By:
March 1, 2021

As expected, a U.S. intelligence report released late last week determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved of the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

What happened next was not necessarily expected.

The U.S. State Department issued a visa ban for 76 Saudis, but it appears as if Salman will face no direct sanctions from President Joe Biden. It was a surprising and somewhat disappointing outcome for many who hoped Biden would be tougher on the crown prince.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted, “The Biden Administration should ensure that repercussions for the brutal murder of Khashoggi go beyond those who carried it out, to the one who ordered it. The Crown Prince has blood on his hands. The blood of an American resident and journalist. We must have accountability.”

Complicating matters is the crown prince could be in line to take over as king. Salman’s father already is in poor health and has given up many of his duties to his son. Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is trying to “recalibrate” the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Psaki sounded as if the administration is trying to walk the fine line of holding Salman accountable and maintaining that relationship with Saudi Arabia,

“We believe there are more effective ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to also be able to leave room to work with the Saudis on areas where there is mutual agreement — where there are national interests for the United States,” Psaki told CNN’s Dana Bash. “That is what diplomacy looks like.”

Psaki added, “That is what complicated global engagement looks like and we have made no secret and been clear we are going to hold them accountable on the global stage and with direct actions.”

Psaki was pushed further by Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” Psaki said the sanctions sent a “clear message,” but Wallace said, “It isn’t a clear message.”

Psaki said, “Historically though, as you all know, you’ve been covering these issues for some time, the United States has not historically sanctioned the leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations or even some where we don’t have diplomatic relations. We understand that’s a bar some are holding this to, but our objective here from the government, from the Biden administration, is preventing this from ever happening again.”

Again, many are not happy that Biden didn’t take more of a stern stance on Salman.

New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that Biden “choked.”

Kristof wrote, “Instead of imposing sanctions on M.B.S., Biden appears ready to let the murderer walk. The weak message to other thuggish dictators considering such a murder is: Please don’t do it, but we’ll still work with you if we have to. The message to Saudi Arabia is: Go ahead and elevate M.B.S. to be the country’s next king if you must.”

Kristof thought Biden should have applied the same punishment to Salman as he did to the other Saudis, including travel bans, as well as suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post editorial board also wrote that the travel ban should extend to the crown prince, who was getting a “pass” from Biden.

It wrote, “That President Biden has chosen not to pursue that course suggests that the ‘fundamental’ change he promised in U.S.-Saudi relations will not include holding to account its reckless ruler, who consequently is unlikely to be deterred from further criminal behavior.”

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said the price that Salman has paid “was not a sufficient price.”

In a perfect world, Biden would have been tougher on the crown prince. But this isn’t a perfect world — literally. As David Axelrod said on CNN, the Middle East is a “complicated neighborhood.” The U.S. still needs a relationship with Saudi Arabia and, as painful as it might have been for journalists everywhere to see Biden stop short of directly punishing Salman, it might have been his only choice (for now) in order to navigate the complicated neighborhood that is the Middle East.

Trump’s return

Former President Donald Trump made his first public appearance since leaving office when he spoke Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando. Trump had been interviewed on TV following the death of Rush Limbaugh and after Tiger Woods’ accident, but these were his first political comments since Jan. 20.

Fox News carried the speech live. CNN and MSNBC acknowledged that Trump was speaking and commented on some of his remarks. The major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC — carried sports.

It was typical Trump stuff, including more lies about a rigged election. CNN’s Jim Acosta called CPAC and Trump’s speech a “Liar-Palooza.” I’m sure you can find exactly what Trump said if you’re so inclined.

Topic of the day

Dr. Anthony Fauci, receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 last December. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

One of the big topics on the Sunday morning shows was the Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine set to be distributed this week. It’s now the third vaccine approved for use.

During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that’s most available to them. If you go to a place and you have J&J, and that’s the one that’s available now, I would take it. I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

On “Face the Nation,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration who has been “Face the Nation’s” go-to voice on COVID-19, said, “There is more and more evidence that these vaccines are preventing transmission of infection, which makes them an even more important public health tool. I think people should be confident about taking it.”

This is when the Sunday shows — and any news show or story, for that matter — are at their very best: they give the audience useful information from experts, the kind of information that impacts everyday lives.

A year later

(Courtesy: NBC News.)

