Let’s go on a little equal opportunity attack spree, shall we? You’ve already heard me sound the alarm about the threat posed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano to the American way of life. I mean that literally, folks.
When the media covers the most autocratic candidate in modern U.S. history as though it’s just another campaign, it becomes complicit in normalizing the fall of democracy. As I wrote about Mastriano’s war on the free press, the quaint era of journalistic neutrality is over. Calling out burgeoning autocracy is neither left nor right; it is what passes for objective journalism when freedoms are under assault.
Now, lest you bring out some partisan accusations, recall that I’ve also critiqued John Fetterman. While he’s no Mastriano in terms of representing an existential threat to the social order, he deserves a lot of side-eye for, first, his campaign’s silence about his stroke, and then its lying about the extent of it. For a guy who presents himself as the un-politician, his hemming and hawing and prevaricating about his physical ability to campaign and serve sure smacks of hypocrisy.
And it continues: After an interview with NBC News, Fetterman’s wife called for consequences for reporter Dasha Burns, who said that, in their chit chat prior to the closed captioning being turned on for their official interview, Fetterman didn’t seem to understand what she was saying. Hey, Giselle: Burns was reporting, which is kinda what reporters do, whether you like the facts as they see them or not.
The Former Washington Post media columnist and public editor of The New York Times Margaret Sullivan said last week that “old-style journalism will no longer suffice” when covering politicians with an animus toward democracy itself. She exhorted all of us — citizen and journalist alike — to not “be asleep at the switch.” Sounds like especially good advice for this moment in Pennsylvania.
But those misdeeds pale starkly to a shocking tidbit about Fetterman’s opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Turns out, Oz is a dual citizen of the United States and Turkey, where he’s voted and served in the military. That’s fine. But it also turns out that he’s steadfastly refused to just plainly acknowledge what, shamefully, it took America a century to officially recognize: That, between 1915 and 1917, the Ottoman Empire, territories of modern-day Turkey, exterminated some 1.5 million Armenians and expelled even more. To this day, Turkey refuses to admit to the genocide and the regime of strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is known to crack down on those who do. (The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was charged with “denigrating Turkishness” after alluding to the Armenian Genocide in an interview and is now under investigation for allegedly mocking a Turkish president).
This should be easy
You would think it would be pretty easy to simply acknowledge a historical fact if you want to serve in the U.S. Senate. How’s something like this: “In the 20th century, Turkey committed horrific acts of genocide against the Armenian people, and I am committed to seeing that such atrocities never happen again anywhere.” But here’s what Oz’s spokesperson said after Armenian groups started protesting his events: Oz “opposes genocide and the murder of innocent people in all forms;” the “evils of World War I should be commemorated’” and the candidate is looking forward to “helping the 3 million people of Armenia today.” According to the Inquirer, Oz has “never been documented acknowledging” the Armenian Genocide.
An Inquirer editorial has called for Oz to do the obvious — recognize the genocide — but don’t you think that’s the lowest of bars? Doesn’t this raise important questions about who we are, and who he is?
First, just what is his relationship with Erdogan, whose brutality has been documented by Human Rights Watch, and who continues to refer to Jews as “Nazis?” (Wrap your head around that one.) There are conflicting reports. Oz has downplayed their relationship, but some pieces speak to a closeness begging for more clarity.
Second, what to make of Jewish Republican support of Oz in light of his, uh, genocide problem? You can’t very well proclaim “Never again” out of one side of your mouth and then “Never mind” out of the other. This is what Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom said when I reached out this week to discuss the issue:
“Oz’s refusal to state unequivocally that the Armenian Genocide is a fact leads to a critical question. In 2019, the Senate voted unanimously to acknowledge the historical facts of that horrific chapter in human history. How would Oz have voted had he been a senator at that time? Would he have gone on record as acknowledging the Armenian Genocide? Or would he have been a lone dissenter? And if he would have voted in favor of the statement, why won’t he say so now?”
“Is Oz equivocating because he is Turkish and reluctant to offend Turkish authorities? What does that say about his ability to speak truth to power? Does he not want to implicate his fellow-nationals in these horrors? If that is the case, it seems to me that if we cannot be critical of our own people when they are implicated in crimes against humanity, then we are guilty of allowing our moral judgment to be silenced because of our ethnic identification. No profile in courage there.”
Amen. Moreover, in the upcoming debate, one wishes a questioner would take the time to go through a list of genocides and see precisely what Oz denies and what he admits to. Rwanda? Rohingya? How about the Uyghurs? Bosnia? How far back should we go? What about Ukraine today?
The point is, the 20th century taught us that if you don’t stand up to terror and aggression, it spreads. Does Oz believe that? Or did he take some other, darker lessons from two bloody world wars? This ought to be the animating question of the campaign going forward. This is more worthy of deeper, pointed coverage than a story here about Armenian protestors, or a strongly-worded editorial there.
Let’s heed the advice proffered by Margaret Sullivan in her new book, Newsroom Confidential. The former media columnist for The Washington Post and public editor of The New York Times told a New York audience last week that “old-style journalism will no longer suffice” when covering politicians with an animus toward democracy itself. She spoke out against the scourge of clickbait and the dueling outrage machines and exhorted all of us — citizen and journalist alike — to not “be asleep at the switch.” Sounds like especially good advice for this moment in Pennsylvania.
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