"On the Media" Goes to Heaven, Slanting the Story of Europe's Immigration Anxiety

By Jerry Kammer on May 1, 2015

Cable television has understandably been fixated on the riots and unrest in Baltimore and much of the commenting has followed sadly predictable ideological lines. On Fox, Bill O'Reilly points to dysfunction in black communities. On MSNBC, Chris Hayes talks with former Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume about police brutality, the globalized economy, and social injustice while saying not a word about the tragic reality that 70 percent of black children nationwide are born out of wedlock.

The problem of ideological fixation made a prominent appearance on last week's "On the Media" program, which is carried on many public radio stations. A 10-minute segment on the horrific crisis of migrants being smuggled from Libya to Italy — many of them drowning as their overloaded boats capsize — became a lament about the rising discontent — in the press and the public — over the immigrant influx into Europe.

"As the refugee death count mounts, so do anti-immigration fears for immigrants in general," said Brooke Gladstone, the program's host and managing editor.

The centerpiece of the 10-minute report was Gladstone's interview with a British professor of international migration named Heaven Crawley. Crawley is on the faculty at Coventry University, whose website says she works with the Centre for Trust, Peace, and Social Relations.

Crawley described the turmoil within Europe as governments look for a way to respond to the humanitarian crisis without drawing the ire of those who want firm action to stop the migrant smuggling.

Crawley, Gladstone, and co-host Bob Garfield pointed with dismay to a vicious column in the Sun tabloid that warned: "Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look like 'Bob Geldof's Ethiopia' circa 1984, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb."

Professor Crawley certainly is a knowledgeable source. She is also a passionate defender of international immigration, particularly to Great Britain. She is an activist as well as a scholar.

Gladstone sympathetically engaged Crawley for eight minutes. She challenged not one of her conclusions. Gladstone was effectively a prosecuting attorney leading a friendly witness in a joint effort to discredit skepticism about immigration.

Too bad Gladstone couldn't find a minute or two to speak to the BBC's Nick Robinson, a highly respected journalist who in 2013 produced a documentary that examined both the effects of immigration and the framing of the issue by British journalists and politicians.

Unlike Crawley, Robinson did not dismiss the anxiety of millions of British citizens. He said the British press had failed to report adequately on those concerns because it feared such reporting would stir racism.

As we reported in this blog, Robinson lamented the resulting information vacuum that he believed stifled democratic discussion. "Perhaps it is now time for that frank and open discussion that we've never really had," he said.

You might think that a program of media criticism on public radio would be interested in hearing from someone as knowledgeable and respected as Nick Robinson. But if you thought that, you wouldn't understand that Brooke Gladstone has the same ideology problem as Bill O'Reilly and Chris Hayes.