How the inconvenient truth of Jeff Bezos’s fabricated ‘phone leak’ story revealed a deeply-rooted media bias against Saudi Arabia

Bloomberg Businessweek published an excerpt from journalist and author Brad Stone’s tell-all book on the Amazon chief which revealed the truth behind the leak. (Amazon Unbound)
Bloomberg Businessweek published an excerpt from journalist and author Brad Stone’s tell-all book on the Amazon chief which revealed the truth behind the leak. (Amazon Unbound)
Short Url
Updated 18 May 2021

How the inconvenient truth of Jeff Bezos’s fabricated ‘phone leak’ story revealed a deeply-rooted media bias against Saudi Arabia

Bloomberg Businessweek published an excerpt from journalist and author Brad Stone’s tell-all book on the Amazon chief which revealed the truth behind the leak. (Amazon Unbound)
  • Many US, UK publications rushed to blame Saudi Arabia for the leak of the 2020 scandal, but only four retracted their stories when the truth emerged that Riyadh had nothing to do with it
  • Experts slam the now Bezos-owned Washington Post for failing to report fairly on him after recent book revealed that leak came from former brother-in-law, not Saudi Arabia

LONDON: On May 8, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Aljubeir took to Twitter to ask whether or not those who have accused the Kingdom of the so-called Bezos Hack would come forward and acknowledge their mistake, or “simply delete their tweets and hope that their positions at the time disappear into the sunset?”

The Bezos Hack refers to an incident in January 2020 when Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was accused, without any proof, of illegally tapping into the phone of Amazon’s Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos. The crown prince was accused of leaking news of the affair with presenter Lauren Sanchez to US tabloid the National Enquirer because of Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post.

For over a year, major Western news outlets — from the New York Times and Washington Post to Britain’s Guardian and Daily Telegraph — have peddled story after story of the alleged leak by Saudi Arabia and each revelation that came afterwards.

And yet, when Bloomberg Businessweek published an excerpt from journalist and author Brad Stone’s tell-all book on the Amazon chief which revealed the truth behind the leak, the final follow-up story never came.

“This was a serious accusation and if evidence emerges that it’s untrue it’s important that media outlets either report this or correct their previous stories,” William Neal, a London-based strategic communications consultant, told Arab News.

“More broadly, too often Western outlets are keen to cast Saudi Arabia in a negative light rather than reporting the facts. Their audience deserves to see the full picture, not partial reporting,” Neal said.

The truth — which appears to have involved nothing more than Sanchez’s Hollywood B-list agent brother selling his sister out for $200,000 in what was described as a “public-relations masterstroke” from Bezos —  was not as useful to the outlets as a falsified Saudi connection was.

The Saudi angle, as Stone notes, was “only a fog of overlapping events, weak ties between disparate figures and more strange coincidences.”

He added: “For Bezos and his advisers, though, who were still trying to positively spin the embarrassing events surrounding his divorce, such a cloud of uncertainty was at the very least distracting from the more unsavory and complicated truth.”

A two-week media monitoring period by Arab News since the Bloomberg Businessweek revelation saw few Western outlets publish features on the latest update or correct their previous reporting, which has now been proven to be unsubstantiated.

Outlets including the New York Times and CNN, among others, did not run the story — a decision which goes against their supposed professional journalism practices and industry norms. Meanwhile, the Bezos-owned Washington Post found itself in its own conflict of interest where it vehemently defended its owner throughout the ordeal, while keeping silent over the latest findings.

“I would say that it does show bias when media outlets don’t take the time to correct incorrect claims, and issue corrections when new information comes out. Or sometimes what we'll see is they will issue the correction, but they'll do it quietly. So then, the original incorrect story got a lot more attention.” Julie Mastrine, director of marketing at AllSides, a US media watchdog, told Arab News.

“Our position is that ‘there is no such thing as unbiased news’ and what people really need to do is become aware of that and then learn how to spot bias and read broadly across the political spectrum so that they get multiple perspectives that can kind of challenge them to think critically and consider multiple angles.”

The Bezos-Washington Post conflict of interest has, however, been the subject of coverage by the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. They, as well as the Daily Mail and The Times of London, have published features revealing how Bezos took advantage of his ownership of the Washington Post and of former US President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to the National Enquirer to cast himself as a “political target.”

The Journal’s Holman W. Jenkins wrote in a column: “Seldom will you find a newspaper admitting that it lied to you unless it can push the blame off on a plagiarizing or fabulizing reporter who will be said to have defrauded his or her own editors and institution. Now the Washington Post has an owner who fits this description.”




Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos (R) and his partner US new anchor Lauren Sanchez. (File/AFP)

A Saudi newspaper editor and a member of the Saudi Journalists Association said: “This wouldn’t be the first time that Western media has been accused of foregoing the standards of journalism that it holds others accountable for.”

They added: “It is understandable that in our industry, most editors prefer bad news and scandals. Nobody is asking these British and American newspapers for favorable coverage of Saudi Arabia, what we as fellow journalists expect of them however is to abide by their own professional standards and retract or apologize for the false stories they published.”

Other examples of bias in Western media came last March when a Houthi-caused fire at a Yemeni migrant detention center killed scores of Ethiopians. Fewer than a handful of Western media outlets covered the incident. Meanwhile, any mistakes committed by Saudi Arabia — ones that the Kingdom has acknowledged and apologized for —  are immediately scrutinized by the press.

The lack of coverage of the migrant fire even stoked criticism from one of Black Lives Matter Greater New York’s founding members.

“This is an issue that needs attention. This is something that can’t be ignored. This is something I won’t ignore. There are 44 people murdered and the news isn’t paying attention,” Hawk Newsome said in an interview on the Arab News-sponsored Ray Hanania radio show.

“I have strong reason to believe that the news isn’t paying attention because they’re black people. It’s my duty to fight for black people across the world.”

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


US House panel pushes legislation targeting Big Tech’s power

A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 24 June 2021

US House panel pushes legislation targeting Big Tech’s power

A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Legislation could curb market power of tech giants

WASHINGTON: A US House panel pushed ahead on Wednesday with ambitious legislation that could curb the market power of tech giants Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, and force them to sever their dominant platforms from their other lines of business.

Conservative Republican lawmakers haggled over legislative language and pushed concerns of perceived anti-conservative bias in online platforms, but could not halt the bipartisan momentum behind the package.

The drafting session and votes by the House Judiciary Committee are initial steps in what promises to be a strenuous slog through Congress.

Many Republican lawmakers denounce the market dominance of Big Tech but do not support a wholesale revamp of the antitrust laws.

Work on the massive bipartisan legislation stretched into the night. The session pushed beyond the 12-hour mark as lengthy debate ensued over a complex bill that would require online platforms to allow users to communicate directly with users on rival services.

Proponents said the measure would also give consumers more power to determine how and with whom their personal data is shared.

Earlier, the Democratic-majority committee made quick work of arguably the least controversial bills in the package, which were approved over Republican objections.

A measure that would increase the budget of the Federal Trade Commission drew Republican conservatives’ ire as an avenue toward amplified power for the agency.

The legislation, passed 29-12 and sent to the full US House, would increase filing fees for proposed tech mergers worth more than $500 million, and cut the fees for those under that level.

A second bill would give states greater powers over companies in determining the courts in which to prosecute tech antitrust cases.

Many state attorneys general have pursued antitrust cases against big tech companies, and many states joined with the US Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in their antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, respectively, last year. The measure drew many Republican votes and was approved 34-7.

The advance of the legislation comes as the tech giants are already smarting under federal investigations, epic antitrust lawsuits, near-constant condemnation from politicians of both parties, and a newly installed head of the powerful FTC who is a fierce critic of the industry.

The legislative package, led by industry critic Rep. David Cicilline, targets the companies’ structure and could point toward breaking them up, a dramatic step for Congress to take against a powerful industry whose products are woven into everyday life.

If such steps were mandated, they could bring the biggest changes to the industry since the federal government’s landmark case against Microsoft some 20 years ago.

The Democratic lawmakers championing the proposals reaffirmed the case for curbing Big Tech as the committee began digging into the legislation.

It “will pave the way for a stronger economy and a stronger democracy for the American people by reining in anti-competitive abuses of the most dominant firms online,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chair.

“Each bill is an essential part of a bipartisan plan to level the playing field for innovators, entrepreneurs and startups — and to bring the benefits of increased innovation and choice to American consumers.”

Conservative Republicans laid down their markers. They insisted that the proposed legislation does not truly attack anti-competitive abuses by the tech industry because it fails to address anti-conservative bias on its social media platforms.

And they previewed a fight over legislative definitions. The legislation as drafted would apply to online platforms with 50 million or more monthly active users, annual sales or market value of over $600 billion, and a role as “a critical trading partner.”

The new proposals “make it worse,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, the panel’s senior Republican. “They don’t break up Big Tech. They don’t stop censorship.”

The legislation’s definition of which online platforms would fall under stricter antitrust standards could mean that companies such as Microsoft, Walmart and Visa would soon be included, Jordan suggested. “Who knows where it will end?” he said.

