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


UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down

UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down. (Shutterstock)
UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 January 2022

UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down

UK bans ad showing girl eating cheese while hanging upside down. (Shutterstock)
  • Mondelez said the ad was aimed at parents, and had been shown only on programming for adults

LONDON: Britain’s advertising regulator has banned a TV ad that showed a girl eating cheese while hanging upside down, saying it could promote behavior that could lead to choking.
The ad for Dairylea cheese, a brand of US snacks giant Mondelez, had been shown on British video-on-demand services in August last year.
It featured two girls, aged six and eight, hanging upside down from a soccer goalpost, discussing where food went when you hang upside down. One of the girls then ate a piece of Dairylea cheese.
The Advertising Standards Authority said children could try to emulate the girls, and one person had complained that a three-year-old relative had eaten food while hanging upside down after seeing the ad.
Mondelez said the ad was aimed at parents, and had been shown only on programming for adults. The girls were close enough to the ground to be safe from falling, and adults supervising them could be seen in the background. However, the ASA concluded these were not sufficient factors to reduce the risk of harm.


Former New York Post editor alleges harassment, retaliation

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they’re a victim of sexual harassment, unless they speak publicly, as Gotthelf has done. (Shutterstock)
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they’re a victim of sexual harassment, unless they speak publicly, as Gotthelf has done. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 January 2022

Former New York Post editor alleges harassment, retaliation

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they’re a victim of sexual harassment, unless they speak publicly, as Gotthelf has done. (Shutterstock)
  • Gotthelf said Allan’s harassment of her “peaked” in fall 2015 when she was the newspaper’s metro editor

NEW YORK: A New York Post editor whose departure was announced Tuesday alleged she was fired two months after revealing to an executive that former editor Col Allan had sexually harassed her.
The Post said any suggestion of wrongdoing related to Editor-in-Chief Keith Poole’s announcement of Michelle Gotthelf’s exit was meritless.
Poole, who Gotthelf said fired her in November after more than two decades at the Post, is a defendant in a lawsuit she filed Tuesday, along with Allan, the newspaper’s publishing company and corporate owner News Corp.
Gotthelf said Allan’s harassment of her “peaked” in fall 2015 when she was the newspaper’s metro editor. The two were having drinks after an editors’ dinner meeting when Allan said that “we should sleep together,” she said in the lawsuit.
She said Allan became hostile when she rejected his advances. She complained to her superiors and human resources, and alleged that Allan was forced to retire shortly thereafter.
He returned as a consultant in 2019, however. Gotthelf said their relationship remained tense, and she saw her influence and status in the newsroom erode. She said that in 2019, Allan ordered her to remove from the Post’s website a story about journalist E. Jean Carroll’s accusations that she had been raped by then-President Donald Trump. Trump denied the charges and the lawsuit said Allan claimed Carroll’s charges were baseless.
During a lunch meeting in November 2021 to discuss a soon-to-expire contract, Gotthelf said Poole asked her “what happened between you and Col?” She told him Allan had propositioned her.
She said Poole fired her “without cause” on Jan. 12.
“Any suggestion of wrongdoing related to the management changes announced today is meritless,” the Post and News Corp. said in a statement.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they’re a victim of sexual harassment, unless they speak publicly, as Gotthelf has done.


Filming of Hollywood movie ‘Kandahar’ in AlUla is a sign of things to come

The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
Updated 19 January 2022

Filming of Hollywood movie ‘Kandahar’ in AlUla is a sign of things to come

The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
  • ‘If I get to show the world AlUla for the first time on this scale, I’m all in. It’s a dream come true; I love it,’ said ‘Kandahar’ director Ric Roman Waugh
  • ‘Saudi Arabia is coming together as a film community to show the wider world’ the country can host major productions, according to the head of Film AlUla

