Classism in media coverage of the Middle East

The death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been in the news a lot recently. It’s certainly a tragedy and is obviously something to mourn. The calls for sanctions on Saudi Arabia aren’t entirely inappropriate, independent of the politics of sanctions.

However, I feel those in the news media need to proceed in their reporting with caution, not in the fact that they’re mourning, but in why they’re mourning. Most assuredly, the murder of Khashoggie was horrific, but was it terrible because he was a fellow human being or just because he was a journalist?

For example, Saudi Arabia has a long history of human rights abuses, and the crown prince is far from a model leader, but this is the first time there has been a major push for sanctions. What about when Saudi Arabia imprisoned political dissidents, sometimes up to 15 years, for peaceful protests? What about when, until recently, they prohibited women from driving? What about when they lead a series of air strikes against Yemen that had civilian casualties in the thousands?

I’m not favoring sanctions, but while the murder and dismemberment of a journalist is horrible, one certainly can’t say it’s out of character or even unexpected. The questions is not whether to punish SA for their actions, the question is why now?

Stalin once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement. After all, thousands of individuals die daily. But if one of our own dies? That’s unacceptable! This regime can kill as many people as it wants, as long as it doesn’t kill any journalists.

Rhetoric aside, the real political perspective, while cold and calculating, is at least internally consistent. Even if Saudi Arabia commits condemnable acts, it’s still in the United States’ best interest that they be our alley, because if they are not selling their oil to us, then they’ll be selling it to Russia and China. Even if you disagree, it is the standard modus operandi of the U.S. and has been since the cold war.

On the other hand, as I previously stated, if one is morally committed to sanctions, they should have been from the beginning seeing as Saudi Arabia has a long history of human rights violations. Favoring them now as opposed to when the government was killing thousands is nothing more than elitism in its purest form.

Journalists aren’t special class citizens, yet the perception that they are can lead to not recognizing error or bias when it happens. Ultimately, that type of thinking leads to a reaction against it. The motif of “Fake News” is motivated by a perception that they are somehow a corrupt and elite priesthood of truth. Journalists can’t feed that perception.

Khashoggi was merely one example of the crimes committed by a tyranny that has committed a multitude of sins in the past. I’m not advocating a lack of acknowledgment of his death, I am encouraging you, my fellow students: don’t act like it’s the first or even the last time an event like this will occur, and mourn because he was a person not because he was a journalist.