Jamal Khashoggi’s Death Highlights the Dangers of Journalism

By, Danya D-C. ’20

On October 2, 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey to pick up a marriage document. That was the last anyone saw of him. Khashoggi’s disappearance shocked the world and sparked much debate over what had happened to him. Turkish officials accurately claimed that he had been killed and dismembered by 15 Saudi agents. Conversely, Saudi Arabia continually denied his death, though they did launch an investigation into what had happened. During the week following Khashoggi’s disappearance, President Trump initially stood behind the Saudi investigation, however, by October 18 he expressed his belief that Khashoggi was indeed dead and recognized the role that high level Saudi agents likely played in his assassination. Nonetheless, the President was careful to maintain an amicable relationship with Saudi Arabia and commented, “They’ve been a very good ally and they’ve bought massive amounts of various things and investments in this country, which I appreciate.”


On October 20, more than two weeks after Khashoggi’s death, Saudi Arabia changed their stance on the incident and acknowledged that Khashoggi had been murdered, but claimed that it had been a part of a “rogue operation” despite the fact that five of the suspects either have connections to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman or serve in high-level government positions. Turkey, pointing to this fact, claims that all the suspects are Saudi officials and intelligence officers. In a notable shift, President Trump said on October 23 that the Saudi response to Khashoggi’s death was “the worst cover-up ever.” His administration has said that it plans to revoke the visas of identified suspects and potentially impose additional sanctions against those specific individuals.


One of the reasons this particular event has garnered so much international attention is that the victim, Jamal Khashoggi, was a journalist. Khashoggi is notable for having been extremely close with the Saudi royal family, even serving as a government advisor. However, he more recently became critical of the lack of free speech in Saudi Arabia under the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He fell out of favor with the royal family and moved to the United States, where he became a columnist for the Washington Post. His death was not only a shockingly gruesome event but also an example of the Crown Prince’s lack of toleration for free speech, the exact issue Khashoggi had criticized in his work as a journalist.


The impact of Khashoggi’s death reaches far beyond Saudi Arabia alone. It threatens the role of journalists and newspapers worldwide, including Winsor’s very own Panel. Panel’s Editor-in-Chief, Teresa Lawlor ’19, found that it was “extremely troubling to see that a peaceful, moderate journalist could be murdered as he was.” She believes that “the world must have space for commentary and criticism without vilification or dismissal as ‘fake news,’” and that “in an ideal world, issues would be debated freely and openly, without tolerating or entertaining hate or vitriol.” That certainly sounds ideal, and how the international community continues to respond to Khashoggi’s death will be one of the deciding factors as to whether or not it becomes a reality.

This intolerance of dissent is also indicative of the Crown Prince’s values at large. Although Mohammad bin Salman has previously garnered support from the United States for his reform in Saudi Arabia, such as allowing women to drive for the first time, his progressive policies protected him from criticism for other actions he took. For example, the United States refrained from commenting on the Saudi-led airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now that the contradiction between his policies and his actions is in spotlight, it will be up to President Trump to decide how the United States responds, as well as the future of free speech across the world.