The breathless reporting on the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi from mainstream (read: liberal) American news outlets has always seemed a bit odd. Their was a near-concerted attempt to collectively frame a narrative that suggested Khashoggi was more Westernized than Saudi Arabian, and more involved with The Washington Post than serving as a sometime contributor filing stories from the Middle East. CNN even went so far to publish a piece entitled, “Jamal Khashoggi Was A Journalist, Not A Jihadist.”
Sure, he had joined the brutal Islamist group The Muslim Brotherhood as a young man, and had followed and written admiringly about Osama bin Laden; but he had since embraced the Enlightenment and recognized the brilliance of the American ideal of the separation of church and state, they wrote.
While the effort to turn the man into a paragon of Western thought was happening, liberal outlets were simultaneously writing that Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) surely knew about the murder and possibly ordered it. The CIA investigated and determined that the political climate of Saudi Arabia would make it likely MBS at least knew of the murder, but it did not definitively point the finger at the young prince (despite almost every mainstream media outlet headline offering assurances that that is exactly what the report did).
President Trump released a statement of his intention to continue an alliance with Saudi Arabia Tuesday:
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he continued. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
While there were certainly furrowed brows over Trump’s decision to remain allied with Saudi Arabia and take MBS’ denial seriously (likely the right call from a national security and international relations standpoint), the smart journalists who stand on the wall and point out the dangers approaching were mostly preoccupied with something else, something they considered very important.
Trump used a whole bunch of exclamation points.
BREAKING: The United States will continue to back Saudi Arabia even if MBS ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump announced in a bizarre statement filled with exclamation marks. https://t.co/DBHDlkADhH
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) November 20, 2018
This @realDonaldTrump statement– simultaneously pledging never ending support for #SaudiArabia & blaming #Iran for every Middle East problem — reads like a 6th grader's school report, with too many exclamation marks & words that don't need capitalizing. https://t.co/qD4HKwbmcS
— Jason Rezaian (@jrezaian) November 20, 2018
Trump issued an exclamation-mark packed statement that defended Saudi Arabia, questioned the CIA conclusion that the crown prince was responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi and effectively declared the issue closed — as far as he was concerned. https://t.co/yL5UTGC3B6
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) November 20, 2018
Copy editor: "Mr. President, it's highly unorthodox to begin an official statement with an interjection. I think we should remove the exclamation point."
Trump: "Leave it!"
Copy editor: "But, really, sir…"
Trump: "LEAVE IT!!!!!!" pic.twitter.com/dbP5AYweYc
— Dion Rabouin 🇺🇸 (@DionRabouin) November 21, 2018
I’ve never been more convinced that Trump personally wrote a White House statement. 8 exclamation points! 8! pic.twitter.com/zPwMal9sS1
— David Mack (@davidmackau) November 20, 2018
There aren't words to express how disgraceful this is. Not the least of which is the flippant use of exclamation points and "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't." https://t.co/66gW2kW9bz
— Jennifer Mendelsohn 🇺🇸 (@CleverTitleTK) November 20, 2018
It’s been under the careful stewardship of generations of presidents, but I fear Trump may finally be draining our nation’s strategic exclamation point reserve.
— ana marie cox (@anamariecox) November 20, 2018
This in Trump's statement might be the dumbest exclamation point in history—
"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!https://t.co/P4feUFKxGm pic.twitter.com/3RpPk88V7i
— Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt) November 20, 2018
And this is seriously just the tip of the iceberg. The irony, of course, is that they’re collectively (did someone send out a memo? Yeesh.) outraged that Trump is being flippant and dismissive of the death of Khashoggi by using so much inappropriate punctuation; but by focusing their “reporting” on that and not on the substance of the report (why the President made the decision to remain allied, what that means for the Middle East’s relationship with Iran, what that does to Trump’s predecessor’s legacy, etc.), they have also chosen flippancy over reporting context and facts surrounding the death of their “dear” colleague.