Big Moment in Telemundo's Census Coverage

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on March 28, 2011

There was a remarkable moment during Friday's Telemundo evening newscast. It came in a story that anchor Jose Diaz-Balart billed as revealing "the dark side of Hispanic growth" and showing why "many fear that the anti-immigrant climate will grow."

The story was prompted by the new report from the Census Bureau that the Hispanic population had grown to more than 50 million, an increase of 15 million during the past decade. That represents a 43 percent jump since 2000.

The big moment came as a Mexican immigrant woman told reporter Cristina Londono that she was concerned that Americans will "think that we are invading their country."

When Londono asked how she would respond to that concern, the woman smiled wanly and said, "Well, in some way, yes."

The moment was remarkable because expressions of such concern are rarely presented in Spanish-language news reporting. I don't believe I have ever seen a Latino express anxiety about the size or speed or costs of immigration on the newscasts of Telemundo's rival, Univision. I'm not saying it hasn't happened. I am saying that I haven't seen it, despite the fact that I frequently watch the evening newscast.

Univision coverage of immigration seems to be dominated by the views of anchor Jorge Ramos, a Mexican immigrant who has often dismissed opposition to illegal immigration as "pure racism."

Univision stories, which tend to be heavily slanted in favor of illegal immigrants, inevitably refer to concerns as "anti-immigrant" – rather than "anti-illegal immigration."

Univision frames illegal immigration as a melodrama in which the "indocumentados" are the victims, struggling nobly against the bigotry and racism of U.S. society. Concerns about the costs – civic, social and fiscal – of such immigration receive scant and superficial attention.

The result is impoverishment of a national discussion that needs the broad informational base that good journalism provides.

The best critique of Ramos may have come from Sam Quinones, the outstanding journalist and immigration expert who, in a review of books by Ramos and another author said that their claim of racism is "tripe, an ad hominem attack by authors who can't face the nuances of the issue they've taken on."

As someone who lived many years in Arizona, I know that many Latinos there are upset about the tremendous illegal immigrant influx that saw the state's "undocumented" population soar from about 52,000 in 1992 to well over 500,000 in 2007.

Their anxiety became clear in 2004, when exit polls showed that 47 percent of Arizona Latinos voted in favor of Proposition 200, a proposal to limit illegal immigrants' access to public services. That vote came in the face of a well-financed campaign that labeled the proposition as "anti-Mexican" and "anti-immigrant."

Given Univision's broad blind spot regarding coverage of immigration issues, it was impressive to see Telemundo's willingness to acknowledge their complexity and nuance. Anchor Jose Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American, is clearly an advocate for the illegal immigrants. But unlike Ramos, he seems willing to address the costs of the influx.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that Friday's Telemundo story also included two brief comments from me. They followed the statement by Gloria Montano of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, who expressed satisfaction with the census's demonstration of Latinos' growing power. She said Latinos "should not be afraid of what people will think."

Londono introduced me as "an activist in favor of controlling legal and illegal immigration to the United States."

Referring to the demographic implications of the U.S. population growth that is being driven primarily by immigration, I said that if we continue the growth of recent decades, "Within a century we're going to have a population of more than 600 million. I don't think we can be the country of opportunities if we have such a large population."

The second comment was on a more sensitive topic. Londono had asked if I thought that the census results cold provoke an anti-Hispanic reaction. I agreed that there was a "danger that Hispanics will feel so politically powerful that they will not seek political unity."

I made that comment as I referred to the national motto – "e pluribus unum" – saying that I was concerned about the possibility of a growing divide between Hispanics and other Americans.

Those concerns didn't make the cut. That is understandable given time constraints. Instead Londono bridged from my comment to an observation that "For many Hispanics it is difficult to think of unifying … when they feel that they are constantly being pursued." An illegal immigrant from Guatemala clinched that point as he told her that he and his friends were always afraid of being arrested.

There was another example of strong immigration reporting on Friday's Telemundo newscast. I'll have a blog about that on Tuesday.