Brookings Institution apparently issued a statement about what happened on Thursday, at President Erdogan event. I omit its first paragraph, because there is nothing there, and rest of it reads:
“Brookings is committed to freedom of expression and to the vital role of a robust free press in a democratic society. These principles are fundamental to the mission of the Brookings Institution and we oppose any effort to silence or harass members of the media. Our staff and security personnel worked hard to provide an open and safe environment for the Washington policy-making community to hear the address by President Erdogan. Amid protests and counter-protests, Brookings did its best to ensure that journalists and other guests who had registered in advance for the event were able to enter. Despite harassment on the part of Turkish security personnel, we believe that all journalists who were registered for the event were able to attend.”
Unanswered Big Question:
Brookings says in its statement: “Brookings is committed to freedom of expression and to the vital role of a robust free press in a democratic society. These principles are fundamental to the mission of the Brookings Institution and we oppose any effort to silence or harass members of the media.”
However, Brookings, itself brazenly breached freedom of press and silenced members of the media during President Erdogan speech. Announcement made by Amb. Martin Indyk on March 31st, after Mr. Erdogan spoke at Brookings, he declared that he will not take any questions from press members because “this is not a press conference.” Amb. Indyk, only one day ago, tweeted this at me: “As with all Brookings events there will be opening remarks, conversation w the moderator, and Q&A from audience.”
Amb. Indyk, did not say anything a day before about censoring journalists, and blocking their rights to ask questions. What Indyk declared a day before was practically assuring everyone, and me, “everything is going to be just same.” Any person who goes to Brookings events would know, this means everyone is going to have equal chance of asking questions to the guest. Nobody will be barred. Ambassador Indyk must have known that he were to declare that he will block journalists the next day, he and Brookings would face serious questions. He did not. He, instead, just declared Brookings’ new rule of blocking journalists right after Erdogan spoke. Without showing any transparency, respect to members of press.
Ambassador tweeted this assurance at me, when I asked in a tweet day earlier: “Does @BrookingsInst plan to do this event w/out taking listener question?Is Amb @Martin_Indyk be ok doing an interview w/out participant qs?”
Not only Ambassador assured everyone, but Brookings’ Foreign Policy team, at a tweet, said this one day before Erdogan talk: “@emeyersson @BrookingsInst - Reports that Brookings is screening questions for the #Erdogan event are completely untrue. Period.”
Brookings, indeed, did not screen questions but completely blocked journalists’ right to ask question without giving any kind of sensible explanation. Amb. Indyk said he will take questions only from policy professionals, instead.
What many people from Turkey want to know why Brookings resorted such a way to block journalists’ questions? Why Brookings thought it had to protect Pres Erdogan from unwanted questions? Is this the same meaning of giving a “free-ride” to the guest as I wrote one day before Erdogan spoke at Brookings in my column and warned Brookings that there are hearsays and a perception that Brookings may give a free-ride interview to Mr. Erdogan. One day later, Brookings, issued statement via Hurriyet Daily and refuted claims that it was going to give a free ride to Mr. Erdogan. What happened at the end? It appears, by blocking journalists' right to ask questions, it just did that.
Brookings, in its statement, also says: “Despite harassment on the part of Turkish security personnel, we believe that all journalists who were registered for the event were able to attend.”
In middle of Washington, Brookings seems to take credit by making possible for those journalists to attend the event “despite harassment on the part of Turkish security personnel” as if there are war circumstances in US capital. Brookings clearly avoids condemning Erdogan’s security details who attacked protestors, journalists and anyone around Brookings that Thursday morning.
Still the question is not answered: Why did Brookings block journalists’ right to ask questions to President Erdogan? Why it felt need to shield President Erdogan despite tweets of assurances a day before there will not be any screening? What did Brookings think of gaining by blocking unwanted questions?
Only one question at the event that came from outside of Brookings Institution, was from an official from Turkish Mentora University, Washington DC. In which, Turkish school official asked Mr. Erdogan a very soft ball question, praising him and his administration. Was this the intention of Ambassador Indyk when he said he will only take questions from policy professionals?
Brookings needs to explain why it blocked journalists. Period. If not, questions about some Turkish Groups, namely TUSIAD and Turkish mainstream media groups' reported request to Brookings to open up a floor for Mr. Erdogan will be asked more intensely. Was blocking journalists right to ask questions also a request made by Turkish business groups to make things easier for Mr. Erdogan? But what exactly Brookings gained by giving this PR sort of treatment to Mr. Erdogan?
More questions out there about Brookings' handling Erdogan talk. Hope they will move quickly and answer these questions, apologize and explain what exactly happened on Thursday.