President Biden said Monday he had a “good meeting” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a last-minute decision to exclude US reporters from the room — leaving confused journalists in a hallway to rely on Erdogan’s PR office for information.
Biden’s formal meeting with the Turkish strongman, whose government frequently jails journalists, was supposed to begin with American press access in the room at the annual NATO summit.
But in a break from the White House’s daily schedule, press were not allowed into the room or even told that the meeting was underway — just a day after Biden sought to wrap up a press conference in the UK by saying he would “get in trouble” with staff who manage his press access if he continued talking.
Reporters learned from Erdogan’s press office, rather than from White House press handlers, that the Monday afternoon meeting was in progress. Erdogan’s office tweeted images of a seemingly friendly greeting after an awkward morning fist bump. Video of the introduction between the leaders was published by Turkish TV.
After waiting outside the room for 112 minutes, frustrated US reporters were invited into the room to witness Erdogan and Biden seated across a table joined by staff.
Biden told reporters, “We had a very good meeting.”
A reporter seeking additional information shouted to Biden: “We couldn’t hear you, sir.”
Biden added: “Because I didn’t say anything.”
The meeting was expected to cover an array of hot-button issues, including Biden’s recent recognition of the Armenian genocide, Turkish arms purchases from Russia and Turkish interventions in the civil wars in Syria and Libya.
Prominent political journalists took to Twitter to slam the White House for excluding the media.
Ashley Parker, the White House bureau chief at the Washington Post, wrote on Twitter, “Biden is abroad doing a big push on democracy v autocracy. BUT the U.S. press — a key part of any functioning democracy — has gotten less access than under previous administrations. And is now forced to resort to updates on from…the Turkish government Twitter account.”
Reporter Ed O’Keefe of CBS News wrote, “The U.S. press pool has been holding for more than hour outside this meeting with limited access yet again today at @POTUS — after significant access issues over the weekend at the G-7. Meanwhile, the Turkish president quickly posted photos from their ongoing meeting.”
Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News noted, “Turkish officials are tweeting photos of President Biden meeting with Erdogan, while the White House traveling press pool, which was supposed to cover the beginning of the bilat, is outside waiting out in the hallway.”
Reporters were excluded from the Erdogan meeting after the White House confirmed that Biden won’t give a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after they meet Wednesday.
Erdogan, in power since 2003, is known for his intolerance toward dissent, heightened during his crackdown on free speech following an alleged 2016 coup attempt.
In 2017, Erdogan notoriously watched as his guards attacked US citizens near the White House after a meeting with President Donald Trump. Fifteen of his guards faced US charges, though charges against 11 of them were dropped in 2018. Congress blocked an arms sale to Turkey after the attack.