Western media still duped by Erdoğan

The Washington Post's publication on Wednesday of an op-ed signed - but not written, perhaps not even read - by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan exposed a bizarre divide of perceptions across the world.

While international media were busy reporting Turkey's tempestuous president showing gruesome video of the New Zealand massacre at one election rally after another, attacking the New Zealand government for being weak on the assassin and threatening to send Australians and New Zealanders back home in coffins, the Washington Post presented a reasoned leader calling for joint action against global terror carried out in the name of any religion.

Informed readers of the Washington Post must have been left wondering which Erdoğan was this?

Certainly, not the one who has since the 2013 Gezi Park protests relentlessly steered Turkey down the path towards authoritarianism.

Surely such a piece should have included a clarification by Erdoğan, the supposed author of the article, explaining why he was still busy ranting about Greece - talking about throwing infidels into the Aegean Sea - and why he was still rubbing salt in the open wounds of Australia and New Zealand.

But there was none of it. Zero.

Why would there have been? The arrogant-ignorant clique of sycophants that surround Erdoğan have long given up standing up to him, and have joined his make-believe world in which he can treat international opinion as he treats the frightened and hypnotised masses in Turkey.

Perhaps as he travelled on to another rally with the massacre video in his pocket, his men bit their tongues, wondering what the world would say. But they knew one thing; this had happened before, the boss had called the Dutch and Germans Nazis before last year's general elections, and he was answered with the language of appeasement.

What was new this time? Nothing they hoped, perhaps correctly.

According to this mindset, it is perfectly possible to whip up nationalist emotions and seek to humiliate the West, but when things get a bit rough, dupe the international community with an image of leadership working for consensus building, dialogue between faiths and civilisations, and for a world free of conflict.

The Washington Post sadly illustrated how this approach is still given red carpet treatment by even the most dignified media outlets, even thought it is vital that we avoid being duped by those who abuse their power. This is where the Washington Post seems to have lost it.

Attacks on the Post came immediately after the publishing of Erdoğan’s op-ed, from sharp observers of Turkey.

“The Washington Post has staked out principled positions on the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Hungary, Russia, and other authoritarians, which makes it quite odd that they would give space to Turkey's President Erdoğan,” Council on Foreign Relations scholar Steven A. Cook said in a tweet. 

“The Post opinion pages couldn’t find someone who doesn’t imprison journalists (among other concerns) to write this take?'' CBS News' White House correspondent Kathryn Watson said on Twitter.

''As Erdoğan’s op-ed runs under the 'democracy dies in darkness' tagline, a quick reminder that Turkey was the number one jailer of journalists in 2018, per the Committee to Protect Journalists,'' wrote Peter Hasson of Daily Caller.

“It isn't so much that I disagree with the content of this op-ed, as I wonder why the Washington Post has chosen to, once again, give a platform to this authoritarian leader,” said Howard Eissenstat, a prominent expert on Turkey, based in the U.S.

So how did this editorial misjudgement come about? In all likelihood, what happened was this: Because nobody in the closed circle of advisors and sycophants has the guts to stand up to the president over his remarks, all they can do is try to extinguish the fires.

So, when Erdoğan goes ballistic on New Zealand and Australia in his Gallipoli speech, which rightly causes offence, his aides rush to their laptops, grab the phone and ask the Washington Post op-ed editors whether or not they might be interested in an article by Erdoğan, who, they say, is keen to set the record straight. The editors obviously say yes. But did the Washington Post editors try to set any conditions such as a clarification about why he showed the gruesome video images at election rallies?

It is hard to know the reasons, but I am hoping the Washington Post clarifies this, because there are many of us wondering, especially the critical, independent journalists who have been crushed by Erdoğan’s censorship and forced into exile from Turkey, and the opposition figures unable to publish op-ed pieces in the subservient Turkish media.

But the Washington Post editors should not worry too much, they are not alone in misjudgement. When Le Monde published an op-ed piece by the U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen – the man Turkey accuses of being behind the 2016 coup - it chose to present him as some sort of 'lily-white' opposition leader. Many scholars in France objected.

For the sake of presenting diverse opinions, it was worth publishing such op-eds, the critics argued, but newspapers should not shy away from being critical of such a figure, who has avoided being self-critical and was a fellow traveller on the path to power with Erdoğan. The critics were right.

The present case is much more problematic. Gülen is a wanted man, while Erdoğan enjoys enormous power yet is responsible for sheer hate speech at home -- against the Kurds, the opposition and the rest of the world. This is why an explanation, or maybe even a correction, from the Washington Post is overdue.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.