BY JEANETTE LENOIR
Let’s call it what it is, the high five between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, (MBS) evoke visions of Doctor Evil and Number 2 celebrating a win for their team. And if it didn’t send chills down your spine, you haven’t been keeping up with world affairs. Anyone who has can fill in the blanks to properly caption the symbolism behind it. Keep in mind, Putin is no stranger to brazen killings of journalists in his own country.
Another avenue to understand the moment and how it’s portrayed is through the lens of the media. And where folks get the vast majority of their information from can undoubtedly skew their perceptions, which is by design because your favorite media watering hole aims to influence you.
Comparing CNN, MSNBC, NYDN, Fox News, NYPost, WSJ and even Al Jazeera’s coverage of the dramatic greeting between the two men, it’s easy to make the contrasts and comparisons. CNN, MSNBC, NYDN and the NYPost took a more bombastic approach to describe the high-five that sent chills to spines across the globe. The wording used, “astounding, bazaar, deadly serious and Murder? What murder?” or referring to the two men as “blood brothers” is a clear position the above mentioned outlets have taken. This stance, which pays in dividends, serves their more moderate leaning audience. Comparing CNN, MSNBC, NYDN and NYPost—more liberal leaning media companies—coverage to the WSJ’s coverage of the high-five at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires there’s a clear distinction; CNN, MSNBC, NYDN and NYPost made their views of the dramatic handshake very clear by painting it in a negative light, while the WSJ took a more conservative brush to it for its audience—a more conservative leaning and economy focused audience—by describing the greeting as exchanging “pleasantries” and quickly moving on to other subject matters central to the G20 Summit.
Looking at Al Jazeera and considering the strained relationship between the two countries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, one could easily surmise the Qatar media company would take a hostile position in describing and analyzing the irregular exchange between MBS and Putin, but it didn’t. Al Jazeera took a neutral position on the G20 Summit, including the high-five. The media company simply gave updates on the happenings at the Summit. From the issues being discussed to the meetings being held with all the different world leaders, Al Jazeera didn’t even describe the exchange with bombastic wordings like CNN, MSNBC, NYDN or NYPost and the like did. It provided a ticker with periodic updates of the Summit.
Fox News also took a different position. The conservative leaning media company and staunch supporter and defender of U.S. President Donald J. Trump didn’t lead with the high-five angle, nor did it mention it. Instead, Fox News chose to highlight Trump and his leadership at the Summit favorably instead. Fox News came out with this headline, “Trump Presses Putin on Syria, US Election Meddling in First Meeting.” Fox led with this soft on Trump approach storyline, while most other major news outlets spoke about the strange greeting following the barbaric killing of journalist Jamal Kashoggi. There is no mention or video of the handshake between MBS and Putin on the Fox News website. This is clearly by design to cater to its audience, most of whom are conservative leaning and even cult-like Trump supporters.
Media companies cater to their specific audience by way of story shaping. If not, they lose them and all the money the story arc generates. This pattern of shaping information to pacify audience members is not new in the art of storytelling or news reporting. Media outlets are simply getting better at delivering news that fits a certain agenda rather than news that serves to empower people. This news media strategy, whether it be liberal or conservative leaning, is frightening, especially in the era of Trump, heightened corporate greed and wrongdoings, including brazen murders of top officials and journalists tasked with uncovering truth and holding the powerful accountable.