One can hardly fathom the twisted psyche of a president who, after acknowledging that Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Post’s Global Opinions, had likely been murdered, would go before a cheering mob to lavish praise on a U.S. congressman who physically attacked a journalist. “Any guy who can do a body-slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said in a Montana campaign appearance on Thursday, referring to Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) who pleaded guilty to assaulting the Guardian’s reporter Ben Jacobs, who had the temerity to ask Gianforte a health-care question. “I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter. And he was way up. … I said ‘Oh this is terrible, he’s gonna lose the election,’ ” Trump continued. “Then I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well, I think it might help him.’ And it did.” And his ghoulish fans ate that up.
The Guardian’s U.S. editor responded with a statement: “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,” said John Mulholland. “In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”
Trump won’t apologize, of course, nor will his devoted base hold his remarks against him. To the contrary, this is what they love about him — the contempt for a free press, the celebration of male thuggishness, the mindless emotional outbursts. Somehow it empowers them, to side with brutes and bullies, to revel in the silencing of a free press.
And in case you thought such moral depravity was limited to a few thousand fans, a concerted smear campaign against Khashoggi is underway. The Post reports:
In recent days, a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump has been privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly. …
While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career. Khashoggi knew bin Laden in the 1980s and 1990s during the civil war in Afghanistan, but his interactions with bin Laden were as a journalist with a point of view who was working with a prized source.
Some claimed that Khashoggi, who had worked for multiple news organizations over the years and was allegedly slaughtered for his writings critical of the Saudi regime, was not a real journalist. The willful dissembling takes one’s breath away. The Post’s editorial board recently recounted, “[Khashoggi] was twice fired as the editor of the most progressive Saudi newspaper, Al Watan, in one case for publishing sharp critiques of Islamist extremists. A television news network he helped to found in Bahrain in 2012 was taken off the air after one day, after it broadcast an interview with a critic of that country’s authoritarian regime.”
The whisper campaign comes not only from the fever swamps and usual talk radio know-nothings, but also from those who fancy themselves as foreign policy sophisticates at the forefront of efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional aggression. It is hard to know if this is water-carrying for the administration, panic over disruption to the administration’s already incoherent Iran policy or hatred of the mainstream media.
Whatever the impetus, the lack of decency on display — the willingness to defame a reportedly tortured, murdered and dismembered journalist to deflect blame from a brutal regime that snookered both the U.S. and Israeli governments into adopting it as the key bulwark against Iran — should disgust people of good will, whatever their political or foreign policy views. Proximity to and reverential treatment of an amoral, congenital liar in the White House have disabled the intellectual and moral reasoning powers of many previously respectable Republicans.
Whatever the cause, if you are falsely smearing a missing man, trying to diminish the horror of a thuggish regime’s alleged gruesome murder or yukking it up with a president celebrating violence against a reporter, it’s time to rethink your politics.