Sunday, January 25, 2015

25-Jan-15: Summing up the life of an absolute monarch in the mainstream media

Union Jack at half mast over Westminster Abbey
expresses British mourning at passing of
Saudi 'reformer' [Image Source]
This is not a blog post about Saudi Arabia or about its recently deceased absolute ruler. It's about how the people who own, operate and manage the news media sometimes deal with uncomfortable realities.

First, let's set the tone with some comments from VOX ['The obscenity of calling Saudi King Abdullah a “reformer”' | Zack Beauchamp | January 23, 2015]
  • Saudi Arabia's deceased King Abdullah, according to just about every obituary in major Western publications, was a reformer. The New York TimesWashington PostBBC, and NPR all describe Abdullah as a ruler committed to reforming Saudi Arabia's notoriously repressive practices. Sen. John McCain called Abdullah an advocate for peace; IMF head Christine Lagarde called him a "strong advocate for women"...
  • The Saudi political system, a blend of absolute monarchy and Islamic extremism, has one of the world's worst human rights records. There is no democracy and basic freedoms are limited… It punishes dissidents, including currently with multiple rounds of publicly lashing a blogger, amputates hands and legs for robbery, and enforces a system of gender restrictions that make women not just second-class citizens, but in many ways the property of men.
  • Abdullah did not, in fact, make any fundamental reforms to the Saudi state, which remains one of the most oppressive and inhumane on earth... Abdullah's reputation as a reformer comes from some relatively limited policy shifts he made.
  • Praising Abdullah as a reformer, in addition to being misleading, seems to imply that Saudi Arabia should be held to a lesser standard than the rest of humanity, and that its citizens should be somehow grateful for Abdullah's minor adjustments to a system that remains cruelly unjust… 
Now bearing in mind that the flags fluttering above London's Westminister Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Whitehall are all "flying at half mast as a mark of respect", let's survey how this man's life and achievements were summed up this week in the headlines of the major media outlets.
The king's personal net wealth was estimated [Wikipedia] at $21 billion. Most of the ministries of the Saudi government are headed by members of his family. And his replacement as head of state is rumored (according to an item in Friday's New York Times) "to be senile, but similar rumors swirled about Abdullah and he was still hailed as a heroic statesman around the world".  (And here's a link to a December 2013 article in the New York Post, "Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup".)

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