11 September 2001>News Stories>Saudis Assail 'Media Blitz' Against Them in the West

Saudis Assail 'Media Blitz' Against Them in the West
Douglas Jehl . NY Times . 21 December 2001

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 20 — Venting new frustration at how Saudi Arabia is being portrayed in the West, two of the kingdom's top officials have publicly assailed what they called unfair and biased news coverage, with the defense minister citing a "slanderous campaign."

In remarks published in Saudi newspapers today, the defense minister, Prince Sultan, and his son, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who is ambassador to Washington, spoke in unusually harsh terms in denouncing articles and editorials that have suggested that the kingdom has been complicit in terrorism.

Prince Bandar criticized many of those reports, including the ones that have portrayed Saudi Arabia as teaching hatred of non-Muslims in its schools and paying protection money to supporters of Osama bin Laden, a Saudi dissident.

"The truth of the matter is, we think he's evil, bin Laden," Prince Bandar said in an interview conducted Monday by CNBC. "We think people who follow him are evil. We have pain for what happened in America We are condemning what happened. You guys are refusing to accept us."

Prince Sultan was quoted as saying he was surprised by the American media coverage, saying that Saudi newspapers `did not match evil with evil by responding to the slanderous campaign in the West," according to the official government Saudi Press Agency.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday night in Tabuk, he said Saudi Arabia was not against the United States or the West and did not support terrorism but "we have our Arab and Islamic policy which we would not divert from in any way whatsoever."

The involvement of 15 Saudi hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks has focused much critical attention on the kingdom, and senior Saudi officials have complained repeatedly that many accounts were inaccurate. In a lengthy press release last week, the Saudi Embassy in Washington tried a rebuttal, noting for example that President Bush had declared as early as Sept. 24 that "the Saudi Arabians have been nothing but cooperative."

In trying to smooth over any disagreements, officials from both countries have found it convenient to blame the press, but in Saudi Arabia that blame has been particularly pointed at what most Saudis interpret to be a Jewish lobby that controls the American media. Concerns are usually voiced in private, but Prince Sultan's comments can be seen as a faithful reflection of a much broader Saudi sentiment.

"The media blitz against the kingdom is not in the interest of the United States," Prince Sultan was quoted as saying. "U.S.-Saudi ties are based on huge mutual interests."

Prince Sultan is the third-ranking official in the Saudi hierarchy, and his remarks seemed particularly significant because he is generally thought to be among the Saudi leaders with the closest ties to the United States. He attributed what he called "the campaign by some American and Western newspapers" to the kingdom's support for the Palestinians, as voiced in an unusually sharp message that Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom's day-to-day leader, sent to President Bush in August over American support for Israel.