The blandness was what made it most horrible. The Sun, in British newspaper style, played the news for rage and sensation, juxtaposing a (still unconfirmed) report about the discovery of Jamal Khashoggi’s remains with the release of a Saudi photo op:
News of the grisly “find” came as the journalist’s devastated son Salah came face-to-face with Crown Prince Mohammad [sic] Bin Salman.
Members of the journalist’s family were invited to meet the royal family in Riyadh so they could “pass on their condolences”…
Salah was pictured looking steely-eyed as he came face-to-face with the man some have alleged was behind his father’s killing.
It was more shocking, though, to read the news straight from the Saudi press agency, presented as part of the normal course of state business:
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received at Al-Yamamah palace here today Sahl bin Ahmad Khashoggi and Salah bin Jamal Khashoggi, in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense. The King and the Crown Prince expressed their condolences and consolation to the family of Jamal Khashoggi.
Sahl and Salah Khashoggi expressed their great thanks to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince for their consolation on the death of the deceased.
Where the Sun looked for emotional heat in the scene, the Saudi government offered the chill of unyielding formality and authority. Forty percent of the words in the brief release are devoted to spelling out the titles and honors of the king and prince, the figures who matter. The royal duo’s contribution of “condolences and consolation” is necessarily matched by the Khashoggi family’s offering “great thanks,” as subjects do before the monarch.
What point is there in looking for a “steely eyed” gaze? Salah Khashoggi was surrounded by still and video cameras, capturing the whole meeting from multiple angles. He is reportedly unable to leave the country. The crown prince brought him to the palace for the event, as a demonstration of impunity and sadism, then sent him away again. His Royal Highness would then drop in on the diminished but still well-attended Future Investment Initiative conference, where he received a standing ovation from investors and would-be investors. An official photographer there captured him smiling.