable of seeing you publicly turn away. Some of us have coped by choosing to disengage with his noise. That choice, one of […]

As Brazil fights election misinformation, fact-checking sites work overtime

October 12, 2018 - 1:57pm
On September 6, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right frontrunner for president, was stabbed with a knife, while campaigning at a rally in Juiz de Fora, a city in southeastern Brazil. He survived the near-fatal attack by a man described by police as mentally unstable, and spent a month in Albert Einstein Hospital, in São Paulo, recovering. […]

Pages