The New York Times is more than just a newspaper to me, it is my local paper. Not only because New York is the entry on my birth certificate, but because it is a paper that I have been reading regularly for 20 years. This is why it so pains me as a Turk to see The New York Times continue to miss the mark on Turkey, most egregiously on Friday.
One of the main reasons I write as a columnist in Turkey is to try and bridge the gap between the country of my birth and upbringing, the United States, and the country of my heritage, Turkey. Both countries are so strikingly similar yet their peoples are often misled to believe they are so different. The current New York Times editorial board will be judged by history for contributing to this misconception.
In a Friday editorial, The New York Times attacked Turkey and its first freely elected president by omitting key facts and failing to disclose conflicts of interest. To summarize, the main anti-government newspaper, Hürriyet, ran an article 10 days ago titled "The world is shocked! Death sentence for president who received 52 percent of the vote." A random survey of Turks on the street, something The New York Times obviously did not do, would have quickly revealed to anyone foreign to Turkish politics that the headline was meant not as an informative news piece about the sentence given to former President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt, but as a veiled threat to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan, an outspoken critic of the military coup in Egypt, was also elected with 52 percent of the vote only nine months ago. By omitting Morsi's name and country from the headline, Hürriyet's intentions can be reasonably inferred. Hürriyet - owned by Aydin Doğan, the infamous Turkish media baron who was described by the Financial Times in a November 2013 piece as "a media magnate whose other business interests were advanced by politicians' fear of his newspapers" - has a vested interest in helping the opposition. The Financial Times' former Turkey correspondent who penned the piece implies the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) did not play ball and Doğan wants them gone - pretty obvious stuff for the average Turk, so far.
Here's where the story strays from the truth. The editorial goes on to say that "criminal complaints were filed against editors of the Hurriyet Daily News and its website over a headline Mr. Erdogan objected to." Any reader would assume that Turkish prosecutors indicted the editors of Hürriyet for their headline. In fact, this is false. Any person can file a complaint against any other person in Turkey for breaking any law. A prosecutor may then either pursue or not pursue charges against that person or company. So, I can also very easily file a criminal complaint against the tooth fairy for human organ trafficking, despite having been compensated for a few teeth decades ago. The tooth fairy case would get as far as this case has gotten - nowhere - however, the headline would read: "Criminal complaint filed in Turkey against tooth fairy."
No charges have been filed nor has any prosecutor taken up the Hürriyet case. Some will argue that what differentiates this case is that Erdoğan brought up the headline shortly after it was published but before any complaint was filed. So? He has a right to respond to criticism just as any other citizen does and any politically savvy citizen would agree with his assessment.
So, what was omitted? The person bringing the case is an attorney famous for filing criminal complaints against dozens of individuals for various crimes, mostly unprovable and vague - a poster-boy for frivolous lawsuits. He also nominated himself to run as a candidate for the AK Party in the upcoming election, a candidacy that the party rejected, perhaps because of over-zealousness.
What other facts has the editorial omitted? The main source of Turkish news published in The New York Times comes from journalists who were previously on the payroll of, you guessed it, Doğan's media conglomerate. Well, that might just be a coincidence as people change jobs all the time. A review of the tweets of both Turkish reporters working for The New York Times reveals that they exclusively quoted Doğan-owned newspapers when citing Turkish papers in the past month. Admittedly, I did not have time to read all of the more than 9,000 tweets said journalists have written over the years, but a review of the last month of scores of tweets paints a clear picture.
Can't journalists have opinions? Of course they can. Journalists can also publish those opinions in op-eds, as columnists or acknowledge conflicts of interest in articles and write whatever they want. Last week I wrote a column in which I acknowledged the mass killings of Armenians, Kurds and Anatolian Greeks during Turkey's troubled past. I received many emails from both sides of the political spectrum calling me a sellout and anti-Turkish. Everyone is entitled to their opinion as it relates to my assessment of history. Had I been paid as a lobbyist to recognize these massacres previously I would have had to reveal said previous employment. Previously employment of New York Times journalists at the same company it now defends is something its readership deserves to know.
Let me leave The New York Times editorial board with a quote from The New York Times' own editorial board. In a piece written following the first Turkish election after the 1980 military coup, the editorial board wrote: "Democracy will not mature if its military guardians keep it in perpetual infancy." Well said. In the run-up to this election, please continue to be the steward of democracy you have been in the past by being honest with your readers. You may have been fed factually incorrect information, may have exclusively quoted anti-government media sources by accident, may have inadvertently forgotten to define legal terms properly or may actually just be naive to what is going on in Turkey. As a New Yorker and long-time reader, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, but please do your homework next time.
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