CON­NECT­ING THE DOTS IN THE BE­ZOS/EN­QUIRER/SAUDI THING

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

Another puz­zling piece of fall­out from the Jeff Be­zos/ Na­tional En­quirer soap opera is a glit­ter­ing Saudi con­nec­tion.

Be­zos, founder of Ama­zon, pub­lished emails from the Na­tional En­quirer last week that he says amount to black­mail, de­mand­ing not money, but a pub­lic state­ment from him say­ing he sees no po­lit­i­cal mo­tive in the En­quirer’s ex­pose of his af­fair with a for­mer TV an­chor. If he didn’t com­ply by mak­ing that state­ment, which he claims would be a false state­ment, the En­quirer would pub­lish sala­cious pic­tures from his texts. In­stead, he put the whole story and the sleazy mag­a­zine’s let­ters in an on­line blog at Medium.com.

But in his story is a less-ex­plored thread about the Washington Post’s cov­er­age of the Saudi killing of Post colum­nist Ja­mal Khashoggi last year and an En­quirer/Saudi con­nec­tion.

While much of the me­dia, this page in­cluded, fo­cused mainly on Be­zos’ writ­ings sug­gest­ing a Trump po­lit­i­cal mo­tive, Be­zos also noted the Khashoggi/Saudi cov­er­age and pointed to a story by The As­so­ci­ated Press last April about the “mys­tery” of a pro-Saudi tabloid land­ing in su­per­mar­kets across Amer­ica the month be­fore.

It was 97 glossy pages, fawn­ing over Saudi Ara­bia and its am­bi­tious crown prince, Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

The mag­a­zine, ti­tled “The New King­dom,” was pro­duced by Amer­i­can Me­dia Inc., AMI for short, the par­ent com­pany of the Na­tional En­quirer.

As AP noted, the crown prince was not a house­hold name in the U.S., and “at $13.99 a copy with no ad­ver­tise­ments, the pub­li­ca­tion seems un­likely to be a money-maker.”

Fur­ther, AMI spokesman Jon Ham­mond told AP, “Ab­so­lutely not,” when asked if AMI had col­lab­o­rated with the Saudis on the mag­a­zine or been paid by them.

And Saud Kabli, the Saudi Em­bassy’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, said the em­bassy had “no role in the pro­duc­tion of the mag­a­zine.”

Yet files ob­tained by AP showed that a dig­i­tal copy of the mag­a­zine was qui­etly shared with of­fi­cials at the Saudi Em­bassy in Washington al­most three weeks be­fore its pub­li­ca­tion.

“How the early copy made it to the Saudis is un­clear,” states the April AP story. “Yet the reve­la­tion adds another mys­te­ri­ous twist to a murky tale play­ing out against the back­drop of bids by both Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and David Pecker, the tabloid pub­lisher who sup­ports him, to build good­will with the Saudi king­dom’s lead­ers.”

The story says AMI de­nied it shared an ad­vance copy with the Saudis or con­sulted with them on the project, “but an in­di­vid­ual with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion said AMI in­deed reached out to Saudi of­fi­cials in the U.S. be­fore pub­li­ca­tion to seek help with the con­tent. The Saudis never re­sponded, said the in­di­vid­ual, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to com­ment pub­licly and re­quested anonymity.”

Meta­data em­bed­ded in the PDF file also showed that the next day — Feb. 20 — Saudi of­fi­cials had started for­ward­ing it to Washington for­eign pol­icy con­tacts, giv­ing them an early look.

And a month later, The New York Times pub­lished a story claim­ing Pecker turned to Trump to help ce­ment a re­la­tion­ship with the Saudis to grow his busi­nesses. That was the month AMI pub­lished the 97-page mag­a­zine.

Trump has de­fended the Saudis and in­sisted the prince had noth­ing to do with the bru­tal mur­der of the jour­nal­ist. Just last week, a bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers pushed leg­is­la­tion to im­pose sanc­tions on Saudi Ara­bia to hold them ac­count­able for Khashoggi’s death.

There is still mys­tery, but the dots may be start­ing to con­nect.

AP FILE PHOTO/J. DAVID AKE

This glossy mag­a­zine about Saudi Ara­bia was pho­tographed in 2018. The mys­tery be­hind the ori­gins of the pro-Saudi mag­a­zine that showed up on U.S. news­stands grew amid rev­e­la­tions that the Saudi Em­bassy in Washington got a sneak peek.

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