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)
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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


LinkedIn unveils top startups in Saudi Arabia 

LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
Updated 24 September 2021

LinkedIn unveils top startups in Saudi Arabia 

LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
  • LinkedIn marked the Kingdom’s 91st National Day by revealing the first list of top startups in KSA

DUBAI: LinkedIn has released its 2021 LinkedIn Top Startups list, identifying the top 10 startups in Saudi Arabia. Based on data from the company and compiled by the LinkedIn News team, the Top Startups list globally is an annual ranking of the emerging startups to watch out for and work for.

In its inaugural year, the list from KSA highlights the Kingdom’s emerging startups through a four-pillar methodology that measures employment growth, engagement, job interest, and talent attraction. It showcases startups that are successfully navigating the evolution of consumer and business needs in the post-pandemic landscape.

Many are paving the way through the “Great Reshuffle,” a phrase coined by LinkedIn to signify the moment of unprecedented change in which employers and employees are rethinking how and why people work.

The startup funding rate in KSA, which was about $8 million per annum in 2016, surged to over $150 million in 2020 and continues to grow exponentially in 2021, according to business research firm Magnitt.

The top 10 companies on the list are:

- Sary

- Tamara

- Jahez International Co.

- The Chefz

- Salasa

- Zid

- Nejree

- Shgardi

- Hala

- Shift inc.

“Startups are a natural place to look to for forward thinking and innovation around the future of how we live and work. LinkedIn’s Top Startups list for KSA is the place to find the startups you should be paying attention to,” said Salma Altantawy, news editor for the Middle East and North Africa region at LinkedIn.

Based on the list, LinkedIn has identified three key trends driving the startup market in the Kingdom:

Convenience: The companies featured on the list are ones offering easy-to-use apps that have revolutionized the concept of convenience for customers and businesses in the country. Sary, for instance, connects small businesses with wholesalers to boost the supply chain, while Tamara aims to empower people with its buy now pay later business model.

Delivery: With people turning to e-commerce more and more during the pandemic, the convenience of using an app to order everything from groceries to sneakers has become second nature to most shoppers, explaining the success of companies such as Zid and The Chefz.

Logistics: Through innovation and technology, small companies are able to make a big impact. For example, Hala provides effective logistics solutions from warehousing to freight forwarding. Similarly, Shift inc. offers smart transportation solutions in an easy-to-use format.

“The startups — mostly in the apps, technology, information technology and business-to-business marketplace space — are innovative, contributing to the Kingdom’s growth and helping build the booming small to medium-sized enterprise ecosystem,” added Altantawy.


Burundian journalist briefly detained while investigating blast

Bujumbura was investigating a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people. (REUTERS)
Bujumbura was investigating a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 September 2021

Burundian journalist briefly detained while investigating blast

Bujumbura was investigating a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people. (REUTERS)
  • Police on Friday briefly detained a journalist investigating a grenade attack in the commercial capital Bujumbura in Burundi

NAIROBI: Police on Friday briefly detained a journalist investigating a grenade attack in the commercial capital Bujumbura, his radio station said, after a series of explosions this week that killed at least five people.
Radio Bonesha FM had earlier said their reporter, Aimé-Richard Niyonkuru, had been mishandled and arrested by police in Bujumbura’s Kamenge neighborhood while he investigated a grenade incident that was said to have killed two people on Thursday.
“Radio Bonesha FM journalist arrested on Friday morning by the police has just been released. Aimé Richard Niyonkuru is still waiting for his recorder. He spent many hours at the Special Research Office under the hot sun,” the station said on Twitter.
Police spokespeople were not immediately available to comment on the arrest.
Burundi, a nation of about 11.5 million people, has suffered decades of war and ethnic and political violence. The United Nations says the youth wing of the ruling party and the security services are involved in the torture, gang-rape and murder of political opponents, charges the government denies.
On Monday, two grenade explosions hit a bus park in Bujumbura, while on Sunday a grenade attack in the administrative capital Gitega killed two, according to local media.
The Interior Ministry said “unidentified terrorists” were responsible for attacks in Bujumbura. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
An airport worker said on Monday there had also been an attack on the Bujumbura airport on Saturday, for which Congo-based rebel group Red Tabara claimed responsibility, saying it fired mortars as the president prepared to travel to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Sylvestre Nyandwi accused leaders of a suspended opposition party, MSD, of being behind the recent attacks, adding that authorities had issued international arrest warrants for them.


Podean wins The Drum startup agency of year award

Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards. (Supplied)
Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards. (Supplied)
Updated 24 September 2021

Podean wins The Drum startup agency of year award

Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards. (Supplied)
  • E-commerce firm specializing in Amazon advertising scoops international gong

DUBAI: Global Amazon agency and marketplace consultancy Podean has been named as startup agency of the year at The Drum advertising awards.

The gongs were judged by a panel of C-suite industry experts from leading firms and brands including Danielle Bassil of Digitas, Lucy Taylor from MullenLowe, Emma Montgomery from Leo Burnett, and OMD’s Stephen Li.

