On record or off? That was the great debate in the Kingdom this week, after a highly embarrassing interview with Jordan’s King emerged online.
The journalist in question - Jeffrey Goldberg - has been a friend of the Hashemite monarch for decades, so many assumed that the quotes came from personal chit-chats between the two rather than a 'interview' per se.
Among the most humiliating comments that the King uttered, were those about his own people. According to the article in the Atlantic newspaper, he called his loyal tribal chiefs, “old dinosaurs” and the villainous King Herod, “quite a character”.
As soon as the interview was published, the Royal Court came out in force saying the quotes were 'taken out of context' and that the article was essentially fictitious. They were strong words, given Mr. Goldberg’s reputation as a journalist and his relationship with the king.
But the scale of the embarrassment meant a swift response was needed. After all, this was the interview that quoted the King as saying Egyptian President Morsi was “lacking depth” and referred to hated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as “provincial”.
‘So, I asked, Bashar was a bit of a provincial? The king smiled, and told me about a conversation he had at the Arab Summit. “There was a dinner with me and him and the king of Morocco, at the king’s residence in Cairo. And so Bashar at dinner turns to us and says, ‘Can you guys explain to me what jet lag is?’ ”
The king arched an eyebrow at me. “He never heard of jet lag.”’
However, Goldberg wasn’t about to let his reputation take a battering and immediately went on the offensive. He reportedly threatened to release the audio tapes of the interview in full online and started his own media campaign to clear his name.
In an interview with local news outlet, Amman.net, the journalist said that not only were all the quotes on record but that the Royal Court had approached him before publication and asked him to self-censor.
It was a damning indictment of the state of the media in the Kingdom. The following day, chief government spokesman, Samih Maaytah put out another, slightly different, denial.
This time there was no argument about the truth of the quotes themselves. Maaytah claimed only that the comments were taken out of context.
Meanwhile the Kingdom was shaken by these brash, offensive, statements by their much-loved Monarch. While anti-regime activists said they were not at all surprised, others considered another option.
King Abdullah has repeatedly indicated that he is ready to step out of the limelight and become a British-style ceremonial monarch. This interview was no different. So perhaps the slurs against his loyal tribesman and regional counterparts were a way of falling out of favor deliberately.
With the recent first of a prime minister being elected by parliament rather than the King, he may already be on his way out of the political spotlight.
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