Imagine respectful publications providing credence to Jewish Holocaust denial or arguing that the African slave trade was just a historical misunderstanding. The editorial boards and reporters, who follow ethical standards of journalism, would never allow such a thing to happen.
However, between April 20 and April 24, a deceptive ad campaign did just that. The Turkish lobby, which has continued its campaign of genocide denial related to the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered from 1915-1923, exploited a dichotomy in our nation’s media. Given ethical limitations and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, no reporter would be able to run a legitimate story denying the existence of the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, the Turkish lobby, funded by the Turkish government, avoided journalism altogether and went through the advertisement arm of these very same reputable publications. They utilized a sneaky and disingenuous ad campaign that used a peace sign to lull the unsuspecting and perhaps negligent advertisement employee to portray their message of genocide denial. To the dismay of humanitarians everywhere, the advertisement arm of numerous national and local publications bit on the bait of money cast by the Turkish lobby’s orchestrated propaganda operation. It was a sad day, it appeared as though reputable news agencies were in the business of buying and selling the truth.
Now just to clarify, having the truth suppressed, silenced or changed altogether is not a new occurrence as it relates to the Armenian Genocide. Nor is it new to other suffering and colonized populations who know what it means to be ignored and forgotten. The Athenian historian Thucydides once said “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” All too often, the strong have used their finances, political clout and brute strength to crush the weak in the arenas of politics, the marketplace and the battlefield. But there is something inherently different about the arena of free press, and that difference is the relentless motivation of trustworthy news agencies in seeking the truth.
So how did this deceptive ad happen to get published? To understand, one must first appreciate the current climate for news agencies everywhere. In this day and age, reputable news publications are getting crushed financially. Budgets are being slashed, and the need to fill up ad space grows by the day. Employees on the advertising side, who are not always well-versed on the news, are relentlessly looking to generate income. It doesn’t take much to see why a negligent employee in advertising would mistakenly decide to run a misleading ad.
What this particular incident highlights is the dichotomy that exists between the journalism and advertisement arms within the same publications. The ethical and truth-finding filter that exists on the journalism side fails to be applied to the advertisement side, especially when it involves historical or political analysis. Unfortunately, this sends a very dangerous message to the powerful and wealthy that if they cannot control the narrative through ethical journalistic channels, they can exploit the system through unfiltered ad campaigns.
The idea of truth through dialogue, the underpinnings of the First Amendment principles of freedom of speech and the press, has the potential of being perverted through the undue influence of wealth. Such a perversion would generally impact suffering and colonized people, who typically only have the power of truth to bring injustice to light. It is what the free press provides those without power and influence: a shot to get their plight out in the public eye in hopes that it will mobilize efforts to resolve underlying problems. Fortunately, this country’s free press believes in the idea of truth and applies journalistic ethics to what it publishes.
The Armenian Genocide has been well recognized by historians and academia from across the world, including many from Turkey itself. In fact, Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide,” did so while studying the atrocities committed against the Armenian people. The denial of the genocide comes from the same few historians who have close ties, including financial ties, to the current Turkish government. Yet despite the wealth of the Turkish government and the influence it plays in our nation’s global policy, the integrity of United States journalism has remained true to the recognition of the genocide.
So when one sees the Turkish lobby’s systematic efforts to run a multimillion dollar advertisement campaign with a deceptive reference to Turkey having always been peaceful, it is only natural for humanitarians of all backgrounds to view such an ad with shock and dismay. Although we are disappointed with the publications that ran the paid-for Turkish propaganda, we are also steadfastly proud of the journalists and editorial boards, such as the ones at The San Francisco Examiner, who are seeking to make things right by publishing this op-ed today, by pledging to not run such a deceptive ad in the future, and by always reporting the well-established fact that what the Armenians suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks was nothing short of genocide.
Alex Bastian, Director of Communications for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, and Ara Jabagchourian, Attorney at Law Offices of Ara Jabagchourian, are both descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors.