Saudis Influencing Fox News
Mon, February 18, 2013
In the following interview, ClarionProject.org National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro speaks to Diana West, a nationally syndicated conservative American columnist and author, about the impact of the partial ownership of Fox news by Saudi Prince Alwaleed.
Ryan Mauro: You have devoted a lot of your time towards covering Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. Can you tell us about him and why he warrants this attention?
Diana West: Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is usually described as a billionaire Saudi businessman, but he is also a senior member of the Saudi monarchy. He is the nephew of the Saudi dictator, King Abdullah, and the first cousin of the Saudi interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. He is also the largest stakeholder in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. outside the Murdoch family.
We may not realize it, but most of us first heard about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in the immediate aftermath 9/11. That was when a "Saudi prince" -- it was Alwaleed -- became infamous for having donated $10 million to the Twin Towers Fund only to have then-mayor Rudy Giuliani return the check.
Why did Giuliani return the check? It became clear the prince wasn't making a donation but rather a political statement. After presenting the money, the prince issued a press release blaming the 9/11 attacks on American support for Israel -- while, as Alwaleed's statement read, "our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of the Israelis.”
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time, Giuliani hadn't seen see this press release when he initially accepted the Saudi check among others from government and private industry leaders. In a separate letter Guliani did read, Alwaleed had expressed only condolences for "the loss of life that the city of New York has suffered," while condemning "all forms of terrorism." The Saudi prince wrote: "In doing so I am reiterating Saudi Arabia's strong stance against these tragic and horrendous acts."
That was fine. It was the press release attached to the letter that was not fine. This statement, also in Alwaleed's name, sought to blame U.S. policy on "the Palestinian cause" for the attack. It said:
"However, at times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause.
"Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek."
The Chronicle report continued:
The mayor, who had been told of the press release just moments before his daily briefing but after receiving the check, was visibly annoyed. "I entirely reject that statement," he said. "That's totally contrary to what I said at the United Nations," he added, referring to his address there last Monday.
"There is no moral equivalent for this act," the mayor said. "There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people. And to suggest that there's a justification for it only invites this happening in the future. It is highly irresponsible and very, very dangerous."
The mayor added that he might consult with the State Department before deciding what to do with the check; an hour later, his press office released a statement attributed to the mayor that the check would not be accepted.
A spokesman for the prince, Amjed Shacker, who was reached on his cell phone as he prepared to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, said he knew of no such rejection and indeed seemed perplexed to learn of it.
Giuliani's very public rebuff was very popular, including among star personalities at Fox News. At the time, it is important to note, Alwaleed did not own any voting stock in News Corp. Here's what some of them said (I hate to cite Media Matters but so be it):
Sean Hannity: Al-Waleed's statement was "such an egregious, outrageous, unfair offense that I would have nothing to do with his money either." On the October 22, 2001, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes (accessed via Nexis), Sean Hannity said, "[T]his is a man that blames the United States and their policies for the attack that took place on September 11th. That is such an egregious, outrageous, unfair offense that I would have nothing to do with his money either, and I applaud what Mayor Giuliani did. It showed a lot of guts and character."
Hannity: "This is a bad guy. Rudy was right to decline the money." On the December 13, 2005, edition of Hannity & Colmes (accessed via Nexis), while discussing a grant Al-Waleed gave Georgetown and Harvard universities, Hannity said: "This is a bad guy. Rudy was right to decline the money. Why would these universities take money from him?"
Mara Liasson: "[I]t was an outrageous statement and the mayor did the right thing and refused the money." Discussing Giuliani's decision to return the money on the October 11, 2001, edition of Fox News' Special Report (accessed via Nexis), Fox News contributor Mara Liasson said Al-Waleed's statement was "completely false," "outrageous" and that "the mayor did the right thing and refused the money."
Bill Sammon: "[I]t's blood money, and we're better off without it." During the same discussion with Liasson, Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon said of the money, "[W]hen you think about it, upon reflection, you think, you know, this guy is essentially trying to buy legitimacy for his extreme views, which is, you know, that the American policy towards Israel is to blame for this attack on the World Trade Center, which, of course, is outrageous, as Mara says." He continued: "And so I think it was the right thing to turn it down --especially when you think about $10 million, in this grand scheme of $800 million. I mean, that's less than 2 percent of that. And when you look at the generosity of the American people, you know, that $10 million could be made up by people who are outraged by this very story. So I don't think -- I think it's blood money and we're better off without it."
Following Giuliani's rebuff, Alwaleed opened his purse in 2002 to the families of killers instead, donating a whopping $27 million to a Saudi telethon raising money for the Committee for the Support of the al-Quds Intifada, a Saudi "charity" chaired by the then-Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia (now Crown Prince Nayef, another uncle of Alwaleed's). He gave $500,000 that same year to CAIR, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas-linked group.