RIYADH: The director and executive producer of “Kandahar,” the first big-budget Hollywood movie to film extensively in AlUla in Saudi Arabia, are full of praise for the natural beauty of the area, and the efforts of Saudi authorities to establish it as a global filming location.
The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor.
To support this process, the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2020 established Film AlUla to attract and assist film and television productions from around the world. It is led by film commissioner Stephen Strachan, a veteran of the UK industry and a respected film producer in the Middle East and North Africa.
Strachan said he believes the Kingdom is setting the bar high for the region as it takes its first steps in film and TV production, and confirmed that there are plans to establish a studio in AlUla.
“Kandahar” stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as a CIA operative stuck in hostile territory in Afghanistan. Filming in AlUla and 14 locations in Jeddah began in late November.
“Saudi Arabia is coming together as a film community to show the wider world that there are people on the ground who can look after a large film like ‘Kandahar,’” Stachan told Arab News. About 10 percent of the crew and extras working on the film were hired locally, he added.
The Saudi Film Commission and the Ministry of Culture offered the producers of “Kandahar” exceptional incentives to film in AlUla, Strachan said.
“We also scouted in Tabuk, Hail, Jeddah and Taif with the Ministry of Culture for three weeks to find the best locations, as Ric Roman Waugh, the director of Kandahar, was really keen to shoot in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Waugh, whose previous films include 2019’s “Angel Has Fallen,” which also starred Butler, said that he knew he wanted to film in AlUla as soon as he saw photos of the area for the first time.
“When I came here I realized that the photos do no justice to this place and it is a breathtakingly beautiful place,” he told Arab News. “As a selfish filmmaker, if I get to show the world AlUla for the first time on this scale, I’m all in. It’s a dream come true; I love it.
“Coming here, in a place that doesn’t have the infrastructure, can have some challenges but it would never have happened without the partnership with the Saudis themselves, and how much they wanted to embrace what we are about.”
Waugh thanked the Royal Commission for AlUla and the Ministry of Culture for their help, dedication and patience while making this film.
“We brought over 25 nationalities to do this film,” he said. “We have Christians, Muslims, Hindus and agnostics who came here to be part of a melting pot, as we wanted to do it together and we would overcome any challenge thrown our way.”
Indian actor Ali Fazal, who plays a character called Kahil Nazir in “Kandahar,” said he and his wife were impressed by the sheer beauty of AlUla.
“I was fascinated by AlUla and when my wife came here she was baffled by the rocks and the landscapes,” he said. “We went to Hegra and other places and it was very cool. We will also go to Jeddah and Makkah to do Umrah.”
Scott LaStaiti, the executive producer of “Kandahar,” congratulated the Saudi authorities for the rapid development of AlUla.
“The Royal Commission for AlUla has a master plan for developing AlUla, and in some specific locations we shot in, like the Sultan Valley, … you think about the history of AlUla and who was standing here 3,000 years ago,” he said. “The beauty here has a lot to offer in terms of looks.”
“The incentives that Saudi Arabia and The Royal Commission of AlUla are offering are very attractive. I think that the commission, and Saudis in general, are very smart in the way they are rolling it out and I think it’s a way that’s going to attract a lot of films to be produced here.”
Prior to “Kandahar,” two other movies spent time filming on location in AlUla. “Cello,” is a horror movie written by Turki Al Sheikh, the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, and based on one of his novels. The English and Arabic language film, which stars veteran British actor Jeremy Irons, is about an aspiring musician who learns that the cost of his cello might be higher than he thought. It is due for release this year.
“Cherry,” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, tells the story of a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who goes from being a college dropout to an army medic in Iraq. He meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging circumstances. It was released early last year.


CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary

CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary
Updated 18 January 2022

CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary

CNN Arabic celebrates 20th anniversary
  • Network announces 3 multi-year partnerships to celebrate the milestone

CNN Arabic is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The Arabic edition of the international news network first went live in 2002 as a digital news service based out of Dubai Media City in the UAE, with the aim of telling stories for Arab audiences around the world.

