Media critic

This post has been updated.

The headline on a recent story in The Post confirms the enormity of the ongoing international crisis for Saudi Arabia: “Saudis are said to have lain in wait for Jamal Khashoggi.” The allegations chill one’s blood: On Oct. 2, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and hasn’t been seen since. Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post, was killed inside the consulate. A “squad of men” flew into Istanbul that morning, The Post reported, and a 15-member crew departed the country later that day. “Saudi Arabia must immediately answer: Who were these 15 officials? What happened, precisely, inside the consulate?” The Post’s editorial board wrote.

Meanwhile, several U.S. media outlets — Bloomberg, the New York Times, CNBC, Fox Business Network and CNN — are listed as “media partners” in an investment conference in Saudi Arabia. The Future Investment Initiative (FII), which is in its second year, is slated to take place in Riyadh from Oct. 23-25. Per its website, the Future Investment Initiative is “powered” by the Public Investment Fund, established in 1971 by royal decree. It finances “key projects” and provides support for “projects of strategic importance to the national economy.”

According to a release from the FII, the 2018 conference has booked speakers including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, IMF President Christine Lagarde and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Major names from the media world are showing as well, including Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong* and CNBC anchor and New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin.*

Moguls tend to attend investment conferences. But should U.S. media outlets be partnering with Saudi Arabia? The kingdom long occupied a low rung on international surveys of press freedoms, owing to its unwillingness to allow independent media. “The level of self-censorship is extremely high and the Internet is the only space where freely-reported information and views may be able to circulate, albeit at great risk to the citizen-journalists who post online,” notes an assessment from Reporters Without Borders.

And that was before the Khashoggi affair. As The Post’s David Ignatius wrote, Khashoggi was “picking fights” with Saudi authorities as far back as 25 years ago. As for the journalist’s assessment of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Ignatius observed, “Khashoggi thought [he] was an impulsive hothead who undermined his own good ideas for reform.”

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked the U.S. media organizations partnering with the Saudi conference for their assessment of the situation. Do they want to be associated with this regime?A spokesperson for Fox Business Network tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the organization is evaluating the matter. A CNBC spokesman says they are “monitoring the situation.”

Update: Since this post’s publication Thursday evening, other publications and attendees have weighed in:

  • New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha says the Times is no longer a media sponsor of the Future Investment Initiative.
  • A CNN rep says the network is evaluating the circumstances.
  • According to a Los Angeles Times spokesperson, Soon-Shiong won’t be attending the event.
  • Andrew Ross Sorkin has tweeted that he is withdrawing:

Read more:

Elliott Abrams: Why Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance will haunt the Saudi government

The Post’s View: We need answers on Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

Karen Attiah: The silencing of Jamal Khashoggi

Supporters of missing Saudi columnist call for U.S. investigation into his disappearance

Read Jamal Khashoggi’s columns for The Washington Post