LONDON: Qatar’s shadowy funding of lobby groups and infiltration of the US media has created a climate of “fear” and is deterring American journalists from investigating Doha’s activities, it has been alleged.
A raft of allegations has emerged about how commentators paid by Qatar have appeared on mainstream US television, with no explicit acknowledgement of their allegiance to Doha.
Qatar is also taking part in “information warfare” by paying a vast network of lobbyists, as well as funding media outlets and think tanks, according to “Blood Money,” a new film about Doha’s attempts to sway political opinion in the US.
That, along with allegations that Doha sponsored the hacking of at least one US critic’s emails, is deterring journalists in Washington from pursuing Qatar-related stories, according to David Reaboi, of the US-based think tank Security Studies Group.
Reaboi, who appears in “Blood Money,” said that Qatar is spending so much on lobbying in Washington that journalists are unsure which of their sources are on Doha’s payroll.
“I’ve had private conversations with journalists who would just like to keep their heads down,” Reaboi told Arab News.
“Everyone is aware Qatar is throwing so much money around DC, and so many people are on the take. Why ruin these relationships by running an aggressive piece that will hurt their friends and associates? … Journalists will shy away from certain topics because their sources are somehow invested.”
Reaboi also cited the example of the wealthy US businessman Elliott Broidy, an outspoken critic of Qatar. Broidy sued the government of Qatar and a New York lobby firm over the alleged hacking of his email. A judge dismissed Broidy’s lawsuit, but suspicions have grown that Qatar had a hand in other hacking operations, according to reports.
Reaboi said that such cases have created a climate of “fear” among US journalists.
“They’ve seen the stories about Qatar critic Elliott Broidy and how Qatari hackers worked with lobbyists and (Washington) DC PR shops to try to ruin his life and livelihood by leaking his emails and confidential documents,” he said.
“They’ve also seen or heard the stories about how soccer players, Bollywood stars, think tank experts, and — perhaps most ominously, for members of the media — journalists have had their email accounts hacked. It’s better, many of them think, just to steer clear of the story at all.”
Commentators in “Blood Money,” a film by Mike Cernovich, allege Qatar funded the Brookings Institute think tank with “at least $24 million” on the understanding that its experts support Doha’s agenda. Brookings did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.
“My hope is, that when people see ‘Blood Money,’ they begin to take a closer look at the media and messaging that comes their way,” said Reaboi. “Many of us believe that Qatar’s promotion of Islamism — and the Muslim Brotherhood specifically — is detrimental to America’s national interests.”
Several mainstream media outlets have been accused of hosting commentators that are on Qatar’s payroll, including CNN, which has often hosted Mehdi Hasan, a longtime presenter at the Doha-funded Al Jazeera TV network.
“Hasan is an employee of a thoroughly state-run and controlled media outlet with particularly aggressive message control — unlike, for example, the BBC— and he has been given a platform and credibility in the US through relentless promotion by cable news channels like MSNBC and, especially, CNN,” Reaboi said.
Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Instances of Qatar’s influence over the US media are sometimes more oblique. Murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s Washington Post columns were “shaped” by an executive at the Qatar Foundation, an entity funded directly by Doha, it emerged in December. The executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, proposed topics, drafted material and prodded Khashoggi to take a harder line against the Saudi government, according to the newspaper. Salem was a former US State Department employee working at the Qatar Foundation; Washington Post colleagues were shocked by the revelation at the time.
Aside from instances of Qatar apparently infiltrating the US media, “Blood Money” also says that Qatar targeted US news shows and social media accounts that it knew had the attention of US President Donald Trump. It also cites estimates that “over 1,500 people have been hacked by Qatar,” including human rights activists and journalists.
“The very real hacking threat by Qatar has made journalists afraid to cover Qatar,” said filmmaker Cernovich in “Blood Money.”