Another receptive audience for Trump’s disinformation campaigns is made up of foreign despots, such as Gulf monarchs, who face fewer constraints on their actions than he does. On Saturday, the Saudi regime warned its citizens that “sharing or spreading rumors or fake news that might affect public order and security is considered cybercrime punishable by 5-year imprisonment,” the Saudi Gazette reported. On Sunday night, Timur Kuran, a Middle East specialist at Duke University, noted, on Twitter, “The ‘fake news’ narrative is now being used by repressive regimes all over the world to discredit legitimate journalism, shut down debate, criminalize questioning, and cover up crimes.”
Referring to the Khashoggi story, Kuran later warned that a three-way deal could be in the making, one in which a rogue Saudi interrogation team is blamed for the journalist’s death, the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, escapes blame, the U.S.-Saudi arms deal goes ahead, Turkey reaps economic benefits from both the United States and Saudi Arabia, all three leaders—M.B.S., Trump, and Erdoğan—“return to usual business,” and “Free journalism takes yet another blow.” That sounds like a deal Trump would sign up for. If he does, and he is allowed to get away with it, the post-truth world will be another step closer.