National Press Club suspends journalist for asking Saudi prince a tough question

Sam Husseini, best known for his work with Washington Stakeout, has been suspended from the National Press Club in Washington, apparently for no other reason than asking Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence, a tough question.

Husseini explains:

On Monday I went to a news conference at the National Press Club, where I am a member, titled “His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia.” I asked a tough question at the news conference – a question that dealt with the very legitimacy of the Saudi regime. Before the end of the day, I’d received a letter informing me that I was suspended from the National Press Club “due to your conduct at a news conference.” The letter, signed by the executive director of the Club, William McCarren, accused me of violating rules prohibiting “boisterous and unseemly conduct or language.”

Just doing what journalists are supposed to do

There is a video of the whole exchange and there’s nothing at all “boisterous” about the exchange. On the contrary, Husseini appears to be doing his job – asking a public figure appropriate and tough questions – something many in the Washington press corps refuse to do. But it seems that is a major transgression in official Washington, one worthy of punishment. Husseini’s conduct is no more “boisterous” than what would be expected on even the tamed 21st Century BBC.

Indeed Washington Stakeout is a project where Husseini waits for public officials outside studios to ask them on video the kinds of tough and appropriate questions the journalists inside never ask them.

Questioning legitimacy of Saudi regime is apparently forbidden in Washington

Although the video of the incident at the National Press Club is clear, the audio of Husseini is not great. But the transcript is below. To his credit, as the transcript and video show, Prince Turki appeared perfectly willing to engage in back and forth with Husseini. It seem to have been William McCarren, Executive director of the National Press Club, who was keen to shut the discussion down and then punish Husseini.

Husseini: There’s been a lot of talk about the legitimacy of the Syrian regime, I want to know what legitimacy your regime has sir. You come before us, representative of one of the most autocratic, misogynistic regimes on the face of the earth. Human Rights Watch and other reports of torture detention of activist, you squelched the democratic uprising in Bahrain, you tried to overturn the democratic uprising in Egypt and indeed you continue to oppress your own people. What legitimacy does you regime have – other than billions of dollars and weapons?

Hickman: Sam, let him answer.

Unidentified speaker: What was the question?

Turki: [motioning Husseini to the podium] Would you like to come and speak here? Would you like to come and speak here?

Husseini: I’d like you to try to answer that question.

Turki: I will try my best sir. Well sir, I don’t know if you’ve been to the kingdom or not?

Husseini: What legitimacy do you have, sir?

Turki: Have you been to the kingdom?

Husseini: What legitimacy does your regime have, other than oppressing your own people?

William McCarren [Executive director of the National Press Club, who had come up to Husseini and was literally-face-to-face]: Put your question and let him answer, we have a whole room of people.

Husseini [to McCarren]: He [Turki] asked me a question. He asked me and I responded.

Turki: No you did not respond.

[off audio, some back and forth continues between McCarren and Husseini, see below] Hickman: Go ahead [Turki] –

Turki: Anyway ladies and gentlemen I advise anybody who has these questions to come to the kingdom and see for themselves. I don’t need to justify my country’s legitimacy. We’re participants in all of the international organizations and we contribute to the welfare of people through aid program not just directly from Saudi Arabia but through all the international agencies that are working throughout the world to provide help and support for people. We admit this, as I said that we have many challenges inside our country and those challenges we are hoping to address and be reformed by evolution, as I said, and not by revolution. So that is the way that we are leading, by admitting that we have shortcomings. Not only do we recognize the shortcomings, but hopefully put in place actions and programs that would overcome these shortcomings. I have mentioned the fact that when you call Saudi Arabia a misogynistic country that women in Saudi Arabia can now not only vote, but also participate as candidates in elections and be members of the Shura Council. And I just refer you to your own experience to your women’s rights, when did your women get right to vote? After how many years since the establishment of the United States did women get to vote in the United States? Does that mean that before they got the vote that United States was an illegitimate country? According to his definition, obviously. So, until, when was it – 1910 when women got to vote – from 1789 to 1910 United States was illegitimate? This is how you should measure things, by how people recognize their faults and try to overcome them.

Husseini: – So are you saying that Arabs are inherently backward? –

Hickman: Sam, that’s enough – this lady to the right, you’re next.

Husseini has the full story at Washington Stakeout.

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Comments

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Uuuuweee! He sure got Prince Turki hopping on those hot coals. I always love these situations. You see it with domestic violence too. The oppressor having made thousands suffer, gets mad because someone swears at him.
Oppressed: "You #@*, you killed my mother and father!"
Oppressor: "Teacher! Teacher! He called me a bad word!"

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Well the prince is wright when he says that women can vote and present them self as candidate. What he omitted to add is that women cannot vote and present them self as candidate without the writing consent of the husband.

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Turki's 'job' is to answer, not ask questions. Turki, has no 'right' to expect an answer from a questioner as a condition to answering a question. Turki, who is probably a facilitator of torture, is entitled to no respect. Neither is a the "National Press Club" which now protects facilitators of torture.

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And here I thought answering a question with another question was a Jewish stereotype! Rather ironic, no?

I must admit, however, that the question about the Saud Family's legitimacy as sovereign rulers was more of a social statement than it was a "legitimate" question.
It is obvious they have no /democratic/ right to rule. But posing democracy as though it is the only form of legitimate government ignores history, psychology, and simple reality. While I personally like the suggestion that maybe it /should/ be, asserting it as a legal fait accompli is a different form of journalism.

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Prince Turki says we should visit the "kingdom". Women are not allowed to visit unless they are accompanied by a male relative. That excludes a lot of women from being able to visit. BTW - this was also the response I got from an Israeli Zionist when I criticized the apartheid the occupation has become in the West Bank. "Have you been there? If no, you know nothing."

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.