The press conference after the Trump – Putin summit in Helsinki, as we know now, was not in general received very well but the US media, an point of view that was promptly adopted by their European counterparts. Many looked at the conference as if waiting for a revelationary moment, with the whole world, as we have seen on other occasions, watching for possible signals and indications of a special connection between the American President and the Russian leader. In the end the language used was very strong, with commentators and pundits claiming that this meeting once again showed that Trump is basically acting against the interests of the United States, deferring to a tyrant, as if he was Putin’s puppet.
Trump, whose round of talking came after Putin, began his speech saying:
“I’m here today to continue the proud tradition of bold American diplomacy. From the earliest days of our republic, American leaders have understood that diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility. A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia, but it is good for the world.
The disagreements between our two countries are well known, and President Putin and I discussed them at length today. But if we’re going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we are going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests.
Too often, in both recent past and long ago, we have seen the consequences when diplomacy is left on the table. We’ve also seen the benefits of cooperation. In the last century, our nations fought alongside one another in the Second World War. Even during the tensions of the Cold War, when the world looked much different than it does today, the United States and Russia were able to maintain a strong dialogue.”
Of course one can say these worlds do not have to mean anything, that it is reality just empty diplomacy talk without any substance whatsoever, nothing more than a formal convention, words that Trump read but that were written by somebody elese anyway. It appears at least unjust, however, not to say a little dishonest, to evaluate Trump’s “performance” (as if the meeting between two world leaders had to be by necessity a show of force) not by judging the meaning of the words said but by having to resort to interpreting every single gestures and every little silencesby charging them with meanings that may be there – as well as they might not.
Here for example we have a visibly worried and very concerned looking CNN journalist interpreting Putin’s “long” silence after the question if Russia had some compromising material on Trump as a moment of dishorientation by the Russian president, with Putin “seeming to understand the question, but not knowing how to answer”, while the correspondent notices that “there was some nervous laughter in the room”. The CNN correspondent seems to be very sure of his evaluation.
Most people watching the footage of the conference however will probably realize that in this very long 10 seconds between the journalist’s question in the press conference room and Putin’s answer, the Russian president was probably just listening to the question being translated via his earpiece and that the laughter at the end was not out of nervousness, as if a dark secret had been finally revealed, but out of amusement, because of the absurdity of the question and this affected obsession and concern about the ties between Trump and Russia.
In the light of these moments one thing is clear: the press has all right to be free, but it has no right to be distorting reality for the sole purpose of pursuing politics. Conspiracies may have a strong appeal on large sections of the public, especially those who have an inclination to disqualify Trump for anything that he may say or do. In the age of sensationalism, however, sobriety seems to be one of those old-fashioned virtues that are not going to give a commentator the visibility he needs.