PoliticsForeign Policy


Khashoggi Case Heightens Concern Over Press Freedom

The U.S. ranks 45th out of the 180 nations listed on Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index — down four spots since 2016.
Posted at 12:57 PM, Nov 29, 2018

The death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi captured the world's attention and cast a renewed focus on the current state of press freedom around the world. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, protections and safety for the press have been increasingly endangered on a global scale even before Khashoggi's death. The group found there to be a growing "climate of hatred" toward journalists in 2018, and that includes here in the U.S.

The U.S. ranks 45th out of the 180 nations listed on the organization's Press Freedom Index — down four spots since 2016. Reporters Without Borders explicitly blames President Trump for that drop. It says the president "has declared the press an 'enemy of the American people' in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, and routinely uses the term 'fake news' in retaliation for critical reporting. ... It appears the Trump effect has only amplified the disappointing press freedom climate that predated his presidency."

It's a fear that Khashoggi's former editor Karen Attiah shares. 

"The rhetoric we hear at home for journalists compared to how the administration has been treating Jamal’s case and basically aiding, I would say, in a cover up at this point, it just sends a really chilling message to journalists that we can be targeted at any time in any place by regimes that don’t agree with what we’re saying and doing and the United States might turn a blind eye," Attiah said. 

Despite a report from the CIA concluding the crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing, President Trump refuses to place the blame on him.

While speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Khashoggi's death "heinous" but stuck to the administration's message, which has largely been defensive of maintaining U.S.-Saudi relations. A day earlier, Pompeo wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal calling their relationship "vital" and argued, "degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies."

"Nobody's asking to throw away the relationship with Saudi Arabia," Attiah said. "I think what should be done — and it's being obscured a little bit now — is looking at Mohammed bin Salman, who is this crown prince who's basically skyrocketed to power in the last three years or so and has really taken the country on, even what Jamal said, a dark turn. A turn that is even more repressive than what Saudi Arabia's known before in the past."