National Press Club, Washington DC
Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies
August Gribbin, The Washington Times
Bill McGowan, Manhattan Institute and author of Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism
Joe Guzzardi, NumbersUSA and columnist, Lodi (Ca.) News Sentinel
MR. KRIKORIAN: My name is Mark Krikorian. I'm the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States.
We have been giving this Katz Award for a number of years now. And the reason is kind of obvious. At least it is to me. That media coverage of immigration just hasn't been very good. And it's really just never been very good. And so our idea in establishing the Katz Award is to try to recognize those reporters who have done a good job at covering immigration and getting beyond a lot of the cliches that have dominated coverage of immigration in the past.
The past winners and their stories are on our Web site. Previous winners have come from the Washington Post and the Copley News Service, Newhouse News Service, and Dallas Morning News. And today we have the winner for this year from the Washington Times, August Gribbin.
Everybody's going to have their say up here on the panel on what they think the problems are with the coverage of immigration. I just wanted to put my two cents in before they all got started, because I probably wouldn't have a chance after that. I think really one of the reasons we see this problem with the coverage of immigration is that there's no immigration beat for the most part. And the issue is so complex and so convoluted and has so many other hands that it's not the kind of thing that you can master if you're the person who happens to be walking by the editor's desk that morning when something has to get covered. And even when there is a kind of beat or someone does have immigration as their assignment, usually it ends up being lumped in together with ethnic and racial issues, which is an important component of the immigration issue, but ends up dominating the discussion of the issue inordinately.
This year's winner, Gus Gribbin, did actually not have the immigration beat, because the Washington Times didn't have one. But to the extent they had one, he had it. And his commitment to the issue or to reporting on the issue extended even to coming to a conference a couple of years ago. I don't know if you remember, Gus.
MR. GRIBBIN: Oh, yeah.
MR. KRIKORIAN: We had a conference out in Chicago, bringing together people on all sides of this issue, to talk about citizenship and immigration issues. And for a working reporter to make that kind of commitment of time I thought was a good sign.
I have Washington Times as Gus's affiliation. I mean, I figured that was just the way to do it, since all of his reporting that we're giving the award for is from the Times. However, he left the Times a few weeks ago. Was it a month or so ago?
MR. GRIBBIN: Yep, April 19th.
MR. KRIKORIAN: April 19th. He's — maybe he's even crossing the days off the calendar.
He was at the Times only for about four years. Before that, he taught journalism at Marquette University. And before that was at the Detroit News as a reporter. And before that at the National Observer, which he just told me — and I actually had no idea what it was — it's Dow Jones publication, a sister — or was a sister publication of the Wall Street Journal.
Gus has been doing this for a long time. And his reporting on immigration really displayed both a breadth of coverage — he tackled a lot of different aspects of the issue — and a kind of refreshing reluctance to turn it into kind of human interest parables. Now there's a role for telling stories on immigration, but we've got way too many stories, I think, and not enough analysis of the context within which the stories exist. And I think that's one of the things that Gus has done a good job at.
Gus is going to have some comments. He can say anything he wants about how wonderful we are and how much he really appreciates the Center for Immigration Studies, or not — he doesn't have to. But what we're going to do differently — and Gus is also going to give us some thoughts about immigration coverage — what we're going to do differently from the past is we've had guest speakers or keynote speakers in the past. I thought it would be interesting to get a kind of panel together with Q&A and really kind of engage folks a little more on this. And we've got two panelists who are I think uniquely qualified to examine this issue.
One is Bill McGowan, author of last fall's Coloring the News. Those of you who follow this will have heard of the book. It's made something of a splash. It's been referred to — in a sense it was overshadowed by Bernard Goldberg's book called Bias, which got a lot more publicity. On the other hand it probably was — it came out better in the comparison, because every reference I've seen of the two books together refers to Bill's book as the more thoroughly researched, more substantive, better book. So if you have to sort of be in the shadow of another book, it's good that everybody says yours is the better one.
And, in fact, Nat Hentoff, the liberal columnist, had I thought a really nice comment in his review of Bill's book, that if — Hentoff said that if he were still teaching journalism, the one book that would be mandatory for his students to read would be Coloring the News. Did you pay Hentoff to say that or anything?
Bill wrote a previous book which has nothing to do with immigration or journalism — Only Man Is Vile: The Tragedy of Sri Lanka — and has been a reporter for Newsweek and BBC and written extensively for other publications, New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and he's now a fellow — I had fellow; he now told me he's a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York. And we're really fortunate to have him here.
And our last speaker is Joe Guzzardi, who teaches English As a Second Language in Lodi, California, which is in — actually, I haven't looked it up on the map, but I know it's in Northern California somewhere. And he's a columnist, a regular columnist, for the Lodi News Sentinel. And his columns, because he deals with immigration pretty consistently, actually get some significant circulation on the Internet.
He's also — in the context that's relevant to us here — runs the Media Standard's project or is the Media Standard's project for a group called NumbersUSA.com and a kind of truth squad for unbalanced reporting on the issue. And there is an article that he'd written in a journal called Social Contract, which we had a few copies of, which I believe will be on-line. And he'll tell us a little more about his work.
But before we get to that, I wanted to present Gus our award named after Gene Katz, who was a late board member of the center, and had been both in the business and the reporting side of journalism. His family had owned a number of radio stations, sold radio advertising, and he had also been a reporter, starting out with the Daily Oklahoman. He passed away about two years ago. And this award is a way of our recognizing Gene's contribution to the center and to the issue.
Gus, this is the Gene Katz award for excellence in the coverage of immigration for 2002. And I really appreciate the work you've done.
MR. GRIBBIN: Well, this is really very beautiful. This is quite amazing. Thank you very much.
