Donald Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin, which saw them focus on an array of international affairs, including politics, security and trade, had been dubbed by many as an important milestone, but that was before it actually happened. As the first formal face-to-face encounter between the two heads of state came to an end, it was already all over the front pages and newswires, yet for, some would say, not quite the right reasons.
Out of Spotlight
The highly anticipated talks did yield results: While the two leaders agreed upon securing Israel's Golan Heights border with Syria in line with the 1974 ceasefire and voiced plans to increase humanitarian aid to Syrian people, it also ended in several disagreements. The most important one being the North Stream 2 pipeline project — as Donald Trump pledged America would challenge Russia on the European gas market. The two also didn't quite agree on the issue of Crimea's unification and the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.
But for the mainstream media, the summit apparently resulted in one thing and one thing only as outlets chose to solely emphasize the FBI's fresh allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 US vote.
Mueller's Indictment of Russian Nationals
The FBI probe came back into the spotlight just days prior to the big event: On Friday, 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged with sabotaging Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential campaign. The indictment was announced as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential election meddling and collusion between Donald Trump's campaign associates and Moscow.
At a press conference following the Helsinki summit, Vladimir Putin underlined that "there's no evidence when it comes to the actual facts" and called for all involved parties "to be guided by facts, not by rumors." Putin also didn't rule out inviting Mueller's team over to Russia to take part in interrogations of those accused of election meddling and collusion.
Donald Trump, for his part, echoed Putin and praised him for being "extremely strong and confident in his denial today."
All Eyes on FBI Allegations
It was Donald Trump's siding with Putin on the "collusion issue" that ignited the media. An eight-minute post-summit report by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper on Monday was dedicated to the FBI's claims and Trump's response to the allegations, and he didn't mince any words at all.
"Donald Trump today spent time sucking up to a dangerous adversary, the one who ordered a cyber attack on America's democracy, which continues at this moment, according to the president's top intelligence officials," he remarked, while not dedicating a single minute to what was discussed between the two heads of state.
"The president is already playing right into Russia's hands," reported Vanity Fair on Monday, keeping silent about whether the play had anything to do with Trump's plans to beef up humanitarian aid to Syria or compete with Russia on the gas market.
Nearly an hour after Trump's press conference with Vladimir Putin, The Guardian also joined in. "In just the last month, Donald Trump has repeatedly undermined America's democratic allies and cozied up to autocrats intent on attacking US interests," Michael H. Fuchs claimed in an article headlined "Trump's Putin summit: a slippery slope to a violent, darker world."
The Chicago Tribune also picked up the hot topic of alleged collusion, claiming that "Trump dances to Putin's choreography."
Rex Huppke of The Chicago Tribune mocked Trump's siding with Moscow in denying FBI allegations; he jokingly vowed to apologize to Russians and in particular to President Putin and lamented that "denial of a dictator overrides the collective conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials."
Another barrage of criticism was fired by New York Magazine, which went on for a good page to accuse the US president of "betraying his country in plain sight" at the Helsinki summit.
The overall coverage did seem to leave Donald Trump unfazed as he took to Twitter the next day, claiming that while he "had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia." He did, however, call for an unscheduled press conference later that same day.