Istanbul— “Your organization is terrible,” Donald Trump shouted at a CNN reporter at his January 11 news conference. “You are fake news.”
Pundits across the United States and around the world were quick to comment on the president-elect’s shocking behavior, some observing that it smacked of authoritarianism.
Not Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president congratulated Trump for standing his ground.
“During the Gezi protests and the PKK terror campaigns, the unity and solidarity of the Turkish nation were attacked,” Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, during a meeting in Ankara the day after Trump’s press conference. Erdogan places at least some of the blame for his country’s recent instability on the media, and particularly on CNN, whose coverage he sees as particularly skewed against him. In Ankara, Erdogan said he was glad that “Mr. Trump put the reporter…in his place.”
Over the past year, Erdogan has done the same—and much worse—to a number of reporters: arresting more than 144 journalists, and either shuttering or seizing more than 160 media groups. While Turkey has never enjoyed press freedom on par with the United States, in the past year it has deteriorated to abysmal levels, surpassing countries, like China and Iran, that have traditionally been the worst offenders regarding serious violations such as censorship and the jailing of journalists.
Given this context, Erdogan’s encouragement of Trump’s behavior is alarming, and their relationship—its past, present, and future—is worth examining.
“These are the two most unpredictable leaders in the world,” Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based political analyst with Global Source Partners, told The Nation. “It is an ‘anything can happen’ kind of environment. But to be honest, I think that Ankara is going to be very frustrated with Trump.”
Erdogan has not always liked Trump. Last summer, as the leading Republican presidential candidate was rallying his supporters with promises to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, the Turkish president expressed concern about Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric, even insisting that his name be removed from Istanbul’s Trump Towers. The request went nowhere, and Trump’s name remains there today.