When I was 10, I remembered watching the evening news one night on CBS with my family when correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously wounded by a car bomb on camera in the middle of reporting. Members of her crew were killed.
Footage of Dozier lying in her hospital bed were later broadcasted. From that moment, a fact solidified in my mind was that true journalists are fearless and selfless beings who put themselves in the way of danger to make sure the truth is always known.
Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, put his life in jeopardy to uphold the independent watchdog aspect of journalism he saw as vital and paid the ultimate price for his convictions.
The details of the brutal murder of Khashoggi was a truth that surfaced slowly and in fragments to the general public after his disappearance. When these fragments are pieced together, they complete a story of the dangers of reporting and the vilification of the truth.
Khashoggi, father of four and known dissenter of the House of Saud, visited the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2 to finalize the marriage to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. When the journalist never returned from the consulate, the world had its suspicions.
News outlets reported on this mystery in bits and pieces as Saudi officials begrudgingly released statements.
Trump reiterated in his initial press releases that this killing was a “rogue” operation and Saudi leaders had no involvement. However, it wasn’t until Oct. 20 that television reporters finally broke the story that Khashoggi had been killed in a fight, his body dismembered, rolled up into a rug and hidden by those who orchestrated the slaying that the Turkish government and Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor claim was “premeditated.”
This is why journalists like Khashoggi are so important. Without reporters relaying factual information to the public, we would believe the garbage fed to us by a nationalist mouthpiece that only seeks to further its own agenda.
The public now knows, thanks to media coverage, that the man seen leaving the consulate was not Khashoggi, but one of his murderers dressed in the dead journalist’s clothes. We know that a majority of the 15 perpetrators have major ties to the House of Saud.
Authorities stated that 18 Saudi nationals were arrested and two senior officials and aides to Prince Mohammed Bin Salman were dismissed as consequence of this crime.
Many of the ‘hit squad’ are alleged to be members, even colonels, of Saudi Intelligence. But what was the motive behind killing Khashoggi?
Khashoggi was objective, meaning the doings of his government, good or bad, corrupt or charitable, were covered in his work. His job was to bring unbiased truth to the world. The former editor-in-chief of progressive news outlets Al Arab News and Al Watan newspaper covered the hypocrisy, human rights violations and media censorship carried out by the Saudi government. He was vocal about the arrest of Shia Muslim women’s rights activist Samar Badawi by a government that, only in the public light, tried to prove its progressive attitudes toward women by lifting driving and movie bans.
Khashoggi openly opposed the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen, which has brought about the killing of over a thousand civilians. He openly criticized the Saudi government that he moved to the US in 2017 in a self-imposed exile.
Exposing the truth had him fearing for his life.
His last article as a columnist for the Washington Post, published posthumously, stated: “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.”
Khashoggi was a voice that could have started a movement or exposed true corruption in his home country, and a tarnished reputation is the last thing an authoritarian government wants.
Reporters revealed he was killed only two short hours after his arrival to the Saudi consulate. And Khashoggi went to Turkey with his suspicions. He was beckoned to return to Saudi Arabia after his 2017 departure. He made sure Cengiz waited for him outside of the consulate with multiple cell phones. She ended up waiting 10 hours for her fiance before realizing something terrible had happened.
It’s hard to believe a president who is so adamant in portraying the media as public enemy number one feels threatened by eroding press freedoms or the heinous example set by Khashoggi’s murder to journalists everywhere. Especially not when the perpetrators are fabulously oil rich, worth $100 billion in arms sales, and have treated him oh so nicely, spoiling him with feasts and shows as a guest in Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi serves as the canary in a coal mine; a piece to a larger puzzle and a warning of threats to journalistic freedoms everywhere.
As an aspiring reporter, I am scared to one day cover controversial topics close to the heart of the truth, a truth that some may never want uncovered. But I have to follow my dream through, because the world needs more journalists like Khashoggi and Dozier.
The world needs journalists who will sacrifice everything for the public service that the press provides, this public service being the difference between being kept in the dark by oppressive forces or being liberated and enlightened with truth and knowledge.
Khashoggi’s friend, Wadah Khanfar, wrote in The Guardian: “Khashoggi uttered his word and moved on. Two days later, he seems to have met his death. Yet his words have not died. His assassination gave those words a new lease of life. They will continue to grow and will be carried forward by the children of the Arab world and by the free, wherever they happen to be.”