President Joe Biden’s surprise move last week elevating antitrust legal scholar Lina Khan to head the FTC was a clear signal of a tough stance toward the tech giants. It was top of mind for the conservative Republicans objecting to the new legislation.

Khan played a key role in the Judiciary Committee’s sweeping 2019-20 investigation of the tech giants’ market power.

The four companies deny abusing their dominant market position, and assert that improper intervention in the market through legislation would hurt small businesses and consumers.

Lauded as engines of innovation, the Silicon Valley giants for decades enjoyed minimal regulation and star status in Washington, with a notable coziness during the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president.

The industry’s fortunes abruptly reversed about two years ago when the companies came under intense federal scrutiny, a searing congressional investigation, and growing public criticism over issues of competition, consumer privacy and hate speech.

Biden said as a presidential candidate that dismantling the big tech companies should be considered.

He also has said he wants to see changes to the social media companies’ long-held legal protections for speech on their platforms.

The legislative proposals would also prohibit the tech giants from favoring their own products and services over competitors on their platforms.

The legislation was informed by the 15-month Judiciary antitrust investigation, led by Cicilline, which concluded that the four tech giants have abused their market power by charging excessive fees, imposing tough contract terms, and extracting valuable data from individuals and businesses that rely on them.

The legislation also would make it tougher for the giant tech companies to snap up competitors in mergers, which they have completed by scores in recent years.

Democrats control the House, but they would need to garner significant Republican support in the Senate for legislation to pass.

The chamber is split 50-50, with the Democrats’ one-vote margin depending on Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker.


Heartbreak in newsroom as Apple Daily bids farewell to Hong Kong

The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the heThe final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)adline: Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain. (AFP)
Updated 24 June 2021

Heartbreak in newsroom as Apple Daily bids farewell to Hong Kong

The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
  • Staff at the Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily bid farewell as the paper prints its last edition on Thursday.
  • Hundreds of Hong Kong residents gathered in the rain outside Apple Daily offices where a million copies were being printed.

HONG KONG: Apple Daily cub reporter Yau Ting-leung could not sleep much. Tired, he lay in bed on Wednesday morning checking the news.
The 23-year-old had been in his dream job at the pro-democracy tabloid for less than a year, but now things were unraveling.
Six days after a police raid on Apple, the arrests of its top two editors and a freeze of core assets on national security grounds, the company was running out of cash and options.
Final publication was set for Saturday, with a skeleton crew putting out the last of the roughly 9,500 editions of the paper.
“At 11:30 a.m. the news came that they’d arrested our lead columnist,” Yau told Reuters. “At that moment, I just felt numb.”
Soon afterward, the board decided it would be the last day for the feisty Chinese-language publication that combined celebrity gossip with investigations of the powerful.
Yau, the youngest member of the paper’s investigative team, ignored a warning from management to stay home, showing up at the office in an isolated industrial estate. Many others did the same.
With Apple’s website and 26 years’ worth of content to be purged at midnight, time was running out.
“I didn’t have to write anything today. I was put in charge of saving our work, including our award-winning reports,” said Yau, who is three years younger than Apple Daily. But he was unable to finish: “No matter how hard I tried to back up ... there just wasn’t enough time.”
Ten meters from Yau, Norman Choi was at work on a story. This time, though, it was an obituary for Apple Daily.
Surrounded by the clutter of 22 years at the paper, including crackers and empty liquor bottles, the 51-year-old senior features editor clacked away at his keyboard, wearing a black mask and clothes.
As he tried to focus, Choi had a mountain of other tasks, such as taking down slogans beside his desk.
“I’m not deliberately staying behind. I just don’t want to leave my fellow reporters,” he said.
Deputy chief editor Chan Pui-man, out on bail after her arrest, wandered the open-plan newsroom with its “I love Apple” logos on the wall, red-eyed at times.
“It’s hard to control our emotions,” she said.

