Even as President Donald Trump is under increasing fire by some moderate Republicans for his protective attitude towards Saudi Arabia amid the crisis caused by the disappearance of Khashoggi, other more strident members of the party have taken the approach of attacking the journalist, who is presumed dead. As The Washington Post reports, “Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia—and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.”
On Thursday, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner told viewers that “Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.” She added that, “I just put it out there because it is in the constellation of things that are being talked about.” The same day, Corey A. Stewart, the Republican senatorial candidate in Virginia, told a radio program that, “Khashoggi was not a good guy himself.” Right-wing media and talk radio has been rife with suggestions that Khashoggi had ties to Osama bin Laden. (The reality is that Khashoggi covered bin Laden as a reporter. Furthermore, while he had Islamist sympathies when younger, Khashoggi evolved into a supporter of secularism and liberal reforms).
As The Washington Post notes, this mudslinging campaign appeals to the distrust many on the hard right have for the mainstream media and for establishment Republicans. For this audience, conspiracy theories about a Washington Post columnist such as Khashoggi are naturally plausible.
Trump played to anti-media emotions in his own way in a rally in Montana on Thursday night when he praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a journalist last year. “Any guy that can do a body slam … he’s my guy,” Trump said. Gianforte had pled guilty to the charge of assault for the incident and had to do 40 hours of community service.