June 17, 2021

It was quite a confrontational and contentious day in Geneva as President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met face-to-face for the first time since Biden became president.

And I’m not talking just about the meeting between Biden and Putin.

I’m talking about the media vs. Putin, the media vs. Biden and even the media vs. one another.

There were scraps, shoving, dustups and even the appearance of a “wiseguy” that made for a day full of fireworks.

So let’s jump right into a very newsworthy and combative day …

Pushing and shoving

Sounds like some reporters were not very well behaved following Wednesday’s meeting between Biden and Putin. There was even a shoving match, according to a report from NBC News’ Shannon Pettypiece and Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner, as reporters tried to get photos of the two world leaders.

As reporters rushed to the room where a second photo opportunity was being set up, they were stopped and, like school children, ordered to form a single-file line. Pettypiece and Perlmutter-Gumbiner wrote, “Some reporters began to line up, but others continued to push and shove for approximately 10 minutes to get their way inside. An NBC News journalist representing the television networks as part of the press pool described being elbowed and shoved, with security, press and government officials yelling in both Russian and English.”

Politico’s Anita Kumar was serving as a pool reporter and sent this report to U.S. media organizations: “The media scuffle was the most chaotic your pooler has seen at a presidential event in nine years. Journalists pushed and shoved, yelling at each other to move but no one did.”

Even after reporters got into the room where Biden and Putin were, it remained a chaotic scene. Officials tried to move reporters back with a red velvet rope. Kumar wrote, “Journalists and White House officials screamed back that the Russian security should stop touching us. Your pooler was pushed multiple times, nearly to the ground, as many poolers tripped over the red rope, which was now almost to the ground.”

The noise from unruly journalists drowned out some of the brief remarks made by Biden and Putin. At one point, a reporter shouted out to ask Biden if he could trust Putin. Biden gave a head nod. However, after the event, White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified what happened.

In a statement, Psaki said, “During a chaotic free-for-all with members of the press shouting questions over each other, the President gave a general head nod in the direction of the media. He wasn’t responding to any question or anything other than the chaos.”

Apparently, the Russian state news agency RIA accused the American media of trying to “stampede” the meeting, according to The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Isabelle Khurshudyan.

‘What are you so afraid of?’

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference after his meeting with U.S President Joe Biden on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

ABC News’ Rachel Scott is earning praise in the journalism world for challenging Putin during a press conference following his meeting with Biden.

She started off by asking, “President Biden has said he will respond if cyberattacks from Russia do not stop. I’m curious, what did he tell you? Did he make any threats? And a quick follow-up if I may, sir. The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long. Alexei Navalny’s organization calls for free and fair elections, an end to corruption, but Russia has outlawed that organization, calling it extremist. And you now have prevented anyone who supports him to run for office. For my question for you Mr. President: What are you so afraid of?”

Putin started with what appeared to be an irritated response by saying, through a translator, “I have already spoken to your colleagues. Now I have to repeat that to you.” He then went on a rambling whataboutism answer, trying to make comparisons between Russia and the U.S. He pointed to arrests of political opponents in Russia to that of those arrested in Black Lives Matter protests, and, incredibly, the insurrection on Jan. 6.

Scott called out Putin in her follow-up, saying, “You didn’t answer my question, sir. If all of your political opponents are dead or in prison, poisoned, doesn’t that send a message that you do not want a fair political fight?”

Putin said, “On the question of who is murdering whom, people rioted and went into the Congress in the U.S. with political demands, and many people were declared as criminals and they are threatened with imprisonment for 20 to 25 years. These people were immediately arrested after those events. On what grounds we don’t know always. … Others were just shot on the spot and unarmed as well.”

Putin’s remarks about someone being shot are a reference to Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed during the insurrection.

After the exchange, Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin tweeted, “Rachel Scott early contender for person of the week.”

MSNBC’s Joy Reid tweeted that Scott was hitting Putin with “tough questions” and that she was “doing it ALLLL!!!”

Biden snaps at CNN reporter

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Geneva Airport on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The contentious day continued when Biden acted like a “wiseguy” (his words) with CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins.

