Spinning the News

By Glynn Custred on April 9, 2010

One way to spin the news is by selecting stories that together create a single message. With immigration looming as a national issue the editors of my local paper, The Contra Costa Times, are doing their part to move amnesty forward by diffusing public misgivings about it and about Mexico as a neighbor through the selection of articles in their news coverage.

For example, in Wednesday's paper there were three stories, two prominently placed on the first page, based on recent studies that together create the effect that amnesty won't be so bad, that the public has changed its mind on the subject (in California at least), and that life in Mexico's pretty nice.

The lead front page story, with headlines and two panels of color pictures and interviews with local residents, was based on a study by the International Community Foundation about baby boomer Americans who have retirement homes in Mexico. The drug violence was played down with comments by retirees who said that it's not bad at all. I'm sure it's not, but the risk is higher and life in a country like that more uncertain. The subtext was that we are too judgmental when it comes to Mexico.

The other front page story reports a study by the Public Policy Institute of California claiming that issuing millions of green cards under immigration reform would make no difference at all. The report said that it took the steam out of arguments both of advocates and opponents of amnesty (a word, of course they never use). Those immigrants already here and working would not be affected in "the bottom line" said the report, nor would the massive issuing of green cards harm the job opportunities of US citizens. The greater impact of these claims, of course, is on the argument of amnesty opponents. If a green card doesn't hurt or help, then why not give them out to illegal aliens? – a question left unformulated but implicit in the story.

The third story was about a USC/LA Times poll that supposedly shows a sudden massive turnaround on the question of "path to legalization." Nearly 70 percent of the public, says the article, is now for it. Looking at the alternatives that were offered to respondents, this appears to be yet another one of the immigration polls described by CIS's Stephen Steinlight intended to evoke the preferred response – when I read those results I was tempted to think of the debunked "hockey stick" graph of global warming. Most people skimming that item will come away with the impression that amnesty has won the minds and hearts of the majority of the people, so why should I go against the grain and be against it?

The subtext of all three articles together is a boost amnesty, a goal the editors either had in mind when they selected the stories to cover and to print, or the kind of invisible hand, the "instinct", that so often guides editors who don't even know what they are doing and who resent it when you show them what they've done. Either way, this day's paper was interesting as yet another example of how the media is playing its part in moving an agenda forward.