Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2. Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi Arabian government, was shown on camera entering the consulate, yet there is no evidence of him leaving. Later, the Turkish government revealed recordings to U.S. officials that they claimed to prove that Khashoggi was attacked, tortured, and killed after entering the consulate. Khashoggi’s disappearance shows the increasing dangers of being a journalist in an era of “fake news,” and the attacking of the media, which presents an additional challenge to the safety of the world.
While many Western diplomats revere Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as a reformer, this ignores the fact that he has been very blatant in striking down any opposition to his reign. In the past year alone, MBS has been responsible for an increase in arrests and executions in order to extinguish dissent and assert his power. Khashoggi, a high-profile journalist in Saudi Arabia, has long been a critic of MBS, pushing for reform in the country and publicly critiquing many of the Crown Prince’s harmful policies.
In 2017, Khashoggi went into exile, claiming a fear for his safety as Crown Prince Mohammed began to further restrict free speech. Hence, in a regime open about its resurgent authoritarianism and control over dissenting opinions, it is no wonder why many have pointed a finger at the Saudi government for Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Unfortunately, while it would be easy to blame Khashoggi’s disappearance on Saudi Arabia’s regime, this undermines the parallels that we see in our own country. Khashoggi’s disappearance comes at a time when the press is continuously demonized and seen as the “enemy of the people.” The Trump administration has been very critical of journalism, crying “fake news” at stories that paint their policies in a negative light. In August, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet calling the press “dangerous” and “sick,” claiming them to be a threat to the country’s unity. Trump’s inflammatory remarks have, almost certainly, contributed to a culture in which threats and violence against the press have become normalized (e.g., the threats against the Boston Globe in August). In a country often admired for its freedom of the press, such remarks signify a threat to our free speech and safety.
Regardless of Trump’s claims, the purpose of the press is to find the truth and inform citizens. Without journalists, corruption and abuse would run afoul, leaving citizens in the crosshairs. Look at countries like Russia, who have killed journalists in order to cover up stories of corruption and human rights violations. Journalism is a necessity in order to hold leaders accountable and protect the people from those in power. When journalists in authoritarian regimes are disappearing and those in democracies are being berated and discredited, it is evident that the increasing anti-press rhetoric has become a true threat to freedom and safety throughout.