Fake news, phony facts: Some of the things the media got wrong on Khashoggi

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Kingdom's embassy in Istanbul. (Screengrab)
Updated 16 October 2018

Fake news, phony facts: Some of the things the media got wrong on Khashoggi

RIYADH: An unknown fiancée; an Apple Watch with questionable powers; an incorrect birth date; and a photo of a “hit squad” member taken five years before the alleged murder.
Each of these factors should have been a red flag for global media in covering the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Yet many news outlets chose to ignore them — in a classic case of “not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.”
Since Khashoggi went missing on Oct. 2, the media has gone into overdrive, with the story making the top headlines across prominent outlets including The New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian.
Some alleged that Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, was killed inside the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul — a claim strenuously denied by officials in KSA.

Rogue killers: Read US President Donald Trump’s latest comments on the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Yet as the official investigation continues, unconfirmed reports and phony facts have risen to the surface — with many making headlines in some otherwise reputed outlets.
Fourteen days after Khashoggi disappeared, Arab News looks at how the story played out in the international press — in an attempt to separate fact from fiction.
1. Apple Watch recordings of “torture and killing”
Turkey’s investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance revealed recordings made on his Apple Watch purportedly indicating he was tortured and killed, the pro-government Daily Sabah reported on Saturday.
The newspaper claimed that Khashoggi had set his watch to record as he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2, with claims that the audio clips of his “interrogation, torture and killing were audio recorded and sent to both his phone and to iCloud.”
The unverified claims were repeated by numerous news outlets, including Reuters. But others quickly dismissed them. As CNN pointed out, experts “dismissed claims that a recording of the alleged killing of Khashoggi may have been transmitted using his Apple Watch.”
The Saudi journalist was photographed in May speaking at the Al Sharq Forum wearing a third-generation Apple Watch.
The Daily Sabah had claimed that Khashoggi’s alleged assailants tried to unlock his Apple Watch with multiple password attempts, but could not do so, and in the end used his finger to try to unlock the device. Yet the Apple Watch does not have the same “touch ID” fingerprint technology as the iPhone and the iPad.
Another flaw is that the Apple Watch does not have a native recording function — and if Khashoggi used a third-party app, he would have had to be near his phone to transmit it, because the range of Bluetooth is limited. You can’t use an Apple Watch to connect to the Internet in Istanbul unless it is paired to a nearby iPhone.
2. The Saudi government spokesman … who wasn’t
Turki Al-Dakhil, general manager of the Al-Arabiya News Network, wrote an opinion article about Khashoggi’s disappearance. Yet his article was treated by several — including some Turkish and Qatari Twitter users — as a direct reflection of the Saudi government’s stance. However, this was denied by the Saudi government. Faisal bin Farhan, senior adviser at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, took to Twitter to encourage people against accepting Al-Dakhil as an official government source. “This article in no way reflects the thinking of the Saudi leadership,” he tweeted. Al-Dakhil later tweeted: “I have noticed that some people have linked my article to the #Saudi government’s official position, which is not true, it is only a personal opinion.”
3. The unknown fiancée
Most media reports refer to Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice (Khadija) Cengiz, who was reportedly waiting for him outside the consulate building. Yet Khadija was apparently unknown to Khashoggi’s family. Speaking to Al-Arabiya, his ex-wife Alaa Nassif said: “While Khadijah claims to be the fiance of Jamal, I have not heard of that name beforehand and neither has his family nor his son Abdullah, who was with him in Turkey for two weeks before his disappearance. If Khadijah was in Jamal’s life, I would be the first to know, but she was never in his life.”
4. The wrong birthday
The mysterious fiancée went on Twitter to exclaim that she was to hold a surprise birthday 60th celebration for Khashoggi — a claim widely repeated in the media. Yet Khashoggi’s Instagram account shows he celebrated his birthday with his family in March.
5. The Saudi “hit squad”
One picture of a Saudi national who was apparently among a 15-man “hit squad” who allegedly killed Khashoggi was widely circulated in the media. But it turned out the picture dates back to 2013. Emre Uslu, a Turkish former security chief, confirmed that the photo leaked to the press is old.
This “makes us question the intention of Turkish intel for leaking false information to the press. Is it because they hide something, i.e. their involvement in Jamal’s disappearance?” he said. The picture of one of the alleged hitmen “was taken in 2013,” not 2018, Uslu said.
On Thursday The New York Times admitted to not corroborating details about the alleged “hit squad.” The newspaper’s editor placed a note at the end of an article saying: “An earlier version of this article included details about several Saudis named by Turkish officials in the case that had not been independently corroborated by The New York Times. The details have been removed in this version.”
6. More uncorroborated reports
One report by BBC Arabic reported that a Turkish security source had said that there was an audio recording and photos showing that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Yet it has been claimed that BBC Arabic did not actually view the recordings to prove their legitimacy.
A BBC spokesperson, when contacted by Arab News, could not confirm whether the BBC had actually viewed the footage. “As reflected in BBC News Arabic’s coverage and by other international news outlets, Turkish sources close to the investigation have confirmed the existence of a recording of the killing,” a spokesperson told Arab News. “BBC News Arabic continues to cover this story in depth and includes a wide range of voices on the topic. As always we adhere to the BBC’s editorial standards in our reporting.”
Egyptian media analyst Abdellatif El-Menawy lamented the fact that many media organizations have “fallen into the trap of lack of credibility.”
“As a result of the political circumstances in the world and the sharp polarization of the world, Jamal’s case has become a tool in the ongoing political battle. Many media outlets have fallen into the trap of lack of credibility and lack of professionalism,” El-Menawy told Arab News.
“Many media turned into a weapon used in the battle of political differences.
“Many media outlets did not succeed in a professional test, and many names failed to maintain their professionalism.”

