The Saudi government is reportedly set to admit its role in the killing of activist and writer, Jamal Khashoggi, but many in the American media believe President Trump should be considered an accomplice.
Trump may have been thousands of miles away from the Saudi consulate when Khashoggi disappeared, but his criticism of America’s media — which he often derides for publishing “fake news” — provided a “green light” for Saudi Arabia to murder its prominent critic, some in the media, and some Democrats, are suggesting.
In an appearance Tuesday night on CNN, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said the murder of journalists is an unsurprising outcome of Trump’s media criticism: “We’ve got a president that has already named journalists as being the enemy of the people. So don’t be surprised when other countries take on journalists, murder them, chop them into pieces and dispose of them.”
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough suggested that Khashoggi’s killing could be connected to Trump’s criticism of The Washington Post: “Did Donald Trump, who has always been critical of ‘The Washington Post,’ always been critical of his ownership, did anybody in the administration, did Jared Kushner, did they give MBS sort of a nod and a wink to say it’s okay? We need answers.”
On his CNN show “Reliable Sources.” Brian Stelter hosted a segment on whether Trump’s media criticism played a role in Khashoggi’s killing. He asked his guest, the editor of the Washington Post’s editorial page, Fredd Hiatt: “I wonder if you look at what has happened in the last 12 days, and you wonder if the ‘enemy of the people rhetoric,’ and not just from President Trump, but from other world leaders, has anything to do with this, anything at all?”
The Post’s Hiatt was a bit more circumspect than Stelter, but still suggested such a connection is fair. Speaking of threats against journalists, Hiatt said, “I do think that it is happening in part because the United States is retreating from the traditional role as a leader in the world, and standing up for the democratic values and including freedom of expression. So that is all true, and Brian, you are right it is part of the big picture.”
MSNBC’s Ali Velshi argued there’s a clear line to be drawn between Khashoggi’s murder and Trump’s rhetoric. Trump, in decrying Khashoggi’s killing, appeared to be contradicting himself, Velshi said: “The president expressing concern that Jamal Khashoggi is a report, he’s a columnist, really, and a critic of the Saudi government. That stands in contrast with a message that the president has frequently sent to the American people and to his supporters, that the media are the enemy of the people.”
After receiving pushback from his guest, Velshi doubled down: “You say the president’s attack on journalists is because of inaccurate and fake news reported. That’s the same excuse the Turks use, the Chinese and the Saudis use, right? Their issue is these people who we think of as journalists are reporting inaccurate and fake news about journalists.”
President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said journalists like Khashoggi are “less safe” because of Trump: “And let’s face it, we have a president of the United States who says journalists are the enemy of the state. So values like freedom of speech and dissent suddenly are very endangered around the world and that’s a trend line that I think is getting worse.”
MSNBC’s Heidi Przybyla said threats against journalists are correlated with Trump’s presidency: “I remember vividly a train trip when I talked to an international group to protect journalists, who told me it was within months of Trump taking office that they saw the worldwide threats to journalists going up. And this is kind of the — in the extreme, what is happening now in terms of human rights, not only to journalists, but in several hot spots around the world.”
Online, Trump is likewise being blamed for the killing. CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill wrote in the Huffington Post that the United States, and specifically the Trump Administration, is complicit in this killing.
“Since the beginning of his term, U.S. President Donald Trump has waged a war on the press, literally deeming mainstream media (with the exception of Fox News) ‘the enemy,’” Hill wrote. “Trump has also threatened to sic the Justice Department on the administration insider who penned an anonymous op-ed critical of the president for The New York Times. Such tactics help to further normalize a culture in which dissent is marginalized, criminalized or altogether erased.”
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank likewise wrote that it’s “fair” to connect Khashoggi’s killing to Trump’s rhetoric: “It’s now fair, likewise, to ask whether Trump’s practice of labeling journalists the enemy of the people emboldened the people who reportedly killed Khashoggi, and those responsible for renewed crackdowns on the press around the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports a 50 percent increase in murders of journalists this year, with three months still to go.”