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The Washington Post, Shame, & Lobbyists


In the wake of the disappearance and likely murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, some of the most fervent and righteous voices demanding that others sever their ties with the Saudi regime have, understandably, come from his colleagues at that paper. “Why do you work for a murderer?,” asked the Post’s long-time Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, addressing unnamed hypothetical Washington luminaries who continue to take money to do work for the despots in Riyadh, particularly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, or “MbS” as he has been affectionately known in the western press.

Hiatt urged these hypothetical figures to engage in serious self-reflection: “Can I possibly work for such a regime, and still look at myself in the mirror each morning?” That, said Hiatt, “is the question that we, as a nation, must ask ourselves now.”

But to find those for whom this question is directly relevant, Hiatt need not invoke his imagination or resort to hypotheticals. He can instead look to a place far more concrete and proximate: his own staff. Because it is there – on the roster of the Washington Post’s own columnists and Contributing Writers – that one can find, still, those who maintain among the closest links to the Saudi regime and have the longest and most shameful history of propagandizing on their behalf.

Carter Eskew is a former top-level adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and a Founder and Managing Director of Glover Park Group which, according to the Post’s own reporting, is one of the Saudi regime’s largest lobbyists. Glover Park, says the Post, has “remained silent amid growing public outrage over reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.” Indeed, as the New York Times reported this week, Eskew’s firm, “which was started by former Clinton administration officials,” is the second-most active lobbying firm for the Saudi regime, “being paid $150,000 a month.”

In addition to his work as a Managing Director in one of the Saudi regime’s most devoted lobbying firms, Eskew is also a Contributing Opinion Writer at the Washington Post. His last column was published just three days ago, on October 12 – ten days after Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey, and the same day that Eskew’s editor, Hiatt, published his righteous column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience could maintain ties to the Saudi regime (raising a separate but equally important ethical quandary, Eskew’s last Post column was an attack on “Medicare for All,” even though Glover Park clients include corporations with direct financial interests in that debate, none of which was disclosed by the Post).

Worse still, according to a noble campaign promoted by Karen Attiah, the Post’s Global Opinion Editor and friend of Khashoggi – a campaign designed to keep track of and shame those who still intend to participate in the Saudi Crown Prince’s “Davos in the Desert” event – Eskew, along with fellow Glover Park Director Mile Feldman, are still scheduled to speak at that event. Given all the moral decrees and shaming campaigns the Post has issued over the past ten days, how can they possibly justify their ongoing relationship with Eskew as his firm lobbies for the Saudi regime and he attends the regime’s P.R.-building event?

That question is even more compelling when it comes to Ed Rogers, the long-time GOP operative who is currently an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post. In addition to his work for Hiatt on the Post’s Op-Ed page, Rogers himself receives substantial financial rewards for his work as an agent of the Saudi regime. Just two months ago, the lobbying firm of which he’s the Chairman, BGR Group (headed by former RNC Chairman and GOP Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour), signed a new contract that includes “assist[ing] the Saudis in communicating priority issues regarding US-Saudi relations to American audiences including the media and policy communities.”

According to the firm’s own press release, “BGR chairman Ed Rogers” – also an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post – “handles the Saudi work.” Like Eskew, Rogers’ last column for the Post was on October 12: just two days ago, the same day Hiatt published his moralizing column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience and a soul could maintain financial ties to the Saudi regime.

ven more awkward for the Post is that – with the possible exception of Tom Friedman – the most influential media figure who devoted himself to depicting MbS as a noble reformer was the Post’s star foreign affairs columnist, David Ignatius. Ignatius has built his career on cultivating an extremely close relationship to the CIA, whose agenda he typically parrots and rarely contradicts. It is not at all surprising that Ignatius would be a devoted propagandist to the Saudi regime, for decades one of that agency’s most cherished allies and partners.

