As it becomes clearer the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia was behind the gruesome torture, murder, and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump’s allies have ramped up efforts to paint him as a terrorist sympathizer.
On Thursday evening, the Post reported on what appears to be a whisper campaign among Republican lawmakers and conservative media aimed at smearing Khashoggi as a jihadist in order to excuse President Trump’s prevarications on delivering a forceful rebuttal of the oil-rich regime’s human-rights abuses.
Among the examples cited by the Post was the stunning claim cast Thursday by Harris Faulkner, host of Fox News’ highly rated daytime gabfest Outnumbered, in the middle of a discussion on Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said.
Faulkner was immediately rebuked by co-host Marie Harf, a former Obama aide, who said: “That's iffy, Harris, to say that he was ‘tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.’”
“I just put it out there,” Faulkner replied, in just-asking-questions style typical of cable-news punditry, “because it is in the constellation of things that are being talked about.”
Fellow Outnumbered panelist Lisa Marie Boothe, a Republican strategist, piled on: “I think some of his tweets showed sympathy to the Muslim Brotherhood as well.”
The Muslim Brotherhood connection stems from Khashoggi’s long history as a journalist covering Islamic political organizations. As his fellow Post columnist David Ignatius explained last week: In his younger years, Khashoggi supported the Brotherhood when it was “a secret underground fraternity that wanted to purge the Arab world of the corruption and autocratic rule it saw as a legacy of Western colonialism.”
By the mid-1990s, Ignatius wrote, Khashoggi “was moving toward his mature belief that democracy and freedom were the Arabs’ best hope of purging the corruption and misrule he despised.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Faulkner said: “My job as a journalist is to ask the tough questions, which I was doing yesterday, in citing reports from the New York Times on the various ties journalist Jamil Khashoggi had, including to the Muslim Brotherhood. My questions surrounding the disappearance of Kashoggi are unwavering and does not differ from the way I do my job on other stories. The Oct. 2nd disappearance is a terrifying reminder of the dangers facing journalists and we will continue to report on all areas of this case as we search for answers.”
But Faulkner’s comments were just the latest example in a series of segments in which the network’s hosts or pundits suggested Khashoggi was an active supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups.
And in all other instances, there was no voices like Harf’s to caution against making insinuations about the late journalist’s background.
“U.S. intel sources believe the crown prince himself ordered an attack on the journalist who has been a frequent critic of the Saudi government,” Fox News national correspondent Ed Henry reported before offering up: “The journalist is American, but also has been said to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Henry did not cite who has said that.
On Saturday, Fox News anchor Eric Shawn reiterated the Brotherhood association, telling viewers: “Saudi Arabia, the kingdom considered him—or some—apparently consider him a, quote, terrorist, because he has spoken well of the Muslim Brotherhood. His most recent column was on that.” (That column, from August, wasn’t so much “speaking well of” the Brotherhood, but rather making the case that calls to eradicate the organization undermine the chance for democracy in the Arab world.)
Fox News contributor Walid Phares, a right-wing anti-Islamic pundit and former Trump adviser added in the same segment: “I read the Twitter feed of Mr. Khashoggi, I saw him on TV for many years, he’s well-known. His position has been always for the Muslim Brotherhood, against the regime, and especially against this leadership. Even he sided with the Brotherhood, and at some time, he was criticizing the policy of the United States—which is okay, people can do that, so that’s reality.”
One day later, Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at conservative think-tank Hudson Institute, wondered on-air whether the journalist’s disappearance is worth escalating tensions over, once again invoking the smear the Khashoggi was an aligned with Islamic terror.
“Saudi Arabia is a necessary ally and Iran is a dedicated enemy,” Pregent said. “Does one dissident who interviewed Osama bin Laden after 9/11, does one dissident who has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, does his disappearance lead to a total collapse of the U.S.-Saudi relationship?”
The claim that Khashoggi is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood continued unchecked on Monday, when Fox News contributor Judith Miller told host Martha MacCallum: “This man, Jamal Khashoggi, was not just a journalist, he was a political activist, and he spoke to many, many Saudis. He had a million, over 1.7 million Twitter followers. He was someone who decided that democracy was something he thought he ought to support. Look, Jamal had long-standing ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is at odds with the Saudi Wahabi regime.”
And on Tuesday, National Review columnist and Fox News contributor Andrew C. McCarthy went a step further, floating—without any citation—the idea that Khashoggi might be an “operative” of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“What you’re dealing with is a Shia supremacist government,” he said, “you’re dealing with Khashoggi, who is regarded by some as a dissident, but by others as a Muslim Brotherhood if not operative at least sympathizer. So this is very complicated.”
In recent years, as The Daily Beast reported, Khashoggi planned to launch a nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights across the Arab world.
Kristine Coratti Kelly, a vice president of communications at the Washington Post, told The Daily Beast earlier this week: “We’re not going to dignify the efforts by various officials to distract from the question of accountability by smearing a good man.”