“A friendly reporter from Turkey, please,” Trump said after asking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he’d like to choose the next questioner.
“Only friendly reporters we like to see,” Trump added. “There aren’t too many of them around.”
The reality for journalists in Turkey is no laughing matter. The country has had the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world from 2016 to 2018, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Courtney Radsch, CPJ’s advocacy director, likened Turkey’s attacks on journalists to a form of terrorism during an interview with ABC News last December.
“Turkey has really cracked down on the independent press by equating journalism with terrorism,” Radsch said then. “And we see this as part of a pattern that’s been in place for many years.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was at the press conference, reportedly offered a confirmation of sorts of the Turkish government’s hostile approach toward journalists. After Trump made his “friendly reporter from Turkey” comment, Graham cracked, “There aren’t any others left,” according to ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed as misplaced any criticism of Trump’s remarks about “friendly” reporters.
“I don’t think there were any hidden references,” Grisham told The Washington Post. “He was just setting a light tone, as he often does.”
Still, Trump’s comments spotlighted his own contentious relationship with the U.S. press, which spans back to the start of his presidential campaign. He often disparages news organizations and any negative news coverage as “fake news”; during his campaign rallies, he regularly points to the news cameras, prompting his supporters to boo and yell.
Early in Wednesday’s news conference on Wednesday, Trump called on reporters from One America News Network and Fox News, news organizations notable for their favorable coverage of his administration.