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Monday, August 23, 2004

mediawatch

Which Side Are They On?


Last month, the Athens daily Eleutherotypia attacked the Greek American community in an article entitled “Gennêmenoi tên 4e Iouliou” (“Born on the 4th of July”) that appeared in its Ios section on July 4 (see http://www.iospress.gr/ios2004/ios20040704a.htm). The article’s subtitle, “Foniades tôn laôn, Ellênoamerikanoi” (“Greek Americans, Murderers of the Peoples”) played on the old anti-American slogan of the left that accused the United States of murdering the peoples of the world.

While the slogan assumed that the entire United States was behind certain US policies abroad, the Eleutherotypia article did much worse: it asserted that all Greek Americans are backing — indeed, are responsible for — current US policies in Iraq. In “proof” of this assertion, the article offered Greek American support for US troops and the presence of a handful of Greek Americans among the leaders of the US war effort.

The Greek-language Ethnikos Kyrix (National Herald) of New York blasted Eleutherotypia  in the Kyrix’s weekend edition of July 17-18. The Greek American daily described Eleutherotypia’s article as a “despicable” and “ungrateful” attack on a diaspora community that has steadfastly stood by Greece’s side and showed its attachment to the homeland, most recently in its street celebrations over Greece’s victory in the European soccer championships (see “Ê galanoleukê stên Astoria kai ena kataptysto arthro,” or “The Blue-and-White in Astoria and a Despicable Article”). Of course, the problem here is that the conservative Kyrix not only supports the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, but also backs their commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush, so that its broadside against the left-wing Eleutherotypia was, at the least, self-serving.

In the event, irrespective of how the Greek press feels about Greek Americans (or anybody else), it owes them (and everybody else) accurate and fair reporting on their activities. Actually, Eleutherotypia owes that to itself, but the Athens daily’s “investigation” into Greek American involvement in the war in Iraq failed miserably on both counts. It assumed that an ethnic community that numbers over a million has one identical position on foreign-policy issues and then proceeded to identify the entire community with the Iraq war’s ideological hawks. It is with these kinds of inexcusable assumptions that bad journalism descends into the yellowiest of journalism.

“Gennêmenoi tên 4e Iouliou” opens by noting that a float in the Greek Independence Day parade in New York had a sign that read, “God Bless Our Troops.” This support for “the most despicable version of US imperialism,” noted the authors, was not an isolated case, although some participants in the parade were carrying signs calling for peace. Rather, it confirmed that “the Greek omogeneia of the United States totally identified with Bush’s war, at least in terms of its official organizations.”

AHEPA is first on the list of culprits because, in March 2003, it offered its support to the men and women of the US armed forces. The excerpt of the announcement cited by Eleutherotypia did not include an endorsement of the war itself, however. Oddly, for a newspaper that proudly takes the side of the peoples of the world, Eleutherotypia cannot distinguish between support for a policy and support for the ordinary men and women duty-bound to implement it on the ground. That is why it goes on to attack AHEPA for participating in a USO campaign to provide care packages to the troops. And while they are about it, the authors also blast the Washington-based American Hellenic Institute for supporting the troops and then take a swipe at the Pan Macedonian Federation for wishing for the troops’ safe return.

Satisfied that they have proven the mobilization of the Greek American “base” on the side of the war, the authors go on to discuss the role played by certain “select” members of the omogeneia. Who are they? No one prominent in community affairs, certainly; indeed, quite the opposite, as the article discusses individuals who were too busy pursuing their own careers to become involved in Greek American life, let alone become prominent in any Greek American organizations. Moreover, these “select” persons who evidently prove that the Greek American elite, like the “base,” supports the war policy turn out to be three people: Ambassador John Negroponte, USAID director Andrew Natsios, and Army captain Thomas Pappas, who was involved in the torture at Abu Ghraib prison. Now, there can be no argument that these three men are executors of the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq, but that tells us nothing at all about the attitudes of the Greek American community, whether “base” or leadership.

The very idea that the Greek American community can be described as a pyramid, with a base and top — a distinction designed to show that Eleutherotypia  is aware of at least some differences within the omogeneia — in truth does not even begin to address reality. It is a fig-leaf trying to cover up Eleutherotypia’s remarkable ignorance of the Greek American community’s diversity and the range of political views, and, therefore, attitudes toward the war in Iraq.

Conscious perhaps of the flimsiness of their case, the authors conclude their piece with an attack on Archbishop Demetrios. This section is entitled NATO–CIA–Panagia, in an evident attempt to echo the “CIAkovos” that Eleutherotypia  used when referring to former Archbishop Iakovos. It also echoes the muddled thinking of the rest of the article. The authors criticize a joint statement of all Orthodox bishops in America issued on April 3, 2003. Skipping over certain “general words about peace” that it considers irrelevant, the article fulminates against prayers offered by the bishops for the security of the military and civilian personnel, describing them as “a clear position on the side of the invaders.”

By taking a sledgehammer to the Greek American community, the authors manage to undermine the only good point they raise when they ask why George Tenet has been so honored by several community organizations recently. This issue merits debate within the community — but not with the scattershot approach that passes for analysis in Eleutherotypia.

Alexander Kitroeff teaches history at Haverford College and is a contributing editor to greekworks.com, which published his most recent book, Wrestling With the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics.
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