Fox Business, Saudi conference's last media partner, pulls out

Move comes after Mnuchin drops out

By HADAS GOLD AND OLIVER DARCY, CNN BUSINESS
CNN image

Fox Business Network ---- which had been the lone remaining media partner participating in this year's Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia --- dropped out of the event on Thursday.

(CNN) - Fox Business Network, which had been the lone remaining international media partner participating in this year's Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia, dropped out of the event on Thursday.

The move came just hours after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced he would no longer attend the conference. Until then, for more than a week, Fox Business Network had said its participation in a high-profile summit in Saudi Arabia next week was "under reveiew."

All of the other international news outlets that had agreed to sponsor the event in Riyadh — CNN, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, CNBC and Nikkei — pulled out by last weekend, following the disappearance and apparent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and scheduled to begin on October 23, the event is designed to showcase the prince's Vision 2030 plan to break the country's dependence on oil.

Fox anchor Maria Bartiromo, who interviewed bin Salman on stage last year, had been scheduled to appear. The network said in a statement on Thursday that it will "continue to seek an interview with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman" at this year's event.

The network's relationship with the crown prince goes beyond an anchor interview. Fox chief Rupert Murdoch hosted him in March for a dinner in California, along with business and media A-listers like Disney's Bob Iger. On that same American tour, the prince also met with major business figures like Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook.

On air, Fox Business Network has been covering the Khashoggi situation in the same way as any other news outlet. Anchors and guests have noted the complexities in the relationship between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, asking questions about how to believe the information coming from Turkey considering the country's own track record of stamping out an independent press and political dissidents.

Bartiromo said on Tuesday the Khashoggi incident "flies right in the face of this expectation" that bin Salman was modernizing Saudi Arabia.

"We do business and partnerships with other amoral people across the world. Let's not forget that," she said during her morning program. "But, at the same time, this was a real disappointment because this was our last hope of any stability in the Middle East to fight back on the terrorists in Iran."

Still, the network remained as the last holdout. And before Fox Business announced on Thursday that it was bailing on the event, Fox staffers, speaking with CNN Business on the condition of anonymity said they were disappointed that the network was still involved in the conference.

"It's unreal, but not surprising," one senior Fox employee said. "This is a company that puts ratings and profit above all else."

Another Fox staffer told CNN Business, "They are not going to do anything that puts them at odds with the White House so they can keep getting access. But keeping their heads in the sand just isn't sustainable."

Media organizations often participate in conferences around the world, lending their high-profile talent as moderators for panels and discussions. Sometimes the conferences can result in lucrative partnership for the companies, while providing what can be important platforms and sourcing opportunities for the reporters.

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