It has been one year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. To mark the occasion, NBC News is beginning a two-week series that will look back on how the coronavirus has impacted lives and what still lies ahead. The original content will appear across many of NBC News’ shows and platforms, including the “Today” show, the “NBC Nightly News,” MSNBC, NBCNews.com and NBC News Now.

The two weeks of reports will culminate with a primetime special March 11 that will run on NBC, MSNBC and NBC News Now. The show, called “COVID One Year Later: Life After Lockdown,” will be hosted by Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie, and have special reports from Craig Melvin, Richard Engel and Kate Snow.

Most interesting point of the weekend

New York Times deputy managing editor Carolyn Ryan appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” to talk about the internal investigation that looked at the culture, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion at the Times. (I wrote about the report last week.)

During the interview with host Brian Stelter, Ryan, who helped oversee the Times’ report, said something especially insightful when talking about having a more diverse and inclusive newsroom.

“What is the biggest story that American newspapers missed during the 20th century?” Ryan said. “It was the great migration — six million Black Americans moving from the South to the North. And why did we miss it? Because we had too few Black journalists, Black editors, Black reporters shaping our coverage.”

Ryan continued, “So having a more diverse newsroom is a start. But building on their work and making sure that everyone can do their best work is where we are now and that is what we’re committed to doing.”

Look back and looking forward

Marty Baron. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Sunday was Marty Baron’s final day as executive editor of The Washington Post. He retires after eight years in charge of the Post, which continues a search for a permanent replacement. Baron appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday and host Brian Stelter asked what local news outlets can learn from the success that the Post has had in recent years.

Baron said there are a couple of things local news can learn from places such as the Post and The New York Times.

“For example, charging for news, having a paywall, require people to subscribe,” Baron said. “There is no question that news organizations are going to have to require the public to pay for quality news, otherwise there won’t be quality news.”

In addition, news outlets need to use technology to, as an example, determine who are those most likely to subscribe, what audiences are most interested in, what pushes them from being casual readers to subscribers, as well as using technology to get higher rates on their advertising.

Baron also said 45 years in the business has helped him get “past the point of mourning” the decline of the actual print newspaper. For Baron, what matters is the caliber of the journalism.

Stelters’ entire interview with Baron can be heard on the “Reliable Sources” podcast.

Speaking of Baron, The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison wrapped up Baron’s time at the Post with her story: “Marty Baron, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump and the Eight Years That Reshaped The Washington Post — and Journalism.”

Covering the story

It might be time to dispel the thinking that the so-called “mainstream media” is protecting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The media absolutely has reported en masse on sexual allegations leveled against Cuomo by a former aide. Now a second former aide has come forth with sexual harassment allegations. This time, the story was broken in The New York Times by Jesse McKinley.

The aide, Charlotte Bennett, told McKinley that Cuomo asked her several questions about her sex life, including whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men. Bennett also claimed Cuomo told her he was open to having relationships with women in their 20s — comments she took as overtures to a sexual relationship.

In a statement to the Times, Cuomo said he had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”

Then on Sunday, Cuomo apologized for his remarks that “have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

He added, “At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business. I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

McKinley’s story is a detailed account of Bennett’s accusations. Not that it should ever be doubted, but it’s proof that respected news outlets such as the Times will definitely go all-in on reporting stories of abuse of power regardless of who is the person in power.

And an interesting tidbit: as soon as Donald Trump finished his speech at CPAC, Fox News talked about the speech, while MSNBC was covering the Cuomo story — specifically how the Cuomo originally called for an independent investigation and then, after pushback, agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.

Media tidbits

  • ABC News is launching a new podcast today called “In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson.” The first two episodes are dropping today. The podcast calls Lady Bird Johnson “one of the most influential members of the Johnson administration who broke many barriers not seen or acknowledged at the time.” Using mostly unheard daily audio diaries from Johnson herself, the podcast reveals that she was one of President Lyndon Johnson’s most trusted advisors and political strategists.
  • ESPN’s Dan Dakich is a college basketball analyst and radio show host who likes to pick fights, troll people and, quite often, say dumb things. He did all of those things last week. Now he’s deleted his Twitter account and ESPN reportedly is looking into this latest controversy. (Update: his Twitter account is up and active again.) For detailed recaps of what happened, check out Awful Announcing’s Sean Keeley or The Big Lead’s Stephen Douglas.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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