The Western press has been consistently and persistently biased in reporting about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration, its achievements and the reformation movements it started – more so than any other topics.
Whatever they say so ardently has been poorly researched, based on innuendoes and the product of community coercion. But, as has been shown for decades, the close community of Western journalists living in small clusters in the country they serve is under constant peer pressure, and they provide “sources” to each other.
And the bias they carry is their intellectual baggage! Unlike the 19th-century press studies, which used to teach us that “journalists should and could be objective observers,” now it is a sociological and psychological fact that, regardless of whether they are journalists or city bus drivers, we humans cannot be “objective” beings. We have emotions, sentiments, and wit; we judge, we love, we hate. We are faithful to religions; we are devoted believers of political ideologies. We are Americans, British, Turks, Germans, Kurds, etc. In short, our personal opinions determine what we see through our perceptions. That is the bias we carry with all our intellectual baggage wherever we go to serve as reporters, correspondents or editors. But in modern media studies, we also learn that if we become aware of favoritisms we have, inclinations we display and intolerances we feel, in short, if we know our preconceived opinions, then we could guard ourselves against them. As someone who served almost in all capacities of the press, broadcasting and new media for the last half a century, I know it is easier said than done! You always have secret ghosts in your intellectual closet that even you are unaware of. Many defense mechanisms lurk in the dark corners of your intellectual loads. Still, this or that ethnicity might be your red line when trying to emancipate your “lenses” from your prejudices. This or that leader could be beyond your tolerance limits not because of their economic policies but because you have been observing all other “foreign” journalist colleagues taking up a stance against him. Or ... “because everybody knows he is a devote Muslim!”
In short, it is not unrealistic, but it is undoubtedly tough to go against the tide of neighborhood pressure if your neighborhood has all the foreign reporters and country experts of or about Türkiye .
There is another current in that neighborhood: Emulation and the support system provided to it. It is like mimicking but much more artful. It works like this: You have authentic stripes on your skin, but when you move from your poverty-stricken “hood” to that affluent urban area, natives of your newly adopted neighborhood start noticing your stripes. “Hey, yes, I have stripes, but I act like I have spots. Don’t let my stripes fool you. I am one of you.” This is more than an imitative behavior; it is emulation. It is a mixture of aspiration, impersonation and enactment, mostly coveting.
Case in point: Arab-American entrepreneur Jamal Daniel, based in Washington, D.C., and publisher of Al-Monitor, a news website launched in February 2012, and his senior correspondent Amberin Zaman, who is also The Economist’s Türkiye correspondent and a fellow of the Wilson Center. Al-Monitor’s Ankara reporter Nazlan Ertan also works for Gazete Duvar (and duvarenglish.com), which is owned and operated by Duvar Medya Vakfı (Duvar Media Foundation), which in turn has been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) among others, collecting thousands if not millions of dollars. If you can follow these intricate tangles of the economic relationship, and the biographies, backgrounds and personal stories of the people involved, you’ll see the two processes I mentioned at work: “I am one of you” and “but that is what everybody says.”
Daniel was born in Tartous, Syria, raised in Lebanon, and received his MBA at the University of Texas at Austin. He was the president and chairperson of Crest Investment Company in Houston, Texas, with 30 years of experience managing investments in oil and gas, telecommunications, high technology, media, manufacturing and real estate, when he launched Al-Monitor with “the intention to publish a diverse set of perspectives on the region, bridging the gap of information available to both those in the Middle East and those elsewhere with a desire to understand a rapidly changing region better.” If he saw Türkiye’s latest development, the reformation efforts, and especially its unending assistance to the democratic fight of his native people, he would probably be proud of it. Yet his publication is now at the forefront of the battle against the architect of these developments with a bizarre type of journalism that looks like not reporting but jumping with joy whenever they say anything that could be presented as a failure of the Erdoğan administration.
Another example: Mr. David Lepeska, journalist and editor with a lot of experience in The New York Times, Financial Times and The Guardian newspapers and the Atlantic and Foreign Policy reviews, etc., under his belt, and still has no qualms about sharing a message about the break-up of the opposition front against the Erdoğan administration and commenting it as “frittering away a golden opportunity.” Even if you consider social platforms as personal rather than professional media, how can your regular readers be sure that your reporting would be any different from your pontification on social media? How a regular reader or viewer of the traditional media could believe that your reporting would be bias-free when you blatantly confess that “for Americans, a unique set of biases (is toward) an idealized version of democracy and freedom,” and you gladly are afflicted with it.
Because “it is a unique set of biases and perspectives” for the neighborhood, you cannot but carry that baggage wherever you go: It is my way or no way, Jose!
Since Day 1, that is the day Joe Biden, then-candidate, declared in his meeting with the editorial board of The New York Times that, if elected, he would empower his friends in Türkiye to have the regime change in the country, the focus of Al-Monitor’s opinion pieces have shifted to toppling the Erdoğan administration. The reason for Biden’s desire to change the regime in Türkiye was, according to Mr. Biden, Erdoğan’s exclusion of Türkiye’s Kurdish minority from the political process. To say anything to refute this baseless lie would be a waste of ink and printing press when the third largest parliamentary caucus belongs to ethnic Kurds and almost one-third of the ministers in Erdoğan’s Cabinet are ethnic Kurdish politicians. But Mr. Biden was able to mobilize his “friends” in Türkiye and “empower them,” and the neighborhood got the message. There are countless articles from the opposition figures on how to topple the Turkish government, but not one single piece supports Erdoğan.
If you have a chance to meet their editors and ask them the reason for this policy, they would probably roll their eyes and ask you not to look at their stripes; they are, in fact, from the other neighborhood.