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How Midterm Voters Are Reacting To The Killing Of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi


As we've been hearing, the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has sparked international outrage, but people right here in the U.S. are also talking about the incident and how President Trump has been handling it. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports on how it's playing out among voters and U.S. media outlets just two weeks before the midterm elections.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Carol Marotti and her friend Boston Neary work in publishing and live near Burlington, Vt. Both say they're definitely voting next month. Both describe themselves as independents. When I ask if they're paying attention to the Khashoggi case, they nod their heads.

CAROL MAROTTI: We actually were discussing it in the car on the way down here.

MANN: We meet on the street in Vergennes, Vt., where the two are shopping and leaf peeping. Marotti says she's troubled by President Trump's focus on money and an arms deal with the Saudis rather than seeking justice for a slain journalist.

MAROTTI: If he was murdered, I don't think that his biggest concern should be pushing this deal through. Let's get all the facts first and find out and make an educated decision. It was a human being.

MANN: Neary agrees, says she thinks Trump's tone just isn't right.

BOSTON NEARY: I think that sums it up. More transparent world leadership would be the right thing to do.

MANN: This narrative, questioning Trump's moral compass on the Khashoggi case, has played over and over in media that tends to be critical of the president. Here's Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.


JOE SCARBOROUGH: And then he was killed, and he was dismembered. And Donald Trump's response - we get a lot of money from them. There are Trump's values - not American values. Those are Donald Trump's values.

MANN: But in conservative-tilting media friendly to President Trump, this sounds very different. The Washington Post last week described a whisper campaign by conservative commentators and activists aimed at discrediting Khashoggi, some suggesting possible ties to Muslim radicals. This narrative has been taken up by Republican politicians, including Corey Stewart, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Virginia who spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER: Mr. Stewart, when you say that Jamal Khashoggi was not a good guy himself, what does that mean exactly, not a good guy himself?

COREY STEWART: Well, Anderson, I mean, there's a lot of stuff out there.

MANN: One voice leading this attack on Khashoggi is Rush Limbaugh. Less than three weeks after the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist was brutally killed, Limbaugh used his influential radio show on Friday to describe Khashoggi as suspicious, a man unworthy of the president's concerns.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: There's no whisper about this, OK? I'm not whispering anything when I talk about this. I'm shouting it from the rooftops.

MANN: On Saturday, the Saudis acknowledged Khashoggi died in their embassy. But many conservative outlets have simply downplayed his death. Like President Trump, they've focused attention instead on that caravan of migrants moving north through Central America and Mexico. Peter Hegseth is the host of the program "Fox & Friends."


PETER HEGSETH: It will be time to deploy the military. I believe so because we haven't changed our immigration policies.

MANN: This issue, immigration, did seem far more significant to many of the voters we spoke to. They ranked protecting America's borders as a higher priority for Trump than the Khashoggi case. Mike Downs is a retired state trooper in Westport, N.Y., a Democrat who says he'll be voting Republican this year.

MIKE DOWNS: Trump is on the right track trying to correct certain things, like, for instance, the immigration. You know, we watch it on television. You know, I feel sorry for these people, but we can't police the whole world.

MANN: With voting already underway in parts of the country, our interviews didn't find that Trump's handling of the Khashoggi killing appeared to be changing many minds about him or the midterm elections. Those who favored the president seemed untroubled by the case or weren't paying it much mind. Voters hostile to Trump said the story just reinforces what they felt before - anger and outrage. Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.

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