They evaluated agency nominees based on, “demonstrated innovative thinking to build and develop their business, shareholder value, outstanding client experience, and a talented and engaged team,” according to a statement.

The awards’ startup agency of the year category is dedicated to individual companies that are less than three years old and provide examples of how the new entity has set out to solve a need in the market, has been creative and innovative in terms of strategy, and has managed to cut through and build a profile in a crowded field.

Global chief executive officer, Travis Johnson, accepted the award during the virtual event, and thanked all Podean teams for their “dedication and constant focus on delivering innovation and results.”

Podean founder and CEO, Mark Power, said: “We knew from the start that e-commerce could be a more sophisticated and innovative discipline and that marketplaces must fit into a brand’s broader retail context. This award reinforces that our approach is the right one and one that delivers results for clients.

“I’m especially proud that the work we submitted – and that won – was contributed by our teams all around the world. We know we are not simply raising the bar in the US but also in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, and EU regions,” he added.


Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal

Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal
Updated 23 September 2021

Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal

Economist magazine calls for Georgieva to quit IMF over World Bank data scandal
  • "The head of the IMF must hold the ring while two of its biggest shareholders, America and China, confront each other in a new era of geopolitical rivalry," the Economist said
  • Critics of multilateralism are already citing the findings as evidence that international bodies cannot stand up to China

WASHINGTON: The Economist magazine on Thursday called for International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva to resign over her role in a China-related data-rigging scandal while at the World Bank, saying it has undermined the IMF’s credibility.
The influential London-based publication said in a scathing editorial that an external investigation’s findings that Georgieva pressured staff for changes to the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings in 2017 to favor China compromises the IMF’s ability to act as the custodian of data for the world’s macroeconomic statistics.
“The head of the IMF must hold the ring while two of its biggest shareholders, America and China, confront each other in a new era of geopolitical rivalry,” the Economist said, adding that critics of multilateralism are already citing the findings as evidence that international bodies cannot stand up to China.
“The next time the IMF tries to referee a currency dispute, or helps reschedule the debt of a country that has borrowed from China, the fund’s critics are sure to cite this investigation to undermine the institution’s credibility. That is why Ms Georgieva, an esteemed servant of several international institutions, should resign,” the editorial said.
It cited the allegation in the WilmerHale law firm’s report that Georgieva, who at the time was the World Bank’s CEO, thanked a senior bank researcher for “doing his bit for multilateralism” in altering the China data.
“Now she too should do her bit for multilateralism by falling on her sword,” the Economist said.
The World Bank’s “Doing Business” reports, now canceled, ranked countries based on their regulatory and legal environments, ease of business startups, financing, infrastructure and other business climate measures.
Georgieva, a Bulgarian who is a longtime former World Bank economist and European Commission official, has denied the accusations in the WilmerHale report, saying last week they are “not true” and she has never pressured staff to manipulate data.
The IMF’s executive board is conducting its own review of the allegations and has emphasized “the importance it attached to conducting a thorough, objective and timely review.”
An IMF spokesman declined comment on the Economist’s editorial. A US Treasury spokeswoman also declined comment beyond the Treasury’s earlier statement that is analyzing “serious findings” in the WilmerHale report.


Advocacy group slams shooting of Afghan journalist in Kabul

Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi in Kabul last week. (Salam Watandar)
Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi in Kabul last week. (Salam Watandar)
Updated 23 September 2021

Advocacy group slams shooting of Afghan journalist in Kabul

Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi in Kabul last week. (Salam Watandar)
  • Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with the privately-owned national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar, was shot by an unidentified man

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the shooting and injuring of an Afghan journalist, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, in the capital Kabul. 

Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with the privately-owned national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar, was shot by an unidentified man while he was traveling in a taxi van on Sept. 18. 

He was asked by a man sat next to him where he worked, and when Ahmadi said he worked for Salam Watandar, the unidentified man said that outlet was an “American radio station,” pulled out a gun, and fired several shots at Ahmadi, two of which struck him in the leg. 

Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ program coordinator for Asia, said on Wednesday:  “The shooting of journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi is a test of the Taliban’s commitment to justice: Will they stand by their pledge to allow journalists to do their jobs?

“The Taliban must conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into this attack, hold the perpetrator to account, and ensure that members of the press can work safely. The continued detention of journalist Morteza Samadi by the Taliban is also unconscionable, and must end immediately,” he added. 

Ahmadi was hospitalized, and no suspects have been identified as of yet. 

It remains unclear whether the Taliban was behind the attack. Since the group’s takeover of the country, many journalists have been living in fear for their futures. 

In early September, Taliban fighters raided the homes of two journalists and seized cars, desktop computers and a licensed weapon from one of the houses. 

According to Deutsche Welle, the Taliban also raided the homes of three of its journalists in Afghanistan last week and shot dead a relative of a DW reporter and severely injured another while attempting to track him down.