February 26, 2021

In October 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was working for The Washington Post when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was never seen again.

His body was dismembered and his remains have never been found.

And now, President Joe Biden’s administration is about to release a U.S. intelligence report saying what many have believed all along: that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the assassination of Khashoggi.

The report is due out any time now. It was believed that Biden was waiting until he spoke to Saudi King Salman — the father of MBS. That conversation took place Thursday. However, the White House’s official account of the call made no mention of Khashoggi, and it’s not known how the report could impact U.S.-Saudi relations.

But this is a significant development.

Calling out the crown prince for his role in Khashoggi’s death is a much tougher stance than former President Donald Trump, who refused to hold MBS accountable and, at times, seemingly defended him. According to Bob Woodward’s book “Rage,” Trump said of the crown prince, “I saved his ass. I was able to get Congress to leave him alone.”

Trump’s position was simply to repeat that the crown prince denied having anything to do with Khashoggi’s murder.

During her Thursday press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship. And certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability.”

Reuters’ Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay and Trevor Hunnicutt first reported that the U.S. was going to point a finger at MBS.

After first denying knowing anything about Khashoggi’s death, Saudi Arabia eventually blamed the death on rogue security officials. It continues to insist that the crown prince was not involved in any way.

But Agnes Callamard, who investigated the case for the United Nations, accused Saudi Arabia of a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”

Courts in Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death for Khashoggi’s murder, but those sentences were commuted to 20 years.

Meanwhile, CNN’s Alex Marquardt reports that the “two private jets used by a Saudi Arabian assassination squad that killed and allegedly dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi were owned by a company that less than a year prior had been seized by the (crown prince.)”

To catch you up on the Khashoggi story, read The Washington Post’s Miriam Berger with “What to Know About Jamal Khashoggi, As U.S. Prepares to Release Intelligence Report on His Killing.”

A critical conversation

My Poynter colleague Joie Chen led an important and insightful conversation on Thursday about the recent spike in attacks against Asian Americans and how the media needs to do a better job of covering this story. She was joined by “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang and CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang in Poynter’s On Poynt series, which features interviews with journalists for the story behind the story of current events.

Another one of my colleagues, Angela Fu, wrote about the exceptional conversation in a story for Poynter.

“Racism against Asian Americans is not new,” Jiang said. “But when the leader of the free world uses rhetoric that points that out, it almost gives people the license to say it in public and to act on it. It has been difficult to watch this recent spike and to continuously wonder, where would we be had President Trump done something different, had he done the opposite, had he condemned the rhetoric and not used it from the very beginning?”

Chang said, “As a journalist of color, I have always felt … that allyship is important. I have stood up for other people of color and their stories because I can relate to them in that way. And I think that now is this moment of solidarity.”

On this topic, read this disturbing story from The Washington Post’s Marian Liu and Rachel Hatzipanagos: “‘Nobody came, nobody helped’: Fears of anti-Asian violence rattle the community.”

A no-brainer

In her latest column, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes about two journalists who were disciplined for issues regarding the use of the N-word. Donald McNeil resigned from The New York Times over using the N-word during a discussion about racist language while he was on a trip to Peru with high school and middle school students in 2019. Slate’s Mike Pesca has been suspended after defending the use of the slur in certain contexts during an online conversation with colleagues.

Both McNeil and Pesca are white. That led Sullivan to write the following:

“So here’s the obvious answer to the problem: White people should just never say the word. Mysteriously, some can’t accept that.”

She also wrote, “Am I being hypersensitive to think this word is unacceptable in practically any setting? I don’t think so. What’s more, it’s not hard to believe that any White person who would freely utter or defend the most offensive racial slur in English may well be someone with a history of other problems.”

And later, she cut to the bottom line: “Don’t say the word, and don’t try to defend using it.”

I can’t add anything to that except: amen.

Throwing shade

MSNBC’s Brian Williams (Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File)

Give it to MSNBC’s Brian Williams. When he throws shade, he really can bring it. On his show Wednesday night, he played a clip of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) furthering the theory that the Jan. 6 insurrection should be blamed on “agent provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters.”