It all started when Collins asked Biden what made him so confident that Putin will change his behavior.

Biden snapped, “I am not confident he will change his behavior. Where the hell … what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? … What I said was, let’s get it straight, I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I am not confident of anything. I am just stating the facts.”

Collins followed up by saying, “But given his past behavior has not changed and in that press conference after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks. He downplayed human rights abuses. He even refused to say Alexei Navalny’s name. So how does that account to a constructive meeting, as President Putin put it?”

Biden then said, “If you don’t understand that, you are in the wrong business.”

Later, as he was getting ready to board Air Force One to return to Washington, Biden talked to reporters again and apologized to Collins, saying, “I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn’t have been such a wiseguy for the answer I gave.”

But then he started griping more about the media, saying that to be a good reporter, one apparently has to be negative.

“You have got to have a negative view of life, it seems to me,” Biden said. “You never ask a positive question.”

As far as the apology, Collins said on air that it was “completely unnecessary.” She added, “It is just our job to ask the president questions. That is the business we are in.”

She’s right. And if Biden doesn’t understand that then he is in the wrong business.

CNN’s S.E. Cupp took issue with Biden, tweeting, “IDK, personally insulting an American female journalist abroad and complaining about a lack of positive questions from the press seems like a pretty bad message to send at a summit with Putin. But kudos to Biden for apologizing to @kaitlancollins.”

Another dustup

Biden also knocked down a question from Fox News’ Peter Doocy, although, to be fair, Doocy’s question was poorly phrased. Doocy asked Biden, “You have spoken many times about how you have spent perhaps more time with President Xi (Jinping) than any other world leader. Is there going to become a time where you might call him, old friend to old friend, and ask him to open up China to the World Health Organization investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of COVID-19?”

Biden appropriately shot back, “Let’s get something straight, we know each other well. We’re not old friends. It’s just pure business.”

Biden-Putin summit

So much more went on in Geneva than clashes involving the media. We should include the main event — the three-hour meeting between Biden and Putin. Here is some of the coverage to catch you up on that:

Book it

Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Another member of the Trump administration has signed a book deal. This time, it’s the former president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. The Associated Press’ Hillel Italie reports that Broadside Books, a conservative arm of HarperCollins Publishers, will publish Kushner’s book and that it will come out in early 2022.

In an announcement, Broadside said, “His book will be the definitive, thorough recounting of the administration — and the truth about what happened behind closed doors.”

No financial terms were released.

Writing obits

For this item, I turn it over to my colleague Kristen Hare.

Do people think I’m a little strange when they hear I write obits and want to write obits and think other newsrooms should bring this form of journalism back, too? Mostly yes. But when journalists hear about it, they get it right away.

Two and a half years ago, I started working with the Tampa Bay Times newsroom to test a theory — reported obituaries on regular people can build loyal audiences, drive subscriptions and reconnect communities. This week, we published the conclusions of that work, which included a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute. It took following data, thinking digitally and harnessing the expertise of the newsroom. We launched a newsletter. We learned about some amazing people in our community. And in the process, we’ve revived a tradition that’s worth keeping.

New rules

The National Football League and the NFL Players’ Association have come up with new protocols for media covering training camps and here’s the bottom line: Media members who are vaccinated for COVID-19 will have a much easier time than those who are not vaccinated.

According to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, media who have been vaccinated will have access to team facilities and will be able to interview players and coaches in person (with physical distance). Those who are not vaccinated will not have access to the press box, sidelines, locker rooms and interview rooms on game days.

Clearly, this gives vaccinated media members an advantage over media members who have not been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, players who have decided to get vaccinated will also have more freedoms than unvaccinated players. Those who have been vaccinated won’t have to be tested for COVID-19 or wear masks or be socially distanced from other vaccinated players. They won’t have travel restrictions and will be able to eat in the dining rooms and work out in the weight rooms with other vaccinated players.

Unvaccinated players will be tested daily and be required to wear masks, among other restrictions.

But back to the media, this is good news for those who cover the NFL. Access to players in person is much more preferable than covering athletes on Zoom, as I recently wrote about for my newsletter.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: CNN)

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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