BY WILLIAM BAIRAMIAN
The recent bust by federal agents of a Medicare fraud ring and the subsequent publicity was poorly handled by the FBI and national news outlets. Nationwide and international press outlets, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and the BBC News Network, wrote about “Armenian gangsters” and “Armenian organized crime.” The ephemeral headlines disappeared but their stains remained.
The insensitivity with which these articles, with accompanying references to these individuals’ ethnicity, are of concern. It is a wonder how the ethnic background of those arrested is of any relevance to the crimes they are accused of. But, if it somehow is, then it might also be of interest to have full disclosure of the backgrounds of all of the individuals who were arrested, not all of whom were Armenian.
1. Why was the ethno-cultural background of these individuals plastered all over not only the sensationalist press, but also also the FBI press release?
It was reported that FBI Agent Bill Lewis did not want to be “too quick to judge any particular community, city or ethnic group as organized crime.” He was saying this while his colleagues in New York City seemed to believe otherwise. The headline and body text of the FBI press release prominently mentioned one ethnic group: Armenian Americans. As a result, news agencies across the United States and the world reported that it was Armenians, Armenians, Armenians.
Conversely, when discussing the massive defrauding scheme perpetrated by Angelo Mozilo and his associates, there is no mention of Mozilo’s background in the New York Times. Why? If it is a question of gravity or criminality, there should be little doubt that the actions of Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage lender at the time, with Mozilo at the helm, were vastly more destructive and directly affected the lives of thousands, if not millions, of hardworking Americans. Families and individuals lost their homes, their savings, and oftentimes, their retirement portfolios which were vested in the toxic assets produced and traded by companies like Countrywide Financial, as its CEO Mozilo was knowingly marketing volatile financial products.
In other news, when Bernard Madoff was arrested for what was believed, and later confirmed, to be a multi-billion dollar fraud scheme, neither the Los Angeles Times nor the New York Times referred to him as the “Jewish fraudster, Bernie Madoff.” He was an American. Any other information about his background was rightly considered extraneous.
Perhaps it is the opinion of these news organizations that the criminal activities of ostensibly respectable members of society are a function of their greed, while the actions taken by alleged professional criminals are a function of their ethnicity and corrupted cultural learnings. This may seem like a fantastically ridiculous conclusion but not one that is refuted by the words and actions of those news outlets.
2. Why were the ethnic or cultural backgrounds of the other individuals who were arrested that same day not included in the FBI press release, or any of the aforementioned press outlets?
As a part of the same Medicare fraud raid, there were numerous other individuals who were arrested as part of the FBI’s “Chervin Indictment.” The same FBI press release had the following names tucked away at the end, with nary a mention of a single individual from this group:
ARON CHERVIN, VYACHESLAV DOBRER, HAROLD PINA, ROSS KUFLIK, MICHAEL LAMOND, VADIM CHERVIN, GALINA VOVK, VALIANTSINA LAHUN, LYNN BRAUNSTEIN, WILLIAM GIBBS, YURI ZELINSKY, LUBA GODIN, JUDSON DARIO JUST, BEAGY FRANCOIS, NATAN PEYSAKOV, MILANA NIKHMAN.
Since they were not even mentioned in the text of the FBI press release outlining and explaining the fraud operation, their backgrounds were certainly not explored either. The reporters at any of the major news organizations similarly did not seem to bother to look at the bottom of the FBI press release and mention the 16 other, non-Armenian individuals who were arrested on various but similar charges. One might think that if the ethnicity of the Armenian-Americans is important enough to report on, so would be the case for the others that were arrested that same day as part of the same operation.
It is worrisome that it was somehow decided to include the ethnicity of one group and then wholly neglect any mention of the individuals and the backgrounds of another group of alleged criminals arrested as part of the same raid. Whether it is a dereliction of the responsibility of a reporter to give the full facts of an incident or a purposeful selectivity in their reporting, this type of shortcoming is a cause for anyone concerned about journalistic integrity.
3. Most importantly, do those same press outlets plaster the many successes of Armenian-Americans on the front pages of their websites and newspapers while unfailingly mentioning the ethnicity of those individuals?
No, they do not. And they are right not to. They are Americans. Unless their ethnic heritage somehow figures into what they are doing (e.g. they are an Armenian folk dancer or they are an Italian food chef), that heritage should be irrelevant. As a preposterous example, imagine the headline “Barack Obama, a Kenyan-American, wins the presidency of the United States!” After all, President Obama is only one generation removed from his immigrant father.
A Worrying Strain
Similarly questionable headlines were promulgated by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post during the nomination hearings for Matthew Bryza, a former candidate for U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. These media outlets chose to ignore the measured arguments opposing his nomination by Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Bob Menendez and, instead, attacked Armenian-Americans with vitriolic conjecture.
These anti-Armenian attitudes that are being manifested in myriad ways are unacceptable. Anyone remotely familiar with American history can tell you about the many troubles that have stemmed from xenophobia and divisive rhetoric. So, the next time any individual is inclined to ask why an Armenian (or a member of any ethnic group) has not assimilated into American society, they would do well to ask themselves whether it is the Armenian that has excluded themselves, or is it they who have created such a distinction.