Also in 2002, however, Alwaleed seems to have had something of an epiphany. From the Arab News (which Alwaleed also owns):
Arab countries can influence U.S. decison-making "if they unite through economic interests, not political," [Alwaleed] stressed. "We have to be logical and understand that the U.S. administration is subject to U.S. public opinion. We are not so active in this sphere [public opinion]. And to bring the decision-maker on your side, you not only have to be active inside the U.S. Congress or the administration but also inside U.S. society."
Soon, the Saudi billionaire was spending his money quite differently -- no more Palestinian grandstanding, no more Saudi telethons, no more CAIR. In 2005, Alwaleed purchased a 5.5 percent stake of voting stock in the Murdoch-owned News Corp (he now owns 7 percent). He also spent $40 million to enlarge Islamic studies on leading American campuses, donating $20 million to Harvard to create a university-wide Islamic studies program, which also boosted Islamic law (sharia) studies on campus, and $20 million to Georgetown to set up the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding under Islamic apologist John Esposito.
The News Corp. investment began paying off right away. Also in 2005, with Muslims rioting in Paris in the worst street violence since 1968, Alwaleed telephoned Rupert Murdoch, as Alwaleed himself told an audience in Dubai, and said "these are not Muslim riots, they are riots." Presto, the Fox News crawl about "Muslim riots in Paris" across the bottom of the screen changed to "civil riots."
Alwaleed has not made further public statements about news coverage he has shaped, but how could this not have been just the beginning? Is this ownership-influence cause for alarm among Americans -- and particularly conservative Americans -- seeking "fair and balanced" news and opinion from Fox News and other Murdoch properties? I maintain that it is.
Ryan Mauro: Alwaleed is known as more of a reformer than a Wahhabist because he believes Saudi women should be permitted to drive, for example. Is he necessarily an Islamist or is it possible he's just a powerful man who believes U.S. support for Israel is the root cause of terrorism?
Diana West: Regardless of how sincere Alwaleed may or may not be regarding women and driving, I don't think we should count advocacy of driving as a badge of reform. Alwaleed's call for the right to drive for women in Saudi Arabia is but window dressing if, for example, he is also silent regarding the right to speak one's mind, which is also denied due to the totalitarian nature of Saudi-Islamic culture.
A primary problem with Islam is its totalitarian control of speech and conscience. One could easily advocate women's right to drive and still sit by quietly as "apostates" are threatened with death under Islamic law -- as indeed Alwaleed does. Two cases came to light recently in which Saudi men expressed (mild) criticism of Islam (one of them via Twitter, which Alwaleed partly owns). They were both arrested; one was specifically pursued on order from King Abdullah, Alwaleed's uncle, and the other by the interior minister, Mohammed bin Nayef, who is Alwleed's first cousin. Has Alwaleed banged the drum over such outrages? Of course not. Neither, I would add, has Fox News. Its one report about the former, a man named Hamza Kashgari, was delivered by Brett Baier. It could have been written by a Saudi censor. Note the use of the passive voice that removes all Saudi government volition, as well as the statement's treatment of Mohammed (treatment Jesus and Moses never get):
"Finally, a young Saudi blogger has been sent back to his homeland to face trial and possible execution triggered by comments he made on Twitter that were seen as blasphemous against the Prophet Mohammed. Hamza Kashgari has apologized for sending three tweets of a fictional conversation with the prophet Mohammed that quickly sparked thousands of angry responses and even death threats. No official reaction from the Saudi government.”
Another example: The Daily Mail (not a Murdoch property) recently reported that there are "scores" of foreign women (maids from Third World countries) on death row in Saudi Arabia for convictions of witchcraft, child abuse and killing would-be rapists. I don't see Alwaleed interceding on their behalf -- even after the president of Indonesia asked him to intercede for one Indonesian maid who killed her employer while he was attempting to rape her. That request came over one year ago and she's still on death row. Alwaleed may have made efforts on her behalf privately; we don't know, but he has not, to my knowledge, done anything publicly to call attention to this or other such cases. No one as powerful as Alwaleed who remains silent in the face of what we should think of as the Saudi gulag is anything but an ally of it -- which in my view means he doesn't rise to esteemed level of a reformer.
As for your second question (aside from the fact I don't use the term "Islamist" for reasons we could go into if you like), it's not my intent to rule out one or the other, but rather to consider Alwaleed's potential influence on American conservative media, and the ramifications this has for conditioning the American response to expanding Islam.
Ryan Mauro: Is there any evidence of Alwaleed's influence in the media since 2005? And if his influence is so strong, why does Fox News continue to have people on that are tough on Saudi Arabia, Al-Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood, including top foes of CAIR like Zuhdi Jasser?
