Vice Media, the once-edgy news outlet that built its reputation on hard-hitting investigative journalism, has apparently sold its spine for a bucketful of riyals. It recently removed its documentary "Inside Saudi Crown Prince's Ruthless Quest for Power" from its YouTube channel. The 9-minute film received over 750,000 views before being deleted just days after being posted.
The Intercept reports that the film's sudden disappearance came hot on the heels of Vice announcing a cozy new partnership with a Saudi state-owned media group. What a coinkydink!
From The Intercept:
Vice's description of the video, now also unavailable on YouTube, previously stated that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed "orchestrates The Ritz Purge, kidnaps Saudi's elites and royal relatives with allegations of torture inside, and his own men linked to the brutal hacking of Journalist Khashoggi – a murder that stunned the world." The description goes on to state that Wall Street Journal reporters Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck "attempt to unfold the motivations of the prince's most reckless decision-making." Hope and Scheck are the co-authors of the 2020 book "Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman's Ruthless Quest for Global Power."
In the documentary, Hope states that Crown Prince Mohammed is "disgraced internationally" owing to the Jamal Khashoggi murder, a topic which Vice critically covered at length in the past. More recently, however, Vice has shifted its coverage of Saudi Arabia, apparently due to the growth of its commercial relationship with the kingdom. The relationship appears to have begun in 2017, owing to MBS's younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, being infatuated with the brand; bin Salman reportedly set up a meeting between Vice co-founder Shane Smith and MBS.
"Vice did not respond to a request for comment on why the video was published and then made private or if there are any plans to make the video public again," reports The Intercept.
According to The Intercept, Vice now has an office with Saudi staff in Riyadh and has helped organize Saudi-sponsored events. The Intercept also reports it shelved another recent story on Saudi harassment of dissidents abroad. When the House of Saud opens its purse strings, even the most vociferous critics seem to find themselves lost for words.
While the axed documentary can still be found lurking on Reddit and elsewhere, its ejection from Vice's platform is a chilling reminder of how the Saudi petrodollar can strangle free speech.
With this capitulation to Saudi censorship, Vice has left its credibility in tatters and set a worrying precedent; that of foreign governments puppeteering American media companies through strategic investments.
See also: "How Vice Went From New Media Giant to Saudi Propaganda Machine" by ex-Vice staffer Simon Childs.