This week feels like the culmination of two years of attacks on journalism — including President Donald Trump’s ongoing denunciations of the press as “the enemy of the people,” the bombs sent to CNN along with other targets of Trump’s verbal venom, and more revelations about the horrifying murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, who feared for his life in the months leading up to his killing, spoke about much of this with international journalist Rula Jebreal in one of his last interviews. She is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.
Jebreal talks about Khashoggi’s views on the Saudi regime of Mohammed bin Salman — views that were, by any objective standard, nuanced and measured. He told Jebreal, in that last interview, that he was not seeking the overthrow of the bin Salman regime, but its reform. Jebreal explains how mournful Khashoggi was that he had tried, in vain, to foster the reformist impulses of the young crown prince.
Khashoggi saw the crown prince as a deeply divided figure: While bin Salman sought to win accolades as a reformer, he also wanted to rule as his grandfather and great-grandfather had — as a tribal leader of unquestioned authority.
It was Khashoggi’s exposure of bin Salman as a ruler trying to have it both ways that Jebreal thinks most angered him. She says that Khashoggi was murdered “for the crime of having an opinion.”
Jebreal shares with Schechtman what else she learned from Khashoggi, who was her friend. She talks passionately of Khashoggi’s views on the Saudi-led, US-supported war in Yemen; the role of journalism in how Americans view the Saudis; and how shocking it is that defense of the Saudi regime is still permissible in polite society.
She tells Schechtman that Khashoggi thought it would probably take a major crisis to change US policy toward Saudi Arabia. What he didn’t know was that his murder might be the trigger for that crisis.