Saudi Arabia’s well-funded public relations apparatus moved quickly after Saturday’s explosive execution of Shiite political dissident Nimr al-Nimr to shape how the news is covered in the United States.
The execution led protestors in Shiite-run Iran to set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, precipitating a major diplomatic crisis between the two major powers already fighting proxy wars across the Middle East.
The Saudi side of the story is getting a particularly effective boost in the American media through pundits who are quoted justifying the execution, in many cases without mention of their funding or close affiliation with the Saudi Arabian government.
Meanwhile, social media accounts affiliated with Saudi Arabia’s American lobbyists have pushed English-language infographics, tweets, and online videos to promote a narrative that reflects the interests of the Saudi regime.
A Politico article about the rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran by Nahal Toosi, for instance, quoted only three sources: the State Department, which provided a muted response to the executions; the Saudi government; and Fahad Nazer, identified as a “political analyst with JTG Inc.” Nazer defended the executions, saying that they served as a “message … aimed at Saudi Arabia’s own militants regardless of their sect.”
What Politico did not reveal was that Nazer is himself a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. He is currently a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, a think tank formed last year that discloses that it is fully funded by the Saudi Embassy and the United Arab Emirates