DUBAI: Slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s Washington Post columns were “shaped” by an executive at the Qatar Foundation, an entity funded directly by the Qatari regime which is at odds with Saudi Arabia, according to an article published by the Post on Saturday revealed.
“Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government,” a statement in the article read.
Although the published article insinuates the Post’s opinion editor doesn’t envision a conflict of interest, such a matter is highly likely to go against the Post’s ethics and policies guideline that is published on its own website, it reads:
“We do not accept payment – either honoraria or expenses – from governments, government-funded organizations, groups of government officials, political groups or organizations that take positions on controversial issues.”
“A reporter or editor also cannot accept payment from any person, company or organization that he or she covers. And we should avoid accepting money from individuals, companies, trade associations or organizations that lobby government or otherwise try to influence issues the newspaper covers…”
“…We avoid active involvement in any partisan causes — politics, community affairs, social action, demonstrations — that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report and edit fairly.”
Although nothing in the current revelations suggests that Khashoggi accepted payment from Qatar, the mere fact that his columns and articles were suggested, researched and translated by an affiliated with the Qatari government which since the mid nineties has been at odds with Saudi Arabia, many observers are likely to question their integrity and whether or not they reflected Jamal’s views or those of the Qataris.
Several journalists around the world have already tweeted their astonishment to the Washington Post revelation.
“This is unprofessional and hypocritical on behalf of the Washington Post. One only has to ask how would they have reacted if they found out that one of their pro-Trump columnists - if any - was secretly researching or getting his articles shaped by a Russian think tank. I say this while of course condemning what happened to Khashoggi and without any attempt to criticize him personally, I am just saying the Post is not deploying its own standards in this case,” said a Saudi journalist based in Riyadh on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the Khashoggi subject.
If you think it's not problematic that Khashoggi accepted substantial input on columns from executive for Qatar foundation (albeit a friend) without disclosing that to the Post or anyone else, not sure what I can tell you. https://t.co/fQ1h8JTmcG
— Greg Miller (@gregpmiller) December 22, 2018
However, the editors at the paper’s opinion section said they were unaware of the arrangements made by Khashoggi and the Qatar Foundation at the time of publishing.
“The proof of Jamal’s independence is in his journalism,” said the Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt in a statement, adding that “Jamal had every opportunity to curry favor and to make life more comfortable for himself, but he chose exile and — as anyone reading his work can see — could not be tempted or corrupted.”
Salem, who served as a special assistant to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, knew Khashoggi since 2002 and claims she only provided help to the Saudi writer in a ‘friends’ capacity only - saying that Khashoggi’s English language abilities were limited.
“He and I talked about issues of the day as people who had come together, caring about the same part of the world,” Salem told the Washington Post. “Jamal was never an employee, never a consultant, never anything to [the foundation]. Never.”
Khashoggi, who placed himself in self-exile in the US, was last seen alive on October 2nd after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was filing documents for divorce from his wife in the Kingdom. It was revealed later that he was killed by a team of Saudi agents who according to the kingdom l’a investigations were ordered to negotiate his return but ended up killing him instead.
Since then the Saudi government has charged a number of officials and security officers with the murder, they await trial while two senior officials - including the deputy head of intelligence - lost their jobs.
Khashoggi’s killing is an awful crime which was condemned by journalists and newspapers worldwide, including this one where he served as deputy editor in chief.