President Obama met with Saudi King Abdullah on Friday in a bid to ease tensions between the countries. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
It took the arrival of a White House press pool on President Barack Obama’s Saudi visit – and the power of TwitterTWTR +2.12% – to reveal some closely-guarded mysteries of the Saudi royal family to its Saudi subjects.
Politico correspondent Carrie Budoff Brown, senior White House reporter for Washington, D.C.-based Politico gained 11,000 Twitter followers overnight after tweeting rare photos from inside the king’s desert palace outside Riyadh on Friday night. Ms. Brown was part of the group of journalists traveling with Mr. Obama on his European and Mideast tour.
Saudi authorities tightly control news of King Abdullah and other royals. The press pool’s rare access brought surprises for curious Saudis:
The top news from the U.S. press pool’s visit inside the palace: King Abdullah, who is in his 90s, now uses supplementary oxygen to breathe.
U.S. news agencies allowed in to snap photos for the opening of two hours of talks between the Saudi and American leaders carried photos clearly showing the king breathing with the aid of oxygen tubes.
Photos of the Obama-Abdullah meeting from Saudi Arabia’s official state press agency, by contrast, mostly were shot from a distance and did not show the oxygen tubes.
Saudi state media only rarely reports on the health of the king, who is said by diplomats to be mentally sharp and engaged but limited in his mobility and in his energy.
The U.S. press pool also gave Saudis some of their first views of the king’s palace outside Riyadh.
Other photos revealed the décor of the palace – purple and gold carpet, brown and gold horse pictures, and horse pictures. Lots of horse pictures.
Saudis were stunned.
Not all Saudis appreciated the house-tour.
Some Saudis demanded she try the same in Washington, D.C.
Online media also proved unwieldy for the Saudis themselves. On Thursday, rumors swirled of a pending royal announcement laying out a change in the House of Saud. Respected Saudi journalists tweeted that strong sources were reporting that King Abdullah might leave the throne.
The state media announcement, when it came, only locked in what the royal family intends to be the coming order of succession for the kingdom, after King Abdullah.
But al-Arabiya, a Saudi-controlled news organization that reflects the policy of the Saudi government, had another headline in the URL of its first web story on the decree, Wall Street Journal correspondent Ahmed al Omran noticed.
In English, the Arabiya headline reads: “Saudi King Abdicates for Brother Salman.” By Sunday morning, in fact, no such abdication had been announced – and the URL headline had long been deleted.