Bogus trend story of the week: Pakistani-Americans masquerading as Indians.

Media criticism.
May 11 2010 4:33 PM

Bogus Trend Story of the Week

Reuters claims that Pakistani-Americans are masquerading as Indians.

Reuters screen shot. Click image to expand.
The offending story, on Reuters.com

The unbearable stupidity of this week's bogus trend story of the week begins in the headline. "Pakistanis Pose as Indians After NY Bomb Scare," declares the Reuters story that moved on May 7. The story's lede reasserts that bold claim, stating, "Pakistani merchants and job seekers ... are posing as Indians to avoid discrimination in the wake of the Times Square bomb attempt."

If Pakistanis are really posing as Indians in order to find jobs or attract customers, shouldn't Reuters introduce us to them? But even though five Reuters professionals contributed to this 635-word article—a writer, a reporter filing from London, another filing from Washington, and two editors—we don't meet even one Pakistani masquerading as an Indian. The best Reuters can swing is an interview with the chairman of Brooklyn's Pakistani American Merchant Association, Asghar Choudry, who says that lots of his countrymen are imitating Indians to land jobs.

The article also asserts that the Times Square bomb attempt, blamed on Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, is "leading to backlash against the Pakistani-American community." But five short paragraphs later, Reuters reports, "While there have been no reported incidents since the failed car bomb attack last Saturday, some Pakistanis are bracing for reprisals." [Emphasis added.]

Indeed, the only evidence of a "backlash" is Reuters' anecdotal observation that Brooklyn's Pakistani shops are doing "scant" business, presumably because patrons are lying low. That and testimony from merchant association head Choudry, who tells the wire service that more than 100 businesses along Brooklyn's Coney Island Avenue have "closed due to a 30 percent drop in business since 2001."

This isn't the first time Choudry has bemoaned the state of Brooklyn's Pakistani-American business community to the press. In July 2003, he told Next American Citymagazine that "neighborhood grocery store's sales are down 30 percent to 40 percent—these are stores that sell Pakistani food products to Pakistani customers" and added that some of the borough's Pakistani population was departing for other parts of the United States, for Canada, or for Pakistan. The alleged cause? Stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws after the 9/11 attacks.

Depending on your view, the search for sleeper cells, the enforcement of immigration laws, or the investigation of an attempted Times Square bombing in which the prime suspect is a Pakistani-American can all be considered backlash or "discrimination," as the Reuters lede puts it. But if it is, it's backlash and discrimination of the most timid sort. 

So desperate is the Reuters article to make its discrimination case that it recounts this tale from the Washington, D.C., suburbs. It reports:

In Washington, an American of Pakistani heritage who would only be identified as Farhan, said a manager of a suburban home-improvement store prevented him from buying two bags of fertilizer for his family's lawn on Tuesday.

Farhan, who was born in northern Virginia, said police arrived soon after, investigated and allowed him to buy the fertilizer.

"What kind of a country are we living in when a 22-year-old male can't buy fertilizer?" Farhan asked. "I'm American. I'm not Pakistani."

Farhan said the store had subsequently apologized and the case appeared to be one of an overzealous manager rather than store policy.

Notice that neither the subject of the story nor the store are named. Also, nobody from the store or the police is quoted. Only the anonymous subject speaks. I invite you to ask if the incident really happened as described.

I have other quibbles with the piece. For instance, the closure of 100 Pakistani-American shops in Brooklyn over the course of a decade, which Reuters reports, doesn't translate into "backlash" or "discrimination" unless it comes with context. How many new shops opened in the area over that period? How many Pakistani-Americans have left Brooklyn? Did some of the shops move to Queens, whose Pakistani-American population is larger than Brooklyn's according to 2000 census data cited here (PDF)?

But I'll stop with my quibbling. No bogus-trend story should run longer than the story it critiques, and I've already exceeded the Reuters piece by about 15 words.

******

If you're a Pakistani masquerading as an Indian, drop me a line at slate.pressbox@gmail.com. I masquerade as a Dutch-American at my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in Slate's readers' forums; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Pakistani in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

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