Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The New Republic on Saudi Arabia

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The New Republic on Saudi Arabia

Article excerpt

On June 8, The New Republic magazine hosted a panel discussion entitled "Inside the Kingdom: The Views and Perspectives on Journalists in Saudi Arabia" at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, DC.

Moderator Lawrence Kaplan, a senior editor of the conservative magazine, began by asking, "What, if anything, do the two states that are most important to the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, have in common?" Kaplan described Israel as a "thriving liberal Western democracy," while characterizing Saudi Arabia as a "closed repressive [regime], struggling to come to grips with modernity." However, he added, press coverage of both states "generate angry letters to the editor" and claims of media bias.

Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, said it took him a year and four months to receive a visa to Saudi Arabia. In order to stay longer than the usual time allotted to foreign reporters, he then took a job mentoring young reporters at the Saudi Gazette. Most reporters who go to Saudi Arabia, Wright said, have little to no background on the country, and, since they typically have "a week or so" on their visas, little time to talk to people or gain true knowledge of it.

David Kaplan, who covers the terrorism beat for U.S. News and World Report, said he spent a total of one week in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has "repeatedly come up" in his reporting on terrorist attacks, he said, including the 1996 attack on a U.S. military complex at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the role of Saudi nationals in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to Kaplan, after the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi officials "let in more Western press."

Unlike his co-panelists, who had visited the kingdom recently, New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz said he went to Saudi Arabia a decade ago "under the most favorable circumstances." The trip took place during a "progressive moment," when "various Arab countries were opening up Jewish portfolios...and wanted to see Zionists in the flesh," he said, apparently referring to himself.

David Montgomery, currently in Saudi Arabia reporting for Knight Ridder news service, called in to offer his own insights. Asked whether he has faced obstacles as a reporter there, in terms of travel or access to officials, Montgomery said he has had no travel restrictions, but also complained of the "immense" bureaucracy.

Montgomery also cited Saudis' reluctance to speak with journalists. …

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