Saudi Arabia: How Do We Know What We Know?

The upheaval and uproar over the Saudi behading of a Shiite cleric continues with Iran now claiming that the Saudis have bombed their embassy in Yemen (hard to believe, of course, that it could still be standing....). 

The juxtaposition of two items I read this morning suggest how fraught and complicated matters can get and not just in the Middle East, but right here in DC.

First, this at LobLog: "Washington's Multi-Million-Dollar PR Machine."  Eli Lake analyzes from Federal Records how much and to whom Saudi Arabia pays DC firms for pr help in a vareity of matters such as press releases and supplying Saudi officials for quotes and interviews.

Second, this at the New York Times"Saudis Applaud a Toughter Line," a story by veteran reporter Robert Worth (though he may now be retired). The account reports that there is widespread applause in the Saudi population for the government's finally cracking down on terrorists and other troublemakers. There are quotes from twitter with names, from former dissidents, from newspaper columnists, etc. The account has no dateline suggesting that the story has been written right here in the U.S., perhaps even in DC!  Worth has always seemed a good reporter, and perhaps he is just doing his job. I assume he speaks and reads Arabic, but you have to wonder how many of those well-paid PR firms are doing what they're paid to do...puff Saudi Arabia. In this case, it appears to show a rousing display of public opinion as if this were a democratic society.

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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