Fox Business finally abandons Saudi investment conference
The network delayed action until its Trump administration patrons pulled out
Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
Last Friday, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, and the Financial Times all announced that they would no longer sponsor a high-profile Saudi-backed investment conference to be held later this month in light of the disappearance of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. As the week went by, and evidence mounted that Khashoggi had been brutally tortured, murdered, and dismembered and that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible, only one Western media outlet stood by the conference: Fox Business. Day after day, the network stood pat, telling curious journalists that the matter was under review.
On Thursday afternoon, the channel finally folded. “Fox Business Network has canceled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia,” the network said in a statement. What changed? Consider this fact: The statement went out mere hours after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that he would not be attending the conference.
Fox Business has fiercely defended the Trump administration and been rewarded with access to top officials. That past relationship and Trump’s seeming interest -- for reasons of corruption, apathy, or a combination of the two -- in helping to cover up the Saudi government’s involvement in Khashoggi’s apparent murder likely meant that as long as Mnuchin was planning to go to the conference, the network couldn’t abandon it either.
“They are not going to do anything that puts them at odds with the White House so they can keep getting access,” one Fox staffer told CNN before the network announced its decision. Only after the Trump administration pulled out was Fox Business willing to do the same.
While the network’s executives were biding their time, waiting to see what the White House decided, its commentators used their platform to make excuses for the Saudis, cast doubt on their apparent involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and warn that any effort to force the Saudi regime to face the consequences of its crimes would backfire.
Lou Dobbs, the network’s biggest star and a sometime unofficial White House adviser whose show is dedicated to the worship of Donald Trump, has led the charge, sowing uncertainty about the case on a nightly basis. Here are a few examples (all quotes from Nexis):
October 11: “No question [Prince Mohammed] has an immense challenge as he tries to transform Saudi society and institutions. … I'd like to hear what would be the result as we try to divine who is telling the truth and who is lying between the Saudis and the Turks.”
October 15: “This is one of the most peculiar, perplexing and seemingly disproportionate news events that I can recall in some time. A person who has worked for the Washington Post, a very short time relatively is not entirely clear whether he was a paid contributor or whether he was -- had some other kind of relationship disappears going into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.”
October 16: “President Trump tonight reacting once again to the disappearance of the Saudi activist and sometimes journalist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi. … Meanwhile, growing calls from RINOs and the radical Dems on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take action by [going] against the Saudis. If you thought the Judiciary Committee was scary, just take a look at the Republicans on Foreign Relations. I mean, look at that. If that doesn't instill trust in foreign policy in the Senate, what would it take?”
October 17: “This story gets bigger and bigger and it seems the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle. … The accuracy and the credibility of it perhaps we've already strained a bit to involve ourselves to this point bringing in the FBI, my god who's going to believe the FBI on anything right now? … Don't you think the smartest thing for us to do is to as the President said take a deep breath and let the facts come to us?”
No facts changed between the time Fox Business’ most prominent personality said on October 17 that “the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle” and his network’s decision to pull out of the conference the next day. Indeed, while the gory details have been filled in since all of Fox Business’ competitors abandoned it, the overall story has remained broadly the same: Khashoggi appears to have been murdered at the hands of the Saudi government. What changed is that the Trump administration decided it would no longer send a representative. And for Fox Business, that made all the difference.