Diana West: As I will expand upon below, Fox News covers security threats, terrorism, and war. Zuhdi Jasser and others oppose the "extremism" that fuels them all without identifying such "extremism" as the mainstream Islamic doctrine set by Mohammed and the Koran. There's a big difference, which I am happy to discuss if you like another time. Meanwhile, the appearance of one or more such guests is no way compensates for the seemingly strategic and certainly gaping holes in Fox's coverage, also noted below.
Alwaleed has not made news for bragging publicly about his influence over Fox News since that one incident in 2005. As for "evidence" of his influence, I know of no directive, no reported conversation, no "defector" from Fox or News Corp. reporting that Awaleed, or anyone else, has set guidelines for coverage in discussion, let alone in black and white.
But that's not how influence usually works. It is intangible, something no more concrete than a rejected story, something no less natural than the body of stories that develops from such editorial discretion, which, of course, can also includes positive reinforcement. Such stimuli may reflect active owner-influence. They may also reflect a more passive owner-influence as when an employee -- producer, editor, writer, anchor, pundit -- anticipates the boss's desires and writes or reports a certain way. This phenomenon, of course, is by no means unique to Fox, just as it is by no means unique to journalism.
If we examine Fox's body of work I believe the unspoken guidelines for coverage and discussion become quite clear. As noted above, Fox News covers terrorism, war, national security. It does not cover, let alone chronicle, the introduction of sharia -- Islamic law -- into the West. It does not cover the massive ongoing Islamic movement by which the Western world is being rapidly Islamized. It does not cover what the Muslim Brotherhood calls "civilization jihad." It does not cover the disappearance of Western culture in Europe. What we know as "political correctness" probably keeps such issues off the air in the MSM, but Fox makes a point of rising above such PC. I think the news vacuum we can see on Fox is at least partly a result of News Corp.'s Saudi influence. Such influence does not serve the American public interest.
Before I explain, let's go back just to the beginning of last month when Al Gore' sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera was big news, particularly on Fox. As Fox personalities repeatedly (and understandably) revelled in Gore's obvious hypocrisies for selling out to an Islamic oil-and-greenhouse-gas dictatorship, I was struck by something important that was being left out: The fact that a key Fox stakeholder -- the second largest stakeholder outside the Murdoch family -- was himself a leading member of an Islamic oil-and-greehouse-gas dictatorship. It seemed highly relevant at least in the spirit of full disclosure, even if it might have subdued some of the on-air guffaws.
I would also note that the Fox focus was on Gore himself -- much less so on the security-related side of the story, which includes how Al Jazeera is a foreign policy instrument of the Qatari dictatorship, which, in turn, is basically a foreign policy instrument of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Indeed, Al Jazeera's nickname is Muslim Brotherhood TV.) Similarly, with rare exceptions, News Corp. journalists didn't enlighten viewers and readers about the noxious Yusef al Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood cleric, and his central role at Al Jazeera and, indeed, in the wider "Arab Spring."
As I reconsidered the Murdoch-Alwaleed relationship, I was struck anew not only by the 7 percent of News Corp. that Alwaleed owns, but also by the 18.97 percent of Rotana, Alawaleed's Arabic media group, that Murdoch owns. I discovered that just as Murdoch-Alwaleed holdings include Fox, Alwaleed-Murdoch holdings include Al Risala, a 24/7 religious station run by a Kuwaiti Muslim Brother named Tareq al-Suwaidon. Al-Suwaidan, who doubles as a popular on-air host at Al Risala, is not just any Muslim Brother, either. He is an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism-financing trial in US history, the Holy Land Foundation trial. That means the US government believes Al-Suwaidon, too, was involved in fund-raising for Hamas. That means that Murdoch and Alwaleed's cable stable includes O'Reilly, Doocey and Al-Suwaidon, aka, Mr. Hamas.
That's not the only appalling connection the Saudi association brings to News Corp. On the advisory board of Al Risala is Abdullah Omar Naseef, whose Rabita Trust has been designated by the US Treasury as an Al Qaeda financier (see photo).The structural parallels may be somewhat imperfect but they are still illustrative: Just as Alwaleed has a business connection to News Corp. board member Roger Ailes, Murdoch has a business connection to Al Risala board member and al Qaeda financier Naseef.
As for analysis, it is of the utmost importance to begin to notice, to scrutinize and assess what Fox covers and -- I think more important -- what it doesn't.
What becomes clear quickly is that Fox never, ever covers the amazing, shocking and terrifying stories that reflect the undermining incursions of sharia (Islamic law) into the West.
