As a regular reader of op-eds and other articles on Turkey, it’s recently come to my attention how unhelpful many opinion articles are for the purpose of understanding what’s really going on in the country.
There’s plenty of good journalists writing about Turkey, so my point here is not about Turkey coverage in the media overall (which would require at least one post of its own), but about the op-eds, the commentators. I think it’s great that so many articles are being written about Turkey, as there’s so much in the country’s experience that can teach outsiders (especially us poleconomists and polisciers) how political conflict and institutions interact.
The problem (and I think it’s a problem) is not necessarily that editors at mainstream outlets such as the Financial Times or Project Syndicate include partisan articles – either clearly pro-AKP or clearly pro-Gulen (and I’m referring to AKP here as a post-Dec-17 party) – at the expense of articles that provide opinion without feeling like you’re reading something from Pravda. No, the problem is that they’re bad articles, even as the partisan puffed-up ones they appear to be.
Interestingly, just as the AKP and the Gülen movement are entirely different organizations, their puff pieces also exhibit very different kinds of authors. Whereas the former kind is much likely be authored by an actual member of the AKP (or rather, a PR firm ghost-writing it for them) the latter is more likely to be authored by someone who is not formally (if there is such a thing) a member.
As examples of pro-AKP puff pieces, prime examples are:
P1. Ertan Aydin’s “Turkey’s Failed Bureacratic Coup” in Project Syndicate (Aydin is a senior adviser to PM Erdoğan)
P2. Osman Can’s “Turkey must defend its democracy against the Gulenists” in the Financial Times (Can is a member of the AKP’s Central Committee)
The problems with these two (and other similar articles) is that they do not answer some key questions:
Q1. The dirty tricks employed in framing political opponents is by now as widely acknowledged as it ever will ever be. So why is that the AKP only considered this a problem when their own power is at stake? How is this not a case of either incompetence or complicity?
Q2. Why is it that, in order to save Turkey’s democracy, the AKP acts and implements reforms, that for any outside observer, would seem to erode the country’s democratic institutions? Why does the AKP road to democracy seem to go through authoritarian territory?
The pro-Gülen puff pieces are as far as I know, never written by members themselves, but rather those in their network. Examples of these are:
P3. Bill Park’s ‘“Gulen’s shadowy network is a formidable enemy” in the Financial Times
P4. Victor Gaetan “The Muslim Martin Luther” ın Foreign Affairs
P5. Mohamed Ayoob’s “The Warring States of Turkey” in Project Syndicate
Neither of these authors (all which I assume are respectable scholars in their fields) are, as far as I know, members of the Gülen movement. And in contrast to the AKP puffery, these articles seem more aimed at distancing Gülen himself from what some with an affiliation to the movement may have done. They are also quick to push the spiritual leader’s views on democracy, free markets, and EU. Regardless, they fail to answer important questions for Gülen himself as well as for the movement:
Q3. How can one reconcile the degree of dirty tricks employed by Gülen-affiliated members in the judiciary and the police, in court cases like the Ergenekon, Sledgehammer, and KCK trials, with the movement’s stated preference for democracy?
Q4. How can one reconcile Fethullah Gülen’s recent statements in support for democracy with what his followers actually do? Is this a sign that Gülen has little control over the movement, or that he is actually in control and thus not believing in what he claims to believe in?
(I’ve focused on articles centering around the Gulen-AKP conflict, but if we allow ourselves to look earlier than that, there’s also this, but I will not delve into that here as it would likely require a post of its own.)
Puffery is acceptable when we actually do get answers (we may believe them or not). There’s nothing wrong with relevant protagonists staking out their “case”, or anyone simply stating their opinion. The problem is when these actors get a chance to answer relevant questions and fail to do so.
dearest Editors at the Financial Times, Project Syndicate, and others: feel free to place puffed-up articles in your newspapers, but make sure us readers actually get an answer to the relevant questions at hand.
dearest Protagonists (or PR firms advising the protagonists) from either political side in Turkey: you can both make a better case for why you are in this conflict. For us outsiders, we’d benefit a lot from having better op-eds from you. Take a minute, think it over, maybe think about hiring another PR firm… Regardless, I’m sure there’s room for improvement.