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Jamal Khashoggi with fiancée Hatice Cengiz, photo from The Australian

Jamal Khashoggi’s warning to America

Beware a government that attacks the free press

Jeffrey Denny

Listen up, if you will, all Trump-loving #MAGAs, angry Trump rally mobs and related right-wing media devotees: The late, courageous, murdered Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi has a dire warning for us from the great beyond.

Khashoggi, whatever the Trump and right-wing media disinformation campaign is madly, shamelessly spinning as a nothing-burger, was interrogated, tortured, killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for the crime of doing his job as a journalist challenging the political powers that be.

In his final op-ed for the Washington Post, published after his politically inspired murder, Khashoggi warned about the dangers when political powers declare the independent media as the enemy of the people, hoping to replace it with their own self-serving narrative:

“A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative.”

Think this doesn’t apply in America? Then sadly, you’ve already fallen victim to our own state-run narrative, courtesy of Fox and the right-wing media working directly and loyally as the propaganda arm for our Trump/Republican-controlled government, feeding true believers fresh inciting meat every day.

Think that’s just left-wing mainstream media spin?

Ask the Republican National Committee’s research team, “about 60 GOP researchers, bookers and attack dogs who spend their time churning out the ammunition that conservative media and Trump supporters use daily to pummel the president’s foes,” as the Washington Post described the operation.

The RNC team has no problem with the Post’s description of its mission — it’s proud of it.

As the rapid-response director, Michael Ahrens, boasted to the Post, “It is totally normal to see a video go up on our YouTube page, and then within an hour there be a post on a Daily Caller, or Washington Free Beacon, or Breitbart, or the Washington Examiner, and then it goes from there.”

That’s right: A Trump/GOP party official bragged that the right-wing media is nothing more than a channel for pumping out the Trump state-run narrative.

For example, even before Khashoggi was confirmed dead, without even trying to probe what happened or send fake thoughts and prayers, the Trump state-run media quickly tried out various diversions and deflections, including a Hillary whataboutism. “Where was this concern for our ambassador and three other men brutally murdered in Benghazi?” Rush Limbaugh thundered.

“Yeah but,” Trump lovers sneer, flipping to their own whataboutism and parroting the Trump state-run narrative, “What about the angry liberal mob and their Trump-deranged, America-hating mainstream media lapdogs?”

Anyone who believes the Democratic National Committee has a direct pipeline to The New York Times, Washington Post or CNN, where reporters are waiting eagerly, fingers poised above keyboards, to spread DNC rapid-reaction propaganda, might suffer from a range of delusions because:

a) They don’t know or care how real journalism works;

b) They don’t know the difference between real journalism that tries to get at and report the facts, and opionator bloviating that spins the facts;

c) They don’t care about any facts or truth that fails to comport with belief;

d) They are easily fooled by Washington swamp spinners; or,

e) Any or all of the above.

However, like it or not, the mainstream media does not work like the right-wing media.

Real journalists ignore or delight in slamming attempts by the powers that be, in either party, to use them to tell and sell the state-run narrative. Any who are willing to be used are not real journalists.

Most real journalists take the profession seriously. They start by covering local news for a small-town paper or broadcast station. If they’re exceptional and lucky, and stick with it, they might go national and perhaps eventually suffer the White House press briefings.

For my part, after a few years in journalism, starting with running my college daily, then at a couple of New England regional papers, then coming to Washington to cover the Pentagon, and then doing some investigative magazine reporting, I went a different direction, including dealing with the press.

This is to say I know first-hand that real journalists are naturally skeptical of power, whoever has it, right, left or independent. The main job of journalism is to hold politicians and other powers accountable, which our democracy depends on, I thought we all wanted, and makes America greater than nations without press protections.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer would never be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton’s “shadow chief of staff” like Sean Hannity is for Trump. It would be shocking should CNN president Jeff Zucker take the job as White House deputy chief of staff for communications and assistant to the president, like Fox co-president Bill Shine did for Trump.

To the contrary, right-wing fake journalists seem happy to kowtow to power and parrot the GOP party line.

Little wonder that few if any have real journalism training or experience. Many if not most are sharp conservative political ideologues that came straight from Koch-funded and other right-wing “think tanks,” other tax-exempt organizations, conservative talk radio, or related party-line punditry. They’re paid and promoted for skill in shilling the party line and snarking on the opposition.

Right-wing “journalists” don’t even try to be objective. They’re they’re happy to be little more than the old Soviet apparatchiks or Pravda “journalists.”

So of course the GOP-owned right-wing media attacks the independent professional mainstream media — not just because of a diametrically opposed difference in mission, but also, they’re competing for viewers and billions in advertising dollars.

The real difference between the right-wing and mainstream media boils down to this:

The right-wing media serves the powers that now be. The independent mainstream media challenges the powers, whatever they be.

Right now, Trump and his cowed and cowardly GOP have overwhelming political power in America. Trump and his party control all three branches of the U.S. government, most state houses, and steadily more federal courts that decide our lives. Trump and his GOP fuel and feed on anger, resentment and victim-hood, as all dangerous yet successful political powers do to amass more power and control.

By challenging Trump’s power, the mainstream media, however flawed like humans are, is trying to serve the people and defend our democracy, as our Founders hoped for.

By promoting Trump’s power, the right-wing media may well be the real enemy of the people.

And to all mainstream media haters and armchair critics who love the algorithm-fed, cherry-picked flaws that succor your snark, beware any media that feeds your beliefs, right or left. Test: If you love it, question it. Think critically. As Oscar Wilde or William Faulkner or Allen Ginsburg or someone advised writers, kill your darlings, the thoughts and beliefs you love most. Our democracy is depending on you.

Most of all, thank you, Mr. Khashoggi, for sacrificing your life to remind us how a free press that feeds free minds saves us all from tyranny. May you rest in peace. May we all heed your warning.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

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