khashoggi
Photo (with edits): POMED // CC BY 2.0

As each day passes, it becomes more and more clear that Jamal Khashoggi, the progressive dissident journalist who disappeared after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul a little over two weeks ago, was brutally murdered. Evidence is mounting that this was a planned execution, with increasingly convincing ties to the Saudi government, including the Prince

Trump, always a fan of conspiracies, whether it's his ridiculous assertion that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK or the belief that former President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, decided to push his own narrative. Our president’s initial reaction was to come to the defense of the authoritarian Saudi monarchy, raising the possibility that “rogue killers” could have been responsible. 

Setting aside the absurdity that a bunch of random assassins would have the ability to infiltrate an armed embassy, the whole Khashoggi saga tells a more important tale about the state of  free press in America, and the relationship the media has with this administration. 

Ever since running for office, Trump has relentlessly attacked the press. He routinely refers to media outlets as “Fake News,” even going so far as to label the mainstream media as “the Enemy of the American People,” a tactic commonly used by despots throughout history to assert their rule. You may think this is just hollow rhetoric, but much of his base agrees with him, with the majority of Republicans trusting more in Trump than the news media itself. Could it be, that in an environment such as this, the Saudis felt confident that killing a journalist wouldn’t elicit a forceful response from our president? 

Possibly. One of Khashoggi's close friends, Arab-American political activist Khaled Saffuri, thinks so. He said just a few days ago that the Saudi prince likely thought, “Trump hates journalists and he would not react if we kill one.” 

Khashoggi’s brutal death, in which he was reportedly dismembered, packaged, and brought to a secret location, hasn’t seemed to create a moral epiphany for Trump, let alone the Republican Party. The GOP leadership, which has consistently shown an outstanding lack of courage when confronted by Trump’s worst tendencies throughout his presidency, has decided to begin a smear campaign against Khashoggi

Credit: Chase Sutton

Amid all the international outcry coming from the incident, Trump is still remarkably tone-deaf. Just a few days ago at a rally in Montana, he referred to Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who assaulted a reporter last spring, as “anybody that can do a body-slam, that’s my kind of guy.” The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked, put it aptly with this sobering headline: “As we mourn a colleague, Trump celebrates violence against a journalist.”

Look, I completely understand that journalism is not perfect. These days, news outlets, both on the right and left, can be fixated on the outrageous and scandalous, instead of the important. The motivation to seek profit and ratings at the expense of the truth can be quite compelling. Speaking about the rise of Trump, ousted media tycoon Les Moonves put it well: “It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."

Yet despite all its flaws, I believe that journalism is still incredibly valuable, and therefore, am extremely concerned that trust in the media is at a historic low. With the judicial, legislative, and executive branches all controlled by the same party, the press has an inherent responsibility to act as the fourth estate, covering the stories that matter. 

The president’s alternate theories behind a respected journalist’s death could not be more disheartening. “Fake news” is rhetoric; this is denial. Not holding Saudi Arabia accountable is truly weak leadership that sets a dangerous precedent going forward. Jamal Khashoggi's death comes at a pivotal point in United States history. The free press is too valuable to dismiss this incident as the work of “rogue killers.” 

SPENCER SWANSON is a College sophomore from London, studying political science. His email address is sswanson@sas.upenn.edu.

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