Qatar had offered millions of US dollars to obtain a major stake in Newsmax, a conservative media company run by Christopher Ruddy, a friend of President Donald Trump, according to US journalist Ben Schreckinger who asserted that his two sources had knowledge of the talks.
Two prominent members of the US Republican Party confirmed to Al Arabiya English, on the condition of anonymity, that the talks between Qatar and Newsmax were on going until it was frozen, not canceled, in April 2018.
In an interview with Al Arabiya English in Washington this week, Schreckinger said that Qatar’s rulers were operating under a business model.
“The Qataris, like many foreign governments, have a lot of money and ultimately it's a business. It's not surprising, that if a business gets a strong offer or strong interest from someone who wants to give it millions of dollars, that it would seriously consider it.”
But why would a US conservative media outlet be interested in such a deal?
“There are plenty of examples of people taking money and investments from foreign governments, even when their domestic political commitments or sympathies may become in contradiction to that,” Schreckinger, who broke the story, said.
He pointed out that executives often make business decisions that can be divorced from some of their political sympathies.
“Chris asked me to e-mail you the following,” Christopher Ruddy’s Executive Assistant, Donna Marie Glita, responded to an Al Arabiya English inquiry by stating: “Through the years, Newsmax had discussed investments with numerous parties and we never publicly comment on such interactions. Despite the claims made in one press report, Newsmax is neither in discussions nor expecting an investment from any foreign government.”
Schreckinger, meanwhile, told us that if we take Newsmax's word for it, it means that “there are no current talks at the time being, but certainly there were talks that occurred this year, and as recently as last month [April],” according to his well-informed sources.
Schreckinger stated in his Politico report that: “The meetings began in January and have taken place in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, Florida. Other talks took place during the first week of April, when the CEO of the state-owned Qatar Investment Authority, both Al Thani brothers, and several members of Qatar’s cabinet were in Florida. The Qataris had eyed a $90 million investment."
"I spoke with Sheikh Jassim Al Thani, who is the spokesperson for the Qatari Embassy here in Washington and he ‘declined’ to comment," Schreckinger confirmed to us, reiterating that Al Thani did not deny, but he refused to comment.
However, three Al Arabiya English inquiries about the Newsmax deal and the Qatari lobbying efforts to lift the GCC blockade through Washington, were totally ignored by the embassy's spokesperson.
Former US diplomat Dr. William Lawrence told Al Arabiya English that he had no knowledge of the story and was unable to verify its authenticity, however, he pointed out that any sort of media move would have financial and political calculations.
Lawrence said: "Having a controlling or an important stake in Newsmax would allow Qatar some say in the editorial direction of the publication. Certainly, owners have a lot to do with hiring and firing decisions, and other editorial issues and direction. And with that in mind, Doha could have a positive impact on its image within the reporting of Newsmax if they did invest in and have an important stake."
Lawrence, who is also a George Washington University Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, said that the work of the publication would want some insulation from any bias of the owners, which would affect its stories and reporting.
“Donald Trump is the President of the United States, and anything the Qataris could do to influence the Trump administration, influence those who support Trump including his base, which is what Newsmax does, would be very important to them,” Lawrence said.
"When it comes to editorial decisions and ownership of publications, it's less about what the publications say, and more about what they don't."Former US diplomat Dr. William Lawrence
He added that sometimes when it comes to editorial decisions and ownership of publications, it's less about what the publications say, and more about what they don't.
Lawrence believed that, following the boycott of Qatar, Doha started using America's Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar as leverage, not to increase its importance, but to get a multi-decade agreement with Washington in this regard.
“There was no question that Qatar was doing everything it can to tie Washington's hands or keep the US closer to its goals for a long strategic relationship. This was the point of the US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue that took place a couple of months ago; to impress on Washington that the strategic alliance between the two countries was something that should be strong on its own merits, and not subject to the countries that are opposing Qatar,” Lawrence said
However, Lawrence added that US intelligence and military professionals do not wish to move the Al Udeid Air Base for logistic reasons, certain technological aspects, and other military specifications that would make it difficult to move the base out of Qatar.