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As Biden and Putin met, press chaos reigned

Reporters covering the event as part of the press pool said a shoving match broke out moments after Biden and Putin went inside for their meeting.
A security officer indicates to the media to step back as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva on June 16, 2021.
A security officer indicates to the media to step back as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva on Wednesday.Denis Balibouse / AFP - Getty Images

GENEVA — While President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in a well-choreographed greeting and posed for photos ahead of their summit here, a chaotic scene was unfolding between the U.S. and the Russian press in front of them.

Reporters covering the event as part of the small group called the press pool described a shoving match that broke out moments after Biden and Putin went inside the historic villa for their meeting.

American and Russian journalists rushed to enter the building for a second planned photo opportunity, but they were stopped by U.S. and Russian officials who told them they had to line up in single file before entering the building.

Some reporters began to line up, but others continued to push and shove for about 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.

“The media scuffle was the most chaotic your pooler has seen at a presidential event in nine years,” Anita Kumar, a White House correspondent for Politico, wrote in a dispatch to U.S. media organizations as part of her role representing print news outlets for the press pool. “Journalists pushed and shoved, yelling at each other to move but no one did.”

Meanwhile, the meeting between Biden and Putin was already underway, and the journalists were at risk of losing their opportunity to get photos and video of the two leaders seated together and ask them questions.

White House officials repeatedly tried to get the U.S. pool inside, saying that the U.S. and Russia had agreed on the number of journalists who would be let in, and eventually just nine of the 13 members of the U.S. press pool were allowed into the room, Kumar wrote.

Once inside the room, the chaos continued. Noise from the reporters drowned out the brief remarks Biden and Putin made. At one point, Russian security officials pulled the red rope separating the media from the leaders back to try to keep them away from the leaders.

“Journalists and White House officials screamed back that the Russian security should stop touching us,” Kumar said in her pool report. “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 NBC News journalist in the room said Russian security began shoving the reporters and pulling on their clothes until they were eventually pushed out the door after roughly five minutes.

On the video of the event, a Russian official can be heard telling the reporter to “go away” and that “it's over.” Others can be heard saying “calm down” and “don’t push me, stop pushing.”

A report from the Russian state-owned media outlet RIA blamed American journalists for blocking the view inside the room with their cameras and accused them of speaking loudly.

After the room was cleared, U.S. reporters were told they would be let back in for a more orderly photo opportunity, which did not materialize.

Meanwhile, Putin and Biden sat silently watching the scene unfold. Biden smiled several times at the press while Putin sat sullenly, mostly looking down.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the disarray was to blame for reporters having interpreted a nod by Biden as being a response to a shouted question about whether he can trust Putin.

"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," Psaki said in a statement. "He wasn’t responding to any question or anything other than the chaos."