APPLE TREE
As news of the paper’s impending closure spread, staff could see and hear crowds gathering outside. Some chanted “Thank you Apple Daily — Add oil!” a Chinese expression of encouragement that had become a refrain among supporters of the paper.
Around midnight, the first warm copies of the record 1 million to be printed — more than 10 times the usual press run — came off the presses and were handed out to the cheering crowd.
Ryan Law, 47, Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, told Reuters before his arrest, “No matter what happens to us, you can’t kill the people who read Apple Daily.”
Photographer Harry Long, and his pictures team did not have to venture far for their last front-page image.
They settled on a shot from the roof showing the people, many with umbrellas, and vehicles clogging the normally quiet street below. Beside the picture, the headline read: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.”
Lights from mobile phones twinkle up from the supporters.
“I’m heartbroken,” Long said.
Yau waved down from the roof with his own mobile phone, hugging colleagues soon to be out of a job.
“We would all suddenly start crying as we just couldn’t bear to see this end,” he said. But at the same time, “everyone was happy too. That we could all work through this last day together, united in doing this one thing.”
Choi, the features editor, found the public support touching.
“It’s the first time so many readers come and support us here, and I know it’s the last time,” he said. Their showing up “means everything in my career in Apple Daily, and in my life.”
Papers were stacked and loaded onto lorries and vans and whisked to newsstands across the city of 7.5 million.
At a kiosk in the working class district of Mong Kok, hundreds queued around the block to snap up a copy. Some chanted “Liberate Hong Kong — Revolution of our Times,” the rallying cry of the city’s mass anti-China protests in 2019.
The last edition carried a farewell letter from Chan, the deputy chief editor.
“When an apple is buried beneath the soil, its seed will become a tree filled with bigger and more beautiful apples.
“Love you all forever, love Hong Kong forever.”


Bangladeshi cleric issues fatwa on Facebook emoji

Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online. (File/AFP)
Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 June 2021

Bangladeshi cleric issues fatwa on Facebook emoji

Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online. (File/AFP)
  • A prominent Bangladeshi cleric has issued a fatwa against people using Facebook’s “haha” emoji to mock people.
  • He posted a three-minute video in which he discussed the mocking of people on Facebook and issued a fatwa.

DHAKA: A prominent Muslim Bangladeshi cleric with a huge online following has issued a fatwa against people using Facebook’s “haha” emoji to mock people.
Ahmadullah, who uses one name, has more than three million followers on Facebook and YouTube. He regularly appears on television shows to discuss religious issues in the Muslim-majority country.
On Saturday he posted a three-minute video in which he discussed the mocking of people on Facebook and issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, explaining how it is “totally haram (forbidden)” for Muslims.
“Nowadays we use Facebook’s haha emojis to mock people,” Ahmadullah said in the video, which has since been viewed more than two million times.
“If we react with haha emojis purely out of fun and the same was intended by the person who posted the content, it’s fine.
“But if your reaction was intended to mock or ridicule people who posted or made comments on social media, it’s totally forbidden in Islam,” Ahmadullah added.
“For God’s sake I request you to refrain from this act. Do not react with ‘haha’ to mock someone. If you hurt a Muslim he may respond with bad language that would be unexpected.”
Thousands of followers reacted to his video, most of them positively, although several hundred made fun of it — using the “haha” emoji.
Ahmadullah is among Bangladesh’s new crop of Internet-savvy Islamic preachers who have drawn millions of followers online.
Their commentaries on religious and social issues are hugely popular, drawing millions of views per video.
Some have earned notoriety with bizarre claims on the origin of the coronavirus. A few are accused of preaching hatred, while several have turned into celebrities for their fun-filled videos.


Orange Egypt makes it to No. 2 on YouTube Ads Leaderboard, Cannes Edition

Orange Egypt makes it to No. 2 on YouTube Ads Leaderboard, Cannes Edition
Updated 24 June 2021

Orange Egypt makes it to No. 2 on YouTube Ads Leaderboard, Cannes Edition

Orange Egypt makes it to No. 2 on YouTube Ads Leaderboard, Cannes Edition
  • Egyptian telecom provider is the only regional brand to be featured on the global leaderboard

YouTube released its Ads Leaderboard, 2021 Cannes Edition, celebrating the most popular video ads from around the world posted between June 1, 2020, and May 30, 2021.

The top 10 ads represent over 635 million global views across the whole leaderboard.

This year, telecom provider Orange Egypt’s Ramadan ad placed second, making it the only brand from the Middle East region to rank on the leaderboard. The ad was created and distributed by Orange Egypt’s creative agency Leo Burnett and media agency UM.

 

 

“It brings us great honor and pride for our campaign to be ranked at second place, surpassing many other strong global brands,” Maha Nagy, vice president of communications at Orange Egypt, told Arab News.

In the region, Ramadan advertisements are a critical part of any brand’s marketing strategy. But, as people started celebrating Ramadan differently due to the pandemic, it became essential for brands to shift away from the usual theme of physical togetherness to stay relevant.

“It was crucial to build a campaign with relevant human insight in order to stand out and appeal to people. The emotional and human campaign “سنة الحياة,” highlights how people today maintain their closeness through technology and how Orange, as a leading telecom company, plays a major role in helping individuals stay connected,” said a spokesperson from Orange Egypt.

