American journalists and editors were duped in the Jamal Khashoggi case
I know that it is bad to blame the victim. I also know that one should not speak ill of the dead. And yet, the New York Times' two indignant editorials and two news articles in just one day (here is a sample) on Biden's soft-pedaling on his threat to make Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman a "pariah" for authorizing the sensationally gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey inevitably triggered some thoughts.
That these thoughts may come across as cynical is not due to my lack of sensitivity. Rather, they reveal who I am — an ex-Soviet, whose outlook is inevitably colored by his background. I think of the Soviet defectors (of which there were not a few), and wonder — would any of them go into a Soviet consulate to get their papers fixed? Not one chance in a trillion. By a natural self-preservation instinct that needed no articulation, they'd keep as far away from any Soviet representative as they possibly could, knowing full well the Soviet hatred of traitors and the fate meted out to them if they got caught. Even Americans should know the feeling — for I very much doubt that a certain Mr. Edward Snowden is a frequent visitor to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
So why on Earth would Mr. Khashoggi, an ex-pat and bitter critic of the Saudi regime, go into a Saudi consulate? He was no naïf. A highly placed Saudi who was welcome in royal circles, after his exit to the West, he was hired by the Washington Post to provide biting insights into the Saudi ruling class. An ultimate insider, he intimately understood Saudi thinking — or so he thought. In hindsight, he didn't — or else he would have kept the same longest-possible distance from any Saudi institution as the Soviet defectors did from the Soviet ones.
In hiring Mr. Khashoggi, the Washington Post prided itself on getting for its readers a clear view into Saudi thinking. Mr. Khashoggi's gruesome death showed how little he understood the society he was hired to cover.
Not all that glitters is gold. To the Washington Post's editors, Mr. Khashoggi was a true journalistic find, yet his shine was false. In fact, he may be emblematic of a more general journalistic phenomenon. Wondering at naïveté or politically correct cant of a good many reputed analysts writing in the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post, I keep recalling the parable of the blind leading the blind. Mr. Khashoggi was, unfortunately for him, one such blind guide. Unkind as that thought is, it is by no means unfair — and speaks volumes about the quality of our journalism.