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Thursday, May 15, 2003

mediawatch

Big Brother


Last month, I got a personal whiff of the new world order after an old friend called about another old friend. Everybody will remain nameless, not because there’s anything to hide, but because I don’t want to turn this commentary into ad hominem pleading, but rather to speak to the more important general issue involved (besides, anyone who knows Greece will easily figure out the identity of this story’s cautionary victim).

Anyway, my friend called to tell me that our mutual friend, who is a journalist, had been fired from his job on a well-known Athens radio station. The reason? He was accused of “anti-Americanism,” specifically, of a consistently anti-American bias in his program. I couldn’t believe my ears. I mean, how many “pro-American” journalists are there in Greece? Was my friend more “anti-American” than his fellow Greek journalists? Didn’t his boss watch Greek television? Didn’t she listen to her competitors and to their 24/7 rants against the “Nazi Bush” and his “Zionist collaborators”? (Only in the diseased ravings of a certain Greek form of anti-Americanism — and antisemitism — do Nazis and Zionists jointly conspire to rule the world.) Hadn’t she heard the Greek Orthodox Church’s imprecations against the “Whore of Babylon” (i.e., New York) or the Greek primate’s equation of American foreign policy with that of the Third Reich?

None of this made any sense. Yes, my friend has been critical of US foreign policy since he was in high school in the Sixties — but so have hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, including this writer and millions of other Americans. More to the point, the high school in Greece my friend went to (on scholarship) was…American. As was his college (in Indiana), as were his graduate studies (in Maryland), as was the PhD awarded to him from one of this country’s most prestigious universities that capped his utterly American education. Furthermore, my friend not only lived in the United States for many years (I first met him almost three decades ago in New York), but two of his children live here now. Most important of all, he knows this nation better than 99 percent of Greeks — and, in fact, better than most Americans. However — and, in my opinion, this is where his troubles began — he is also a former Greek government spokesman and a former deputy of the European parliament.

In other words, it’s not his alleged “anti-Americanism” that got my friend fired, but the fact that he’s not your ordinary Greek journalist. Quite the opposite, his criticism of US policy generally, and of the Bush administration in particular, is grounded in a deeply informed — indeed, extremely intimate — understanding of the United States, which he’s transformed into a highly articulate intellectual and political resistance. It’s not the lunatics that our government is afraid of, after all, but its lucid and coherent opponents. In a journalistic culture in which hearsay, ignorance, intellectual abuse, and a grotesque denial of reality constitute the “professional” norm, my friend has made a reputation for a quiet, almost scholarly demeanor, and for a journalism practiced the old-fashioned way: by tracking down documents, doing research, and reading reams of material. Anybody who knows Greek journalism knows that my friend stands out from the crowd. In the event, there aren’t many Greek journalists with American doctorates in international affairs who are not only fluent English-speakers but, more relevantly, totally fluent culturally about America’s ways and means.

So what happened? What exactly did he do or say that led to his dismissal? Nothing. That’s the point. There’s always a particular “incident” that’s used as a retroactive alibi in these kinds of actions, but the fact is that my friend was just doing his job as a conscientious journalist. It’s common knowledge, however, that he’s never been on the “A” list of the US embassy in Athens. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that, under the current US administration, where the rule is to reward friends and retaliate against enemies (the definition of both “friends” and “enemies” being loose, highly speculative, and endlessly mutable), the embassy could not have liked what it heard from broadcasts that offered an ongoing critical analysis of US foreign policy from nineteenth-century manifest destiny to the twenty-first-century National Security Strategy.

I should say here that after I found out about what had happened, I called my friend in Athens, to get the story straight from the source. The first thing he said to me — which I knew, naturally — was that he has never accepted the term, “anti-American.” How could he? He’s not a racist. I, too, refuse to accept it, especially because I’m American. The accusation of “anti-Americanism” is, invariably, either a McCarthyite slander or, even worse, a strategic deception to obscure the fact that the only authentic anti-Americans in the world today are those found in the camp of the extreme right — which, obviously, has been the natural historical ally of US hegemony in the postwar era.

At the end of the day, one thing is certain, and profoundly distressing, about this disgraceful affair: A manifest attempt was made to silence a Greek journalist — and to deprive him of his livelihood — because he opposes US policy in the world and in the region. Recently, Alexander Kitroeff wrote about the bad old days when the US embassy ran Greek affairs; it seems that the ghost of John Peurifoy is once again haunting Greek public life (see John Peurifoy’s Dubious Legacies, April 1, 2003).

In the current issue of The New York Review of Books (May 29), the Canadian writer, Russell Smith, asks the following questions of his fellow citizens:

Why are Canadians so terrified to contradict or even interpret the Pentagon publicity machine? Are we afraid of bullies like the US ambassador to Canada…? Or of bullies at home — are we all so terrified of being accused of “anti-Americanism” that we forget basic journalistic principles? Who are we afraid of?

Who indeed? From Canada to Greece and all over the globe, the US is trying to shut everybody up. If nothing else, my friend should know that he’s not alone and that, in any case, he’s in good — and decent — company.

Peter Pappas is co-founder of greekworks.com.
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