Fox Business Network Drops Out of Saudi Conference

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Maria Bartiromo

The network has been weighing whether to continue sponsoring the conference in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance.

After days of deliberation, Fox Business Network finally announced on Thursday that it will no longer serve as a media sponsor for Saudi Arabia's Future of Investment Initiative conference following the Oct. 2 disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. 

"Fox Business Network has canceled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia. We continue to seek an interview with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” the network said in a statement.

Prominent morning host Maria Bartiromo had been scheduled to speak at the conference, as she did last year.

But, based on her on-air comments on Tuesday, she seemed to be leaning against participating, even as the network continued to say it was evaluating the situation.

"It just feels like it flies right in the face of this expectation that this was the guy to modernize Saudi Arabia," she said.

After a guest questioned whether Khashoggi should be considered a journalist (or, instead, an "activist"), Bartiromo responded: "It doesn't matter what he is, we're talking about human rights. The question becomes: Do you do business with a killer?"

Dubbed "Davos in the Desert," the conference (Oct. 23-25) has been shedding media partners in the wake of Khashoggi's disappearance, including CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, Nikkei and The Financial Times. Several other prominent speakers from the worlds of media and finance, including Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, have also dropped out of this year's event.

The former CNBC anchor was also dismissive of the explanation the Kingdom will reportedly offer, that Khashoggi was killed inadvertently after a failed interrogation.

"I just want to get this straight: if the Saudis were interrogating him and then it was an interrogation gone wrong and they killed him, is that supposed to make everybody feel better?" Bartiromo asked her guest, Republican congressman Peter King. "Why were they interrogating this guy? And why did they need 15 people from Saudi to get on a private jet to go interrogate him?"

But Bartiromo, who frequently defends President Trump, also made a case for maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia: "We do need them for stability in the region. We do need them to fight the terrorists out of Iran."

She called the Khashoggi incident a "real disappointment," saying: "We do business and partnerships with other amoral people across the world. Let's not forget that. 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."

Oct. 18, 12 p.m.: Updated with confirmation.