"Most mainstream outlets today tend to stumble over each other noting Turkey's authoritarian turn" begins an article that argues foreign media elites filter their readers' exposure to the truth about Turkey. The article's author, Erik Meyersson, an associate professor of political economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, does so in an interesting piece entitled "Tired of Bad Talking Points About Turkey" detailing the "perception pirouette" that the foreign press of Turkey have taken. Meyersson details how many media outlets, including "The New York Times, Financial Times and the Economist," have suddenly become anti-Erdoğan following a decade of praise of him as a "pro-Western democratic pluralist."
The author states that the "media tide on Turkey turned negative," implying that reporting on Turkey by major foreign press outlets was not based on "fact" but on the interests of the respective publisher. Admittedly Meyersson's conclusion, that editorial boards were sugar-coating Turkey in the past and have just now moved closer to reality, is not one I agree with; however, his premise that reporting on Turkey by the foreign press can and does change based on the interests of the publication rather than "the truth," whatever that may be, should be unsettling despite your politics.
Meyersson goes on to compare two pictures of Erdoğan used by Foreign Policy Magazine, one in 2011, the other in 2013. The first picture depicts Erdoğan in a flattering statesmen-like fashion, complete with Turkish flag in the background. The second picture Meyersson refers to shows Erdoğan during a heated debate in which he is visibly agitated with his mouth open, caught mid-sentence. The headline for the second image is "The End of Erdoğan?" ironically only months before he becomes the only popularly elected president in the history of the country.
So why have some foreign media outlets turned on Erdoğan? Why have they so quickly changed their tone? Meyersson argues that "the problem lies with the demand side of the stories: the editor's room. And through the editors come the choice of op-ed writers," he continues.
Do I believe that the editors of The New York Times, Financial Times, and the Economist order "anti-Erdoğan" pieces like they would a pizza? Extra "authoritarian," hold the "popularly elected," in 30 minutes please? That they ask for re-writes until a piece has the slant they are looking for? That they only choose op-ed pieces that mirror their own beliefs? What would be their motive? Are the New York Times, the Economist, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times acting purposefully to change the way Turks vote in elections? If Erdoğan's growing popularity is any indication, even if they are, they aren't doing a very good job of it. Maybe it's not Turks they look to influence. How would convincing non-Turks that Erdoğan is no longer the champion of "a shining (and rare) example in the Muslim world of a vibrant democracy with the rule of law," as Meyersson quotes the Economist's article from 2010, serve its interests? What are its interests?
The aforementioned questions don't keep me up at night. One of the mistakes I find my colleagues and friends in Turkey often making is assuming countries are monoliths. It's difficult to find two Americans, Britons or continental Europeans with the exact same political beliefs. "America," the country doesn't have political beliefs, its citizens do. How can a Democratic president, a Republican Senate divided 55/45 and a Republican House of Representatives all share the same politics? This holds for most other countries as well. It would be similarly naive to assume that all media outlets "report" the news to their various readerships. I don't assume The New York Times presents the "truth" nor do I assume News Corp (Fox News/The Wall Street Journal) present the "truth," a mental averaging with coefficients for degree of bias, plus or minus my own political beliefs becomes "my truth."
As someone who will readily admit to voting for George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton on the same ballot and John Kerry four years later, I consider myself a pragmatic voter. If the politicians I elect don't follow through on their campaign promises, I protest their incumbency not on the streets but at the ballot box. Social issues are good ways to rile up the electorate but issues relating to liberty, crime, quality of healthcare, unemployment, education reform, standard of living, and income inequality are my main concerns. Many of these issues are quantifiable and either my elected officials have moved in the right direction or have not. This is where I think the foreign press falls short. With voter turnout rates among the highest in the world, Turkey has had nine different opportunities to reject President Erdoğan and the party he founded. Voter turnout for the most recent Turkish presidential election was higher than any of the last 58 federal elections in the United States. The last U.S. president to be elected with a higher voter turnout was in 1896 when McKinley became president with 51 percent of the vote. President Erdoğan won with 52 percent.
There is a story for lack of democracy in Turkey, but the story isn't where the foreign press has been looking. I'm not familiar with a political system in which the losing candidate continues to lead a party. If I were a member of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) - I've never been a member of any party - I would be the first to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu should he lose the upcoming parliamentary election. Why shouldn't members of the opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), make the same call to their seemingly perennially losing chairman? Parliamentary elections, municipal elections, referendums, a presidential election, when is enough, really enough? Why won't the foreign media outlets cover this story? Can you imagine David Cameron losing the next five elections in the United Kingdom and holding on to his post in the party? One loss will end his career in party leadership, as well it should.
A stronger and healthier opposition will force the AK Party to better its game, and the ultimate winners will be voters who now have better options to choose from. Would you like to further democracy in Turkey? Sometimes pruning is necessary for the health of the entire tree. I look forward to reading more on this topic and others when the foreign media decide to move on to their next pirouette.