We are living through a cultural transformation of epochal significance as one civilization (Western) yields with barely a peep to another (Islamic). This process is well-advanced on the European continent, where Islamic "no-go zones" proliferate in urban centers (or suburbs) and parallel legal societies have taken hold from London to Berlin. (Sharia courts are even recognized by the British government.) "Desertification" is a new French word for the flight of indigenous French people from Islamized neighborhoods. Government elites of Europe respond to such unrest and unhappiness by silencing the critics of Islamization, putting them on trial for "hate speech" violations, and even sometimes in prison (particularly in the UK). This is what's going on in the democracies of the West -- UK, France, Austria, Denmark, Holland -- and Fox viewers don't know it unless they learn it somewhere else.
This is happening here, too. Mark Steyn, one of Fox's leading lights, went on trial for "hate speech" next door in Canada. Did Fox ever report on his trial, let along interview him about it? If so, I didn't see it.
There is turmoil in many US localities over the proliferation of Islamic centers and the Islamic law that necessarily follows them but that's largely another no-go subject at Fox as far as I can tell. What about a free speech case about Islam in the U.S. military? On the Manhattan subway platform? What about push-back against Islamization by state legislatures to bar sharia from U.S.law? Is any of reported in any sort of consistent and informational, nay, educational way on Fox? Not much, at best. Not even House conservatives, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, who raised questions about Muslim Brotherhood penetration of the US government last summer got a fair hearing on Fox.
I should point out here that the al Qaeda financier Naseef, noted above for his place on the board of Alaleed-Murdoch's Al Risala TV, also financed the institution and journal run by the MB-connected family of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's top aide. As Clinton's confidante, Abedin's MB-connections are something Michele Bachmann and her House colleagues raised questions about last summer in the context of Muslim Brotherhood penetration of the US government. Fox didn't cover that piece of it, either. I find the coverage – or lack thereof – of this U.S. story in particular, quite alarming.
But the same silence goes for last week's broad-daylight assassination attempt in Copenhagen on Lars Hedegaard, a Danish newspaper editor and opponent of European Islamization by an Arab or Pakistani gunman. Not newsworthy for a mention on O'Reilly or Greta or The Five. Why not? In 2010, another Musim man tried to kill a Danish cartoonist named Kurt Westergaard over a cartoon of Mohammed that Musims worldwide had reacted to with violence (over 100 people were killed on rioting), mayhem and boycotts. Fox viewers have never even gotten a look at Westergaard'ss cartoon, either -- except for maybe long ago when Michelle Malkin appeared on the air holding it. Similarly, Fox viewers didn't get to follow the Kafka-esque hate speech trial endured by Geert Wilders, democratically elected leader of a significant political party in Dutch parliament, even though Wilders is someone who has made many appearances in the USA. (Wilders did get on with Sean Hannity last year to promote his Regnery book, Marked for Death.)
Could the blackout of such news have anything at all to do with the aims of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation -- the Islamic bloc of 56 Islamic nations (plus the PA) whose headquarters, by the way, is in Saudi Arabia -- and its efforts (lately in conjunction with Hillary Clinton, which is also uncovered on Fox) to introduce international mechanisms to criminalize criticism of Islam everywhere? After all, the OIC has specifically singled out both Geert Wilders and the Danish cartoons for censure, and they are basically non-persons, non-events in the US media, including on Fox News. Is this entirely a coincidence?
[ad] I doubt it, even as I also doubt there's much in the way of smoking guns on the topic. It gets in the air and stays there, with fly-bys from the Saudi Prince to provide an insuring chilling effect, while the fortunes of the Big Boss sink increasingly into the sands of desert financial markets. Thus, the Saudi-based OIC's goals, Westerns fear of Islamic violence, the self-censorship of "political correctness" and Fox's silence all dovetail neatly to black out news for conservatives in America.
I am speculating, to be sure, but is it off-base or illogical to do so? For sure, the Murdoch-Alwaleed collaboration ties News Corp. to some very unsavory and anti-American associates. It amazes me this isn't enough to rile the O'Reillys and hound the Hannitys, etc., into complaining that Murdoch is damaging their brand. It also amazes me viewers don't see the brand as damaged. Of course, what they don't know won't make them change the channel.
If I am correct and Alwaleed bought into News Corp to neutralize the jihad opposition, it's one of the most brilliant influence operations ever. The Saudis would have managed to silence the one organization whose coverage of the news could have rallied opposition to Islamization.
Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, May 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).
Her weekly newspaper column is syndicated by Universal Uclick. West also serves as the Washington Correspondent for the new European weekly newspaper Dispatch International. West is one of 19 co-authors (including Frank Gaffney, Andrew C. McCarthy and James Woolsey) of Shariah: The Threat to America, a 2010 publication of the Center for Security Policy.
West's work has appeared in many publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Post Magazine, and her fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. She has made numerous television and radio appearances, and was recently featured in the Glenn Beck TV documentaries "The Project" and "Rumors of War III."
She blogs at dianawest.net.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.
This article may not be republished without expressed written permission from ClarionProject.org