"On the Media" Goes Off the Cliff

By Jerry Kammer on August 3, 2016

I can think of one positive thing to say about Donald Trump's presidential campaign, which otherwise is becoming a national embarrassment. Trump has forced the national media to consider the plight of working-class Americans who have suffered from mass immigration and free trade. Even David Brooks, writing that "people across America have been falling through the cracks," acknowledges that "Trump, to his credit, made them visible."

Brooks, an immigration enthusiast, now acknowledges that there can be too much of a good thing. "We've asked a lot of people who are suffering in this economy to accept extremely, radically high immigration levels," he says. "And we've probably overflooded the system."

Even the New Yorker, whose righteous tribe of cosmopolitan liberal scribes normally disdains immigration skeptics as provincial bigots, has provided room for a contrarian observation by George Packer. In his account of the Trump march to the Republican nomination, Packer noted that "the middle-aged white working class, has suffered at least as much as any demographic group because of globalization, low-wage immigrant labor, and free trade."

These acknowledgements by elite journalists are a pleasant surprise because they express a sympathy for a group of Americans who have often been ignored or ridiculed by liberal journalists whose hearts bleed for illegal immigrants. It has become an article of liberal faith that immigration skepticism is a barren shadowland, the ideological habitat of racists, nativists, and xenophobes.

But the scales of liberal orthodoxy haven't fallen from the eyes of Brooke Gladstone, co-host of the radio program "On the Media". OTM, as it is called, is a program of reporting and analysis that is produced – mirabile dictu! – in Manhattan. Each week it fills the air of public radio stations nationwide and is listed among NPR podcasts, despite immigration reporting that flagrantly violates NPR's standards for fairness.

This blog has previously reported on Gladstone's work. Last year, we said that when she engaged British immigration scholar and activist Heaven Crawley, Gladstone played the role of a prosecuting attorney gently leading a witness through an interrogation intended to persuade the jury to find immigration skeptics guilty of immigration skepticism.

On last Friday's program, Gladstone went back to Heaven Crawley for more of the same. Then, as if to leave no doubt that her reporting is stricken with a serious case of confirmation bias, she spent 12 minutes with Douglas Massey, a Princeton sociologist and immigration enthusiast (whose work my colleague Mark Krikorian has critiqued).

Massey knows a great deal about immigrants from Mexico, where he has spent considerable time with migrant-sending communities. But as a former reporter who has worked in both receiving and sending communities, I take exception to his claim that although immigrants compete for jobs with low-skilled immigrants, "even in that group the effects are actually quite small." To the contrary, the effects can be terribly large for American-born workers and established immigrants who are frequently scorned by employers thrilled at the availability of undocumented workers.

If Gladstone were willing to question her biases, she might give a call to Harvard economist George Borjas. His book Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy makes that case that the mass immigration of recent decades has supported "an astonishing transfer of wealth from the poorest people in the country, who are disproportionately minorities, to the richest." (Borjas's latest book, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative, is due out this fall.)

In his eagerness to advocate for sweeping reform legislation, Massey then contradicted his claim about "quite small" labor market effects. "I think if people really thought about what it, what they would want to do would be to legalize the 11 million people so their wage rates would rise and they wouldn't compete unfairly with American workers," he said. So which one is it? Gladstone did not want to know.

But the real whopper was Massey's misleading observation that because a 1965 U.S. immigration law gave every country the same annual green card visa quota, "the quota for legal immigration from Mexico is the same as the quota for Botswana."

What Massey didn't point out was the far more important fact that the majority of green cards are issued on a non-quota basis, mainly to relatives of established immigrants. So Botswana doesn't come close to Mexico as a recipient of the world's most coveted document, a ticket to permanent residence in the United States and a path to U.S. citizenship. You can see this for yourself by making a brief visit to the 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, which is published by the Department of Homeland Security.

As you can learn by checking Table 3 on page 12, during the period between 2005 and 2014, the U.S. issued green cards to an average of 59 Botswanans each year. A little work on page 14 will that during the same period, the average number of green cards issued to Mexicans was more than 153,000!

Let's hope that the recent insights of David Brooks and George Packer will be more influential in the public's understanding of the immigration debate than the biases of Brooke Gladstone. Tomorrow I'll have a few more thoughts on this situation.