When President Barack Obama told a press conference during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington that he is concerned about press freedom in Turkey and that he had told this directly to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we were all surprised because we knew well that he had not raised this issue at all when he met for 40 minutes with his Turkish counterpart at the White House.
So it was only normal that President Erdoğan voiced his irritation regarding this statement and said the U.S. president should not speak behind his back.
Obama has been in office for eight years only. During that period, he has been criticized and lambasted. So he knows the score. Yet we are aware that whenever Obama was insulted those who were responsible for this were prosecuted and sentenced.
Erdoğan has served as prime minister for 12 years and as president until now for nearly two years. So as the leader of Turkey for the past 14 years, Erdoğan has had more than his fair share of criticism from the press. However, at first, what was criticism and warnings in the media turned into open insults and curse words not only aimed at Erdoğan but his family members. They were humiliated publicly by opposition journalists. What is sad is that whoever failed to win favor with Erdoğan turned against him.
As Erdoğan consolidated his power base and became the darling of the masses the more those opposing him realized they could not get rid of him through normal means so they launched a war of attrition using every dirty means available to insult, defame and destroy Erdoğan and his family at all costs. They were not aiming to argue against his policies but all they were doing was to spread false information to defame him. They used their media to try to destroy Erdoğan and his family.For years, the opposition newspapers have been openly insulting Erdoğan on a daily basis in front page banner headlines. Erdoğan has tolerated most but has filed court cases against those who have targeted his family and himself with open insults.
Erdoğan took a list of the newspaper headlines insulting him during his trip to the US. He also took a list of cases where Western leaders under similar conditions filed cases against those who insulted them in the press and social media. He was prepared to show these lists to Obama had he raised the issue. Yet Obama did not, so Erdoğan presented these lists to opinion leaders in Washington including Madeline Albright and Colin Powell. They were stunned to see these facts.
Yes, press freedom and freedom of expression are essential parts of a democracy and yet the most advanced democratic societies do not accept insults and defamation campaigns as a part of expressing views.
There is a left-wing opposition daily newspaper called Sözcü that has been insulting Erdoğan on a daily basis for the past decade. Has Erdoğan tried to close this newspaper or force it into bankruptcy? No, he has not. There are a string of other publications that have made it a habit of not criticizing but insulting Erdoğan for all these years. They too remain afloat.
What Obama has been forced to do in Washington by speaking behind Erdoğan's back is a cheap trick by the opponents of Turkey. They asked Obama this question about an incident outside the Brookings Institute where Erdoğan was to give an address and the U.S. president was not aware that he was being used in the "bash Erdoğan campaign." He should have known better.