After the clip, Williams said, “We paid extra to have those translated from the original Russian.”

Mediaite’s Joe DePaolo also pointed out that before showing the clip, Williams seemed to take a bit of a shot at his NBC colleagues by calling Johnson “the rare conspiracy theorist who is a regular on ‘Meet the Press.’”

But it might have been a bit of a cheap shot by Williams to say Johnson is a “regular” guest on “Meet the Press.” According to DePaolo, Johnson has been on that show three times since October 2019, but only once in the past 15 months.


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Suspended over a tweet

An anchor at a local TV station in Washington, D.C., has been suspended over an insensitive tweet he sent out complaining about people with obesity and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Blake McCoy, from Fox 5, tweeted, “I’m annoyed obese people of all ages get priority vaccine access before all essential workers. When most stayed home, we went into work everyday last March, April, May and everyday since putting ourselves & loved ones at risk. Vaccinate essential workers. Then obese.”

McCoy deleted the tweet and then tweeted, “Earlier today I Tweeted something insensitive and offensive. I truly regret my words and want to apologize. I have deleted my tweet and ask that you accept my sincere apology.”

Some are doubting the sincerity of McCoy’s apology because, in a follow-up conversation on Twitter with one of his followers, McCoy tweeted, “I deleted because, frankly, who has the time to argue with strangers on the internet.”

A spokesperson for the station has told several news outlets that McCoy has been suspended pending a review.

A backlash at Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera has launched “Rightly” — a digital platform aimed at American conservatives. Not surprisingly, the move has not gone over well with many of Al Jazeera’s journalists.

More than 100 staffers signed a letter to management that lashed out against the new platform. The letter, obtained by The Guardian’s Michael Safi, said “Rightly” will “irreparably tarnish the network’s brand and work.”

It also said, “Media in the US is already polarised and the introduction of ‘Rightly’ is not a solution but rather a deepening of the problem. Those of us who work in the United States already face tremendous challenges, and our jobs will only be made more difficult now that we will be associated with promoting a political ideology. … This isn’t about politics, left or right, or diversity of perspectives. This is about journalism and continuing the network’s moral mission of uplifting marginalized voices, communities and stories. ‘Rightly’ is a betrayal of that mission.”

Cuomo controversy

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

A former aide is accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. Here is the Medium post by that aide, Lindsey Boylen, and here’s more on the story from CBS News’ Audrey McNamara.

Speaking of this story, Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz went on Fox News to talk about how “mainstream media” didn’t cover the story. I put “mainstream media” in quotes because that’s what the chyron on Fox News said. The online headline for the video called it a “media blackout.” And in a tweet, Kurtz wrote, “How the media are downplaying or ignoring a former top aide’s harassment allegations against Andrew Cuomo …”

At the time Kurtz tweeted out the video segment (at 3:59 p.m. Eastern on Thursday), I did a quick Google search on the Cuomo-Boylen story and immediately saw reports from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, the New York Daily News, CNN, CNBC, CBS News, NBC News, Bloomberg, Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal … should I go on?

In the segment, Kurtz pointed out that the network evening newscasts blew off the story on Wednesday and that CNN put nothing on air. But to lump ALL media into a category of ignoring the story is an unfair narrative. Perhaps Kurtz should’ve said some of the main TV news organizations didn’t cover the story. That would have been more accurate. And way more fair.

For the record, I watched Thursday evening’s “World News Tonight” on ABC and it covered the story.

‘Was it worth it?’

The New York Times’ Kara Swisher is out with another excellent episode of her “Sway” podcast. This one features a conversation with actor and filmmaker Sacha Baron Cohen.

Swisher closed by asking Cohen about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

Swisher asked, “Mark, Jack and Sundar will speak in Congress again on March 25. If you were on the dais, very briefly, what would you ask, and what character would it be?”

Cohen said, “I would probably ask them as myself. Was it worth it? Was the huge amount of money that you’ve amassed worth the destruction that you’ve wreaked on democracy and the deaths that you’ve caused? Was it really worth becoming even richer?”

Cohen also talked about Rudy Giuliani’s appearance in Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Movie Film.”

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