Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh Tuesday. (Leah Millis/AFP/Getty Images)
Media critic

Most media organizations that partnered with a Saudi investment conference — the Future Investment Initiative, slated for Oct. 23-25 — needed little more than a nudge to bail on “Davos in the Desert.” As evidence mounted last week that the Saudis were likely responsible for the Oct. 2 disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, the New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, CNBC, the Financial Times and Nikkei all pulled out.

Since then, the evidence has mounted. Based on information from a Turkish official, the Associated Press  is reporting “certain evidence” that Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he’d gone on Oct. 2 to pick up a document that he required to get married. Numerous outlets have reported that the Saudis were preparing to admit that Khashoggi had died in the consulate during a botched interrogation. Now CNN is reporting, based on a Turkish official, that Khashoggi’s body was chopped to pieces.

Need any more damning details, Fox Business Network? The cable channel, part of Rupert Murdoch’s news and entertainment empire, remains the lone Western holdout among media partners with the Saudi conference, which is sponsored by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, established in 1971 by royal decree. The pullout has been so thorough that the event has folded its media-partner listing.

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Fox Business to explain. All we hear is that the situation remains under review. No explanation as to the network’s thinking.

As the Erik Wemple Blog was writing this post, we received an email from the company highlighting the interview by Fox Business’s Trish Regan with President Trump. On the question of whether Trump will run in 2020:

Trump: Yes 100 percent.
Regan: Michael Bloomberg might be running —
Trump: That’s good.
Regan: Yeah?
Trump: Yeah, sure, I think he’d be easy. I think he’d be so easy. I don’t think he’ll get through the Democrats.
Regan: In other words he wouldn’t be able to do anything in the primaries because of where the party is going?
Trump: I think the Democrats will eat him up. You know you have a lot of people running. I’m hearing names that are shockingly bad but they’re nasty.

Regan one day, a “Fox & Friends” host another day, Sean Hannity the next, Tucker Carlson the day after that, and so on. It’s well documented that Trump has favored the Fox family when it comes to interviews. As the New York Times reported, as of early July, Trump had granted two-thirds of his television interviews since his inauguration to Fox News or Fox Business (a total of 23). The access reaches down into the bureaucracy, too, as Fox News and Fox Business personalities feast on interviews from across the government. BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg noted in March 2017 that Fox Business “is now much better positioned to nab key guests or ask questions at presidential press conferences, and the network is embracing that role.”

Just how kaleidoscopic is that access? Well, Fox News is launching a new, subscription web-streaming service called “Fox Nation,” programming details of which were released last week. One of the features is this: “The First Family features the Trump family beyond the headlines. In the premiere installment of this series, Eric Trump takes us behind the scenes, including an inside look at his office, behind the scenes of business trips and at home with his wife Lara and son Luke. The episode will also feature a sit down interview with the president’s son, speaking with FOX Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo offering his perspective on everything from politics to family life.” (At last year’s Davos in the Desert, Bartiromo interviewed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.)

To judge from its foot-dragging on the Saudi conference, the network is reluctant to imperil such access. Consider: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is still slated to attend the event, though he’ll make a final decision by Friday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was “all smiles,” as CNN put it, in his meetings with Saudi officials regarding the Khashoggi disappearance/cold-blooded murder. Signals from the White House, in other words, are to hunker down.

Back in April, the crown prince attended a dinner with entertainment titans at Murdoch’s Bel Air estate, as chronicled by the Hollywood Reporter. “Sources in attendance say the event was social and not political. There was a long cocktail hour during which wines from Murdoch’s vineyard were served. Before dinner, the crown prince briefly spoke about reforms in his kingdom, as well as the dangers of radicalism in the Middle East,” noted the Hollywood Reporter.

“Radical” pretty well describes what the crown prince’s regime has allegedly done to Khashoggi, though perhaps not in the view of the Fox News brain trust.

“Fox is a conservative brand, and by not condemning this heinous act, it gives conservatives a bad name,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media, told the Erik Wemple Blog. “To be the very last to condemn this is really inexplicable and disappointing.”

Read more:

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