Qatar is seeking to improve its public image abroad through positive exposure in prominent US media outlets ahead of a US visit by the Qatari Emir, which is scheduled for Tuesday, July 9.
For instance, Doha’s government-sponsored messages from the Qatari administration have appeared “inbetween titbits of juicy news from Capitol Hill in Politico’s Playbook,” according to US digital news site Mediaite.
Politico Playbook is “a newsletter read by everyone in DC politics, which was
sponsored, even littered, with defenses of Qatar on
geopolitical grounds,” Mediaite reported, pointing out, “a news
and political organization in the United States should probably consider it
wise not to take money to air their defense of, or someone else’s attacks on, a
national government accused of being a state-sponsor of terrorism.”
An excerpt from Qatar’s sponsored article in Politico said ahead of the Emir’s visit, “Next week, President Donald Trump plans to meet with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, at the White House. The two are expected to discuss a range of issues pertaining to US interests in the Middle East, including the ongoing international pressure on Iran to discontinue its nuclear programs.”
The sponsored article also claimed that “Qatar has a strong record of counter-terrorism efforts, and the US-Qatar defense relationship is integral to the ongoing War on Terror. Central to much of the President and the Emir’s discussion will be about the Al Udeid Air Base, one of the largest US military bases outside of the US. Al Udeid hosts more than 11,000 American and Coalition military personnel and has been a primary launch site for air attacks against ISIS.”
The Doha-based Al-Jazeera network is used by Qatar as the main media platform to convey their message, but it is not the only resource used to inject cash to various sources to improve the state’s image, Mediaite reported, featuring the latest article by The Wall Street Journal on June 19.
WSJ ran a story on Khalifa al-Subaiy, a Qatari financier, who had long provided financial support to senior al-Qaeda leadership, including September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It added that the documents it reviewed showed Subaiy had an account with Qatar National Bank. WSJ attributed this to what it called “loopholes” in United Nations sanctions procedures.
“Qatar has been characterized as a haven for terrorists with a nation’s support for Hamas and renewed closeness with Iran round out the ways in one should probably consider government-sponsored ads from the nation to be, at the very least, iffy,” said Mediaite.
“Qatar is increasingly a safe haven for radical terrorists,” agreed Erick Erickson, who has been a CNN and Fox News contributor, writing in his blog, The Resurgent. “Qatar is also dropping massive cash on American news organizations,” he added.
He also highlighted the Qatari sponsorship of Politico’s Playbook “with a propaganda effort that denies its ties to terrorism.”
Two years ago, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt all severed ties with Qatar because of its sponsorship of terrorism. According to Erickson, there is growing suspicion within US national security corridors that “Qatar is throwing its money around American news outlets to suppress stories about it, or amplify stories about Saudi Arabia and other American allies that have turned on Qatar.”
According to The Hill, a Washington DC newspaper which covers congressional affairs, in a report published in 2017, Qatar paid Mercury Public Affairs, described as a high-stakes public strategy firm, more than $900,000 in 2016. Mercury facilitated meetings between Qataris and prominent US congressmen and women for discussion of military arms sales, arranging Congress and staff trips to Qatar, and glossing over the problems caused by the Senate’s inquiry into controversial labor practices involved in the construction of stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar is a big investor in lobbying firms, using them to handle its diplomacy and ease difficult foreign relationships. It hired two lobbying firms, Ashcroft Law Firm and Avenue Strategies, in 2018 to advise the country on how to “whitewash its record and hide the true facts about its support for terrorists,” said an AP report, commenting on the case of the Qatar-Broidy lawsuit, where US businessman Elliott Broidy, a former Trump fundraiser, accused Qatari hackers of leaking his emails to the media.
According to all these reports, Qatar has sought to use major US media and public relations outlets to burnish its image, avoid difficult questions, and cover up the taint of support for international terrorism.