Lebanese erupt in anger on social media over foreign minister’s Davos participation

Updated 20 January 2020

Lebanese erupt in anger on social media over foreign minister’s Davos participation

  • The Lebanese reacted to Gebran Bassil's attending the WEF
  • "Today he is turning a blind eye to the devastating violence against civilians we're witnessing,” a student told Arab News

DAVOS: Lebanese have erupted in anger after the country’s caretaker foreign minister was announced as a participant at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos.

Activists have started an online petition called “No to Gebran Bassil at WEF”

“It's a shame that the international community fails to see Gebran Bassil amongst the pool of failed politicians who have lead to the crisis Lebanon witnesses today,” Chermine Haidar, a Lebanese student at SOAS University in London, told Arab News.

“He has for years incited sectarian violence in Lebanon, and today he is turning a blind eye to the devastating violence against civilians we're witnessing,” she added.

Bassil, who has been one of the protesters’ main targets, is set to speak in a panel session called “The Return of Arab Unrest” along with Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai-based developer Damac Properties, Rached Ghannouchi, speaker of the Tunisian assembly and the Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag.



The panel, moderated by CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble, will discuss the rise of popular protests across the Middle East and how they can “be translated into a practical roadmap for positive change,” according to the session description.

“What positive change will Gebran Bassil be talking about?” asked George Azzi on Twitter.

“How to ignore protesters and oppress them? 

“There is a revolution against him in Beirut and he is invited to speak about a ‘practical roadmap to avoid past pitfalls?’ This panel is shameful!” 

Another Lebanese expat, Catherine Warde, also reacted with disbelief at Bassil’s appearance.

“How can someone who is so hated by their own people go and speak at the World Economic Forum when the people that they should be representing are being shot and tear gassed because of orders they gave out?” she said.

The Lebanese protests erupted at the weekend into the worst violence since the demonstrations began in October. Hundreds of people were injured during clashes with riot police and the army.

The online petition, which has reached more than 5,000 signatures, says: “We the People urge the World Economic Forum to rethink Mr Bassil’s invite and listen to the People of Lebanon, listen to their voice, the voice of truth, the voice of justice.”

“He should not be present at a prestigious international forum such as Davos in our name. He should not be given a legitimate platform to cement his power and to speak on behalf of a nation that has rejected him and accuses him of flagrant corruption.”

One Lebanese twitter user, Rula El-Halabi, tweeted a poll that asked Lebanese citizens whether they agree with Bassil representing Lebanon at the forum.

Some 76 percent out of the 17,551 who responded voted “No.”

Another user, business executive Dr. Walid Mahmoud, Said: “Having Gebran Bassil as a speaker at the WEF in Davos does not honor the Lebanese people who have been uprising against the existing political system that led the country to its worst economic crisis ever and which Bassil represents as one of its most condemned figures!” (

A few, however, have defended the caretaker foreign minister on social media.

One user, Hyam Saliba, tweeted: “As a Lebanese citizen, I would like to say that Gebran Bassil is the most honorable politician in Lebanon and he truly represents me.

“He is one of a kind man that can change the world to make it a better place.