IHOP coverage raises local, national questionsWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | email@example.com
On the morning of Sept. 20, like most Toledoans, I was stunned, shocked and amazed as the first reports of the IHOP raids hit Toledo airwaves. 13abc first broke the story about a series of raids happening at numerous IHOP locations across the area. As a father of four, with IHOP being one of my children’s favorite restaurants, I was mesmerized. The report featured two words that may forever change the fate of those breakfast establishments: “Homeland Security.”
The raid as shown on TV featured black government-issued SUVs, like the one Jack Bauer drove on FOX’s “24.” We heard of guns being drawn on employees entering work at 6 a.m. and FBI interrogations. As further reports came we saw boxes being loaded into SUVs. The reporters stayed with what they knew — that the City of Toledo was asked to assist in the execution of “sealed” search warrants to six IHOP locations in Northwest Ohio.
The raid was conducted by the FBI, the IRS, Immigration Control and Homeland Security. Later reports released the name and address of the owner, Tarek Elkafrawi of Sylvania.
I could hear the reaction from across the city: “Oh my God, June, we have al-Qaida serving us Rooty Tooty Fresh ’n’ Fruity.”
The IHOP story was the biggest thing in months and with very limited knowledge, the media and Toledoans were left with our imaginations, to fill in the blanks and lack of facts of the story.
As I drove by the Central Avenue IHOP at dinnertime on Sept. 23, I saw one car in the parking lot and a thought occurred to me: what if the two words Homeland Security had not been mentioned in the story? Would Toledo care? Can two words change the course of six buildings and 100-plus jobs?
The scariest part for myself, being in media, is the “not knowing,” and with a sealed warrant that is exactly what the media have … a ton of “not knowing.”
Later that evening, 13abc featured an interview with an employee, his face hidden, who shared his story of being questioned by the FBI. The employee stated the FBI asked him if he had seen a lot of cash floating, any unusual invoices or illegal immigrants applying for jobs or anything else looking suspicious. His answers to the questions were all “no.” The employee stated he had worked there for a couple of years and had seen no red flags.
The owner of the IHOPs was out of town; Mr. Elkafawi was in Florida attending an IHOP franchisee meeting. He was not flying back from Afghanistan carrying plans of future attacks, but flying back with plans of how to make pancakes more delicious.
Since the raids, I have been checking daily for any arrests, indictments or anything related to IHOP and have seen nothing. What if no charges or indictments are filed? What if the investigations are only tax-related? Would Toledo have reacted the way it has with a complete boycott of the restaurants? If you want to see six empty buildings, I implore you to drive by an IHOP. The one thing Northwest Ohio does not need is six additional empty buildings and 100-plus people out of work. Sadly, this story has the power to do those two things.
There is a new McCarthyism happening in today’s times and it targets Muslims. It can make any headline of a newspaper pop out and it surely sexies up the local 6 p.m. news. What media never takes into consideration is the long-term effects of its stories. If you use words like Homeland Security, it of course leads one to assume that terrorism is involved. If words like Homeland Security and IRS are used, people assume illegal funding of terrorism is occurring. 13abcreported on what they knew; they never once claimed/stated that the owner was involved in terrorism but just stated he was being investigated. Toledoans obviously made the jump.
Toledoans during the past week have chosen not to give IHOP their money. How could anyone possibly spend their money at a place that must fund, hire or support terrorism, right? We have stayed clear of their cinn-a-stacks, the bacon n’ beef cheeesburger and every other ounce of goodness they serve, but why? We have no idea what the raids were about; the warrants are all sealed. We do not know if they are looking at tax evasion, money laundering, failure to remit tax or hiring illegal aliens.
It is the media’s job to report and for us to decide. Can our own fears and prejudices cost the jobs of 100-plus people?
Is America not the home of a justice system with an ideology based on “innocent until proven guilty?”
What will come first, an indictment involving the IHOP owner or the close of six area IHOP businesses?
Email media columnist Jeremy Baumhower at firstname.lastname@example.org.