“Of Course Journalists Should Interview Autocrats”

Article in Atlantic Graeme Wood wrote about Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. The following are his closing paragraphs.

Many journalists complained about my description of MBS being “charming” as well as “intelligent” to them. I have two responses to this. MBS was charmed and intelligent. If you believe charm and intelligence cannot be combined with being a sociopath, then you have learned very little from your years living in Washington, D.C.

If a publication claims it’s too sacred to invite the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to be interviewed, it will admit that they cannot cover Saudi Arabia. Atlantic is not in the business of sanctimony, and it expects its readers to understand, without being told, that someone who dwells on his own indignities as the result of a murder, rather than on the suffering of the victim, might not be the perfect steward of absolute power.

Every journalist tries to tell readers something they don’t already know. All interviews with heads or state include getting them say things that they didn’t want to. To elicit these utterances, one must approach the subject sideways—and, most of all, keep him talking, and reveal more than he intends to say.

“Giving a platform”—to use the cliché that imprisons the minds of those who don’t know how journalism is done, or what its purpose is—is not a favor bestowed on important people. You are invited to wander the boards, and then fall through trapdoors. Saudi officials, who have spent the past two days trying to make pillows so they can land softly below, believe that this is what their ruler did.