The channel had its biggest year ever in 2021 in terms of daily audience numbers. The figure has grown by more than 150 percent in the last six years, according to Adobe Analytics. The network attributes this success to a healthy mix of mobile-first video, interactive and written news, delivered to Arabic-speaking digital audiences worldwide.

 

 

“When we launched CNN Arabic 20 years ago, I don’t think anyone envisaged the changes the world would go through over the following two decades,” said Rani Raad, president of CNN Worldwide Commercial.

“In that time, the role that the Arabic speaking world plays on the global geopolitical landscape has changed significantly, and the UAE, where CNN Arabic is based, has developed as a major strategic player in the global economy.”

The Arabic network also ranked as the number one news provider against competitors including Sky News, Al Arabiya and BBC Arabic, among others, according to an independent study of news consumers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the US.

The same study found that the CNN Arabic was highly trusted, scoring more than three times the average trust rating. This is an achievement for the network at a time when overall trust in news remains low, with more than 50 percent of young Arabs not having much trust in any channel — be it TV and newspapers, or online portals and social media — as a source of news, according to the Arab Youth Survey 2021.

“The role of responsible and accurate news brands has become even more important in a world awash with misinformation, and we will continue to serve Arabic speaking audiences around the world with the news they need to inform the most important decisions in their lives,” said Raad.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, CNN Arabic has formed three multi-year partnerships focusing on specific topics in the Arab world.

It has partnered with UN Women in the Arab States to develop and implement a strategy across editorial output, events and other projects, to support the acceleration of gender equality, financial inclusion and female employment throughout the Arab world.

It has also partnered with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, which will see CNN Arabic upskill Arab youth over three years to enable them to succeed in the future of work, promote sustainability in the UAE and more.

Lastly, it has partnered with Sharjah Press Club to train young journalists over the next three years in various areas covering multimedia news and content production. The training will also include teaching teenagers about using social media and identifying misinformation.

“We are incredibly proud to have provided independent news with a global perspective to Arab audiences for 20 years now,” said Caroline Faraj, vice-president of Arabic services at CNN.

Faraj, who has led CNN Arabic since its inception and was named winner of the media category in the Arab Women of the Year Awards 2021, added: “However, we never want to stand still. As a digital news service from the very outset, it’s in our DNA to always evolve and experiment in order to remain relevant as people’s news habits continue to change.”


STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022

STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022
Updated 18 January 2022

STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022

STARZPLAY live streams ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022
  • Firm’s coverage of tournament builds on partnership with Etisalat

DUBAI: Regional streaming platform STARZPLAY has secured the rights for the International Cricket Council Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022.

The deal follows the company’s recent strengthening of its partnership with Discovery, Inc. to offer GolfTV as an add-on channel.

Danny Bates, chief commercial officer at STARZPLAY, told Arab News: “Strengthening the live sports category is one of our top priorities and we have seen the popularity for the genre grow exponentially in the Middle East and North Africa region.”

Continuing its long-standing partnership with Etisalat, STARZPLAY will be streaming the U19 World Cup along with the UAE telecoms firm and will provide cricket fans access to all the live action taking place until Feb. 5.

Last year, STARZPLAY partnered with Etisalat, which won the rights from Star TV Network to broadcast the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 across the MENA region.

Bates said: “We witnessed record-breaking growth in subscribers on our platform when we brought the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021, which shows how our audience responds to content that is relevant for them.

“We want to further build on our live sports portfolio to offer the very best in live sports entertainment and look forward to bringing more such exciting games for our existing as well as potential subscribers,” he added.

The 14th edition of the U19 World Cup is being held for the first time in the West Indies, with 48 one-day international matches planned between the 16 participating teams.

Subscribers can access all cricket content via STARZPLAY’s CricLife and CricLife 2 channels. They can also subscribe to the PowerPlay package, available for 24.99 Emirati dirhams ($6.80).