Politics

Saudis Join The US News Propaganda Game

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s worldwide goodwill tour is being supported by one thing every autocrat needs to look good in front of foreign audiences: an old-fashioned public relations blitz.

Bin Salman is currently meeting with leading lights in Silicon Valley and Hollywood on the U.S. leg of his tour. American shoppers can also catch up with the crown prince thanks to a special magazine now available on newsstands and supermarket checkout aisles across the country.

Bearing the title “The New Kingdom,” the glossy is produced by American Media Inc. (AMI), the New York-based publisher of tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines best known for its flagship publication, the National Enquirer, and its close ties to President Donald Trump.

The magazine’s cover layout takes its design cues from GQ and Men’s Fitness. Instead of fashion and fitness tips, it touts Saudi Arabia’s supposed transformation from a hidebound desert petro-state to a benevolent, modern country under the bin Salman’s visionary leadership.

A few of the titles in the 100-page, ad-free magazine describe how bin Salman is “Our Closest Middle East Ally Destroying Terrorism,” “Controlling Staggering $4 Trillion Business Empire,” and “Building $640 Billion Sci-Fi City Of The Future.”

“It’s easily the most uncritical encomium to MBS since Thomas Friedman,” Daily Beast national security correspondent Spencer Ackerman wrote Monday, referring to Friedman’s much-derided column on bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has denied having any involvement in the production of “The New Kingdom,” and AMI says no outside group or government helped edit the publication. The magazine is comparable to popular spreads produced by AMI on “The Royals, Elvis, The Kennedys, The Olympics, etc,” a company spokesperson told Ackerman.

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“The New Kingdom” is just the latest, if most obvious, Saudi-friendly production timed to coincide with bin Salman’s American tour. Ahead of his visit to Washington last week, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired an exclusive interview that focused on the crown prince’s efforts to loosen social restrictions on women and root out corruption among the Saudi royal family.

The interview was panned by critics on the right and left, who said it failed to question bin Salman’s prosecution of Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and put millions of others at risk of starvation and disease. “60 Minutes” host Norah O’Donnell devoted about two minutes of a 30-minute segment to the Yemen conflict, and did not ask bin Salman about Saudi Arabia’s record of execution by beheading and stoning.

Bin Salman’s greatest advocate in U.S. media is probably TheNYT’s Friedman, who traveled to Riyadh in November and returned with a breathless report of the kingdom’s transformation under the crown prince.

Praising the bin Salman-led “Arab Spring, Saudi style,” he wrote that the crown prince has the potential to “not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe.”

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