Here’s a list of all the ads on the Cannes YouTube Ads Leaderboard:

1. Hyundai x BTS — For the Earth 60 sec

Brand: Hyundai Motor Company

Media Agency: Innocean Worldwide

Creative Agency: Innocean Worldwide

 

2. Orange — Ramadan 2020

Brand: Orange Egypt

Media Agency: UM-IPG

Creative Agency: Leo Burnett

 

3. Amazon’s Big Game Commercial: Alexa’s Body

Brand: Amazon

Media Agency: Rufus Global

Creative Agency: Lucky Generals

 

4. OPPO F17 Pro — Diwali Edition | #BeTheLight To Spread The Light

Brand: OPPO India

Media Agency: HYHK

Creative Agency: CCLAB

 

5. You Can’t Stop Us — Nike

Brand: Nike

Media Agency: Within

Creative Agency: Wieden + Kennedy

 

6. LOST & CROWNED — A Clash Short Film

Media Agency: In-house

Creative Agency: Psyop (Animation Partner)

 

7.  No Drama

Brand: My Switzerland

Media Agency: SirMary

Creative Agency: Wirz

 

8. Feel the Rhythm of KOREA: JEONJU

Brand: Imagine Your Korea

Media Agency: Incross

Creative Agency: Korea Press Foundation; HS Ad

 

9. Introducing Apple Watch Series 6 — It Already Does That

Brand: Apple India

Media Agency: NA

Creative Agency: NA

 

10. #VilsHere — Launch Ad

Brand: Vodafone Idea (Vi)

Media Agency: Wavemaker India

Creative Agency: Ogilvy India

 


Dutch journalist held in Greece for sheltering asylum seeker

After spending the night in a police cell, Beugel said she was put on a ferry to a court in Piraeus, handcuffed to Fridoon. (File/Twitter)
After spending the night in a police cell, Beugel said she was put on a ferry to a court in Piraeus, handcuffed to Fridoon. (File/Twitter)
Updated 24 June 2021

Dutch journalist held in Greece for sheltering asylum seeker

After spending the night in a police cell, Beugel said she was put on a ferry to a court in Piraeus, handcuffed to Fridoon. (File/Twitter)
  • Dutch journalist, Ingeborg Beugel, faces a year in prison and a hefty fine in Greece for sheltering an Afghan asylum seeker.
  • Beugel had been trying to help her 23-year-old Afghan guest Fridoon, who had been picked up by Greek police earlier in the day.

ATHENS: A Dutch journalist faces a year in prison and a 5000-euro ($6,000) fine in Greece after police arrested her for sheltering a young Afghan asylum seeker, her lawyer said Wednesday.
Ingeborg Beugel, 61, says she spent the night in a police cell earlier this month on the island of Hydra and was taken handcuffed to court under a 30-year-old law designed to discourage assistance to Albanians who came to Greece illegally at the time.
Since coming to power in 2019, the conservative Greek government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has toughened migration and asylum laws.
Beugel’s lawyer Vassilis Papadopoulos told AFP that being convicted for sheltering a migrant would be “very unusual in Greece.”
A correspondent for Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer, Beugel was arrested on June 13 in Hydra where she has lived on and off with her children for the past 40 years.
She had been trying to help her 23-year-old Afghan guest Fridoon, who had been picked up by police earlier in the day.
After spending the night in a police cell, Beugel said she was put on a ferry to a court in Piraeus, handcuffed to Fridoon.
Having alerted the Dutch embassy in Athens, she was soon released and her court case was postponed to October.
“The clause in the law is about hiding undocumented migrants. I have never hidden that Fridoon lives with me,” Beugel told De Groene Amsterdammer, which reported on her story.
In an interview with AFP, Beugel said a police officer told her that “angry islanders had called the police, anonymously.”
She added that Fridoon only became “’illegal’ involuntarily” as the Greek Asylum Service was closed for months due to the pandemic and he was unable to meet specific deadlines.
He fled Kabul because his father and uncle were killed by the Taliban, and arrived in Lesbos in 2015, Beugel said.
“He has had two asylum applications rejected because in July 2017 when he had to tell his story to the Greek Asylum Service, he got a translator who wrote his story wrong in Greek. It took years to correct that wrongdoing, and he is now entitled to another attempt,” she told AFP.
In 2017 in a similar case, Cedric Herrou, a French national, was sentenced to four months in prison and a fine of 3,000 euros for sheltering migrants. He was acquitted on appeal in 2020.