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Jamal Khashoggi's memory hangs heavy over press freedom dinner

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. ...

Posted: Nov 21, 2018 4:17 PM
Updated: Nov 21, 2018 4:17 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

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The headline on the Washington Post website right now: "For Trump, the bottom line on Saudi Arabia takes precedence over human rights." Anne Gearan says President Trump's declaration "that he won't hold Saudi rulers accountable for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi distilled the president's foreign policy approach to its transactional and personalized essence."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker's reaction: "I never thought I'd see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia." Here's CNN's full story...

Ryan slams Trump's "surrender"

The Post's reaction is appropriately furious. Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan called it a "betrayal of long-established American values." Ryan said Trump "is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so. An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better, as does the cause of truth and justice and human rights."

Note that Trump's exclamatory statement didn't even mention Khashoggi's Post role. But it did include the Saudis' claim that the writer was an "enemy of the state" -- chilling language to see quoted in any US president's statement.

Karen Attiah's column

Karen Attiah was Khashoggi's editor at the Post. In this new column, she says "it is time for Congress to act and impose consequences for Saudi Arabia's dangerous behavior, from Yemen to its bloody repression of peaceful critics. For if we do not, Khashoggi's death will be a blood stain on America's moral conscience that neither time, nor Saudi hush money, will ever erase."

Inside the CPJ dinner...

The Khashoggi case was very much on the minds of the people at the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual press freedom awards dinner on Tuesday night.

Today we learned "our contracts and our money trump our principles," the evening's host, Bill Whitaker of CBS, said from the stage. He promoted the #JusticeForJamal hashtag.

There was an empty chair for Khashoggi at one of the tables. And his killing was brought up in the larger context of attacks around the world. I thought CPJ board chair Kathleen Carroll said it best: "The world is pretty scary right now... The forces of press repression seem to be getting louder and more powerful by the minute."

This year's honorees

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh of Vietnam, Luz Mely Reyes of Venezuela, Anastasiya Stanko of Ukraine, Amal Khalifa Idris Habbani of Sudan, and Maria Ressa of the Philippines were this year's honorees. Read about the five award recipients — all women journalists — on the CPJ website...

"Are we less free and less brave?"

In his introduction, Whitaker mentioned a bit of good news: CNN and Jim Acosta's recent court victory against the Trump administration — an effort that CPJ and scores of other organizations supported.

There was applause in the hall for Acosta. But, Whitaker said, "such victories are rare." And the examples he went on to share — about journalists being doxxed, trolled, assaulted, censored, imprisoned, and murdered — showed how precious America's system is. And showed the need to protect what we have. The need to be a model for the world.

Meher Tatna, the head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, raised concerns about journalists being chilled by anti-media attacks in the United States. She talked about her arrival as an immigrant and asked, "Are we less free and less brave? Are we still that same country that embraced me years ago?"

The time to fight is "NOW"

I was so inspired to see Maria Ressa accept the inaugural Gwen Ifill Award. Ressa is the founder and exec editor of Rappler, a pioneering news site that the Philippine government is trying to destroy. I spoke with her on last Sunday's "Reliable Sources."

Ressa is about to fly home to Manila to face nonsensical tax fraud charges. She is being threatened with jail time. She criticized both the government, for targeting her, and Facebook, for allowing so many lies and smears to spread. On stage, Ressa connected the dots between Trump and Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte. "You have a president so much like ours whose attacks against the press and women give permission to autocrats like ours to unleash the dark side of humanity," she said.

Then she made six points:

One: "The time to fight for journalism, for our constitution, The Philippines and yours, is NOW."

Two: "Don't stay quiet when you are attacked."

Three: "We need to continue reporting without fear or favor."

Four: "We need to build global alliances."

Five: "We need to hold tech platforms to account... They need to protect the public interest and the public sphere where democracy happens."

Six: Prospective investors need to recognize that newsrooms are businesses. "I'm being attacked not just as a journalist but as the founder of a company that successfully and legally raised money to make our dream a reality," Ressa said, urging the business community to speak up.

Read more of Tuesday's Reliable Sources newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

Remembering the Capital Gazette shooting

Two survivors from the Capital Gazette shooting, reporters Selene San Felice and Rachael Pacella, were at the dinner. I've been keeping in touch with them through social media, but we had never met until now. They are remarkable reporters.

CPJ's Kerry Paterson reminded me that the United States, according to the group's data, is "the third deadliest country" for journalists in 2018 after Afghanistan and Syria.

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