President Trump is many awful things — a braggart, a liar, an ignoramus, a bully and a foul-mouthed narcissist. Now we see him apathetic about what appears to be a brutal crime — the disappearance of a journalist, Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul last week and never came out. It has been reported that Khashoggi was murdered there.
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, had become a critic of the country’s effective dictator, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and, like Trump, born into great wealth. Since assuming power, the prince has moved erratically to modernize the country, permitting women to drive and opening movie theaters, for example. He has also shaken down some of the country’s richest people, detaining them in the very nice Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh; invited Lebanon’s prime minister to Riyadh and put him under what amounted to house arrest; and engaged in a horrific war in Yemen. It is turning out to be Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.
The nastiness of the prince is now beyond dispute and so, really, is the nastiness of his judgment. Nonetheless, Trump continues to embrace the regime and, in fact, supports the war in Yemen. And when the regime in Riyadh arrests and jails dissidents, such as the women who led the effort to lift the ban on female driving, Washington says nothing.
The silence of the Trump administration is bad enough. What’s worse is the language the president has used regarding the press. He has called it “the enemy of the people.” He has denigrated the legitimate obligations of a free press, the ones recognized and guaranteed by the Founding Fathers. The president has hurled all sorts of invective against journalists and journalism, accusing all of manufacturing the news, covering up the truth and outright lying. Trump has said nothing as Vladimir Putin’s regime has virtually eliminated Russia’s independent press — particularly in television — and has been credibly linked to the murders of journalists. Trump has shown authoritarian regimes that the contempt they have for the media is shared by him.
From Riyadh to Moscow, they get the message from Trump: Journalists are scum. The ones who die covering wars or merely expose conditions in mental hospitals, the ones who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome from covering one too many battles, the ones who (unlike me) put their lives on the line for truth, get treated by Trump like dirt, as mere entertainers, like the jokers at Fox News.
If Khashoggi is indeed dead, if he was murdered in the consulate and then dismembered, then his killers worked for a regime that not for a second thought it would get a rebuke from Washington. Saudi Arabia was ridding itself of a critic, sending a warning to others whether there and abroad, putting into action the very sentiments uttered by the president of the United States. His words regarding the press are just a variation of Henry II’s words regarding his enemy Thomas Becket: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Four knights heard those words and murdered Becket.