Indeed, Ignatius did not begin his work heaping praise on Saudi tyrants with the ascent of MbS. As the media watchdog FAIR documented last year, “for almost 15 years, Ignatius has been breathlessly updating US readers on the token, meaningless public relations gestures that the Saudi regime—and, by extension, Ignatius—refer to as ‘reforms.’”

But in light of Khashoggi’s disappearance and the Post’s new posture toward the Saudis, it is two recent columns by Ignatius – touting MbS as an admirable reformer – that are now causing substantial embarrassment for the Post’s attempts to moralize on this issue. The first, published in April of 2017, was headlined “A Young Prince is Reimagining Saudi Arabia” and assured Post readers that MbS’s “reform plans appear to be moving ahead slowly but steadily.”

The second one, from March of this year, is even worse, as reflected by its headlined: “Are Saudi Arabia’s reforms for real? A recent visit says yes.” In it, Ignatius recounted his visit to the Kingdom by quoting one pro-MbS commentator after the next, and then himself gushed: “This is the door that seems to be opening in the kingdom — toward a more modern, more entrepreneurial, less-hidebound and more youth- ­oriented society. It’s a top-down, authoritarian process, for now. But it seems to be gaining momentum.”

Then there is the even more uncomfortable fact that the Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, played host to MbS during his star-making trip to the U.S. this spring, and was photographed laughing it up with the Saudi tyrant. As the New York Times’ media reporter Jim Rutenberg noted in a hard-hitting article today on the role U.S. media and financial elites played in creating the hagiography surrounding MbS:

As the guest of honor at a Page Six-worthy dinner at the producer Brian Grazer’s Santa Monica home, the crown prince discussed Snapchat’s popularity in his kingdom with the Snap chief Evan Spiegel;Vice’s Shane Smith; Amazon’s chief — and Washington Post owner — Jeff Bezos and the agent-turned-mogul Ari Emanuel.

(While taking aim at a broad range of sycophantic elites who helped build MbS’s deceitful image as a reformer in the west, Rutenberg failed to note the key role played by his own paper’s star foreign policy columnist, Tom Friedman, who not only penned a column hailing the “Arab Spring” ushered in by MbS but lashed out in a profanity-laden attack on those who suggested he was being too gullible and sycophantic toward the young Saudi despot).

Much has been made of the glaring and truly infuriating hypocrisy that so many western elites were perfectly happy doing all sorts of business with Saudi tyrants while they murdered Yemeni civilians and domestic dissidents en masse (with the direct help of numerous administrations from both parties, led by Trump’s predecessor), and only became outraged once one of the Saudis’ victims was someone with whom they empathized. And all of that is true enough.

But the Washington Post’s particular righteous fury as expressed in words, while understandable in one sense, is very difficult to reconcile with their actual actions, including their ongoing relationship with numerous individuals who either work directly for the Saudi regime, financially benefit from propaganda and lobbying work performed on their behalf, or have a history of taking the lead in doing P.R. work for Saudi tyrants under the guise of journalism. Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who oversees all of this as he tries to shame others for maintaining relationships with the Saudis, failed to respond to any of the Intercept’s inquiries regarding these multiple ethical and behavioral contradictions.

Updated: October 16, 2018, 7:37 a.m. EDT
On Monday night, Hiatt emailed the Intercept and told us that “both lobbying firms” in which Washington Post writers are partners (Glover Park and BGR) “have ended their contracts with Saudi Arabia.” He pointed to this Washington Post story, published late Monday afternoon, reporting that “The Glover Park Group notified the Saudi Embassy in Washington that is was canceling its two-year-old contract to represent the kingdom, according to a person with knowledge of the move” and “separately, the GOP-founded lobbying powerhouse BGR Group, which had an $80,000-a-month contract with the Saudi government, announced it was also dropping the kingdom as a client.” The announcements of these contract cancellations came after The Intercept published this story. Hiatt did not respond to any of the other inquiries posed to him.

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