Well, Mark and Steve and John and everyone at the center, I really thank you very much for this honor. It's always gratifying for the reporter to find that someone has actually read what he's written, and it's really pleasant to discover that they've liked what they read.
But writing about immigration has been easy in a way, because in the years I've been writing about it, there's always been something to write about. And much of the news has been bad or at least controversial, which pretty much guarantees that it's going to make page one or at least the paper. And for a reporter that's good. But it's also sad that many of the reports that we have written have revealed currently intractable problems.
The big news about immigration is that, although immigration is a fundamental element of our existence as a nation and affects our security, economy, society, culture, diplomacy, and national politics, our political leaders and most of the mass media outside of Washington shy away from debating or reporting the problems our current immigration policies have by all accounts been creating.
The good news is that the Center for Immigration Studies, through statistical analyses, backgrounders, and immigration news wire, has been continually reminding policy makers and the media that the immigration issue is out there and is still to be dealt with. The people at the Center for Immigration Studies are much more deserving of an award for coverage of immigration than I am, but I hasten to add that I'm nonetheless glad you decided to give me an award.
So thank you very much.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Now what we'll do is Bill will make his presentation, offer some thoughts, then Gus will — I mean, Joe will do the same, and then we will want to sort of mix it up with some Q&A with our panel.
MR. McGOWAN: Okay. Can everybody hear me back there?
My book Coloring the News makes the rather controversial case that the media's crusade for diversity has corrupted American journalism. By "crusade for diversity" I mean basically it refers to three parts of that crusade affecting internal newsroom dynamics and the coverage of the news itself. One part is boosting the numbers of minority journalists in the newsroom; another part involves enhancing the sensitivity with which we tell the story of minority issues and report on minority communities; and the third involves identifying and affirming distinct and unique minority points of view.
I make the broad point that the good news about diversity is that it's brought a lot of talented minority journalists into the newsroom that may have had a hard time in the past getting in, and it's also widened the radar screen with which news organizations report on their fast-changing communities.
But the bad news, however, is that the diversity crusade has also opened up the doors to racial and ethnic hypersensitivity, group favoritism, cultural relativism, identity politics, intellectual dishonesty, and all the other hallmarks of — for want of a better term — what we call political correctives. George Orwell I think called them the smelly little orthodoxies.
In fact, rather than helping American journalism by expanding the bandswidth of ideological and intellectual points of view, as its champions insist it does, diversity, that is, the diversity crusade, has hurt it by encouraging newsroom orthodoxy and an intellectual climate of political conformity on an array of vexing social issues at this important crossroads moment in our history. And that's a moment when the cultural and demographic ground is literally shifting beneath our very feet.
Coloring the News has chapters that describe the impact of the diversity crusade on the coverage of race, gay rights, affirmative action, and immigration. It also examines the reasons why the diversity crusade has run off the rails. And in the last chapter I examine the consequences of this skewed reporting and the impact it's had on American politics and more importantly on a variety of policy debates.
The book has been characterized as a conservative book, but actually I think its soul is progressive in the way the turn of the century progressives like Jacob Reese and her last name was Keller — her first is escaping me at the moment — were -- Frances Keller — although reviewers and critics have not given the chapter on immigration, I think, the coverage, as much attention as it should have — as the other chapters — I think it's actually the book's most important section.
For the last two decades immigration has produced far-reaching social change in America. Immigration has also had a profound impact on our national politics. And I think it's fair to say, in light of September 11th, that it's had profound implications for our national security and our national survival. But the journalistic effort to track the changes that immigration has wrought and to provide immigration policy makers with the information to do their jobs, I think has been somewhat disappointing. And it's been undermined by an overly romantic take on the issue that accents the many blessings that robust immigration brings to the country, but steadily minimizes and sometimes ignores altogether many of the down sides involved.
Many measures designed to enhance diversity in newsroom staffing and coverage have made journalism much more sensitive to the concerns of a huge wave of new, nonwhite Americans. And they've give the reporting process greater access to these groups than before. But the sensitivity and access, I think, has been purchased at the expense of rigor, and a thick coat of piety and can't often obscures very plain truths.
Too many journalists have been all to ready to celebrate America's increasing cultural diversity, even when the facts on the ground don't support it. And in the process we've left very central questions about immigration, particularly how many immigrants we really want and need, and what Americans should ask of those immigrants in terms of their assimilation into society, we basically left those questions unanswered. And rather than making a full and frank examination of immigration, the press has been very — all too ready to follow this naive script, which favors the up sides, ignores the downsides and, as I said, ignores the hard questions and information that might justify a curbing of enthusiasm. And again, the result I think is this skewed picture at the very point in our historical development that we need a clear and complete accounting.
Many of those espousing this new vision of diversity, both as it applies to society as a whole and to journalism in particular, I think would like to think the new diversity paradigm is an extension of the old progressive social ideal, updated to reflect new social and political cultural realities. Yet I think if you look at the old progressive vision, this — they looked askance at the concept of relativism, at the concept of — the romantic idealization of ethnic and — ethnic hyphenation. And liberal journalists who beat back the nativist contention that immigrants weren't capable of assimilating I think would find it disorienting to hear their successors argue that assimilation is no longer necessary or even desirable and that those who say it still is represent illiberal forces of cultural intolerance or romantic nostalgia.
This antagonism to assimilation, which is essentially the core of my chapter on immigration, runs across a variety of fronts, but it's most stark in the coverage of bilingual education and efforts to reform it. Alice Callahan, who is a left-wing Episcopal priest in Los Angeles working with sweatshop workers, told me that she was surprised at how willing reporters she spoke to were to entertain a view of this issue different from their own preconceived view, no matter what the facts were.
Again, with rare exception, the hard questions about bilingual education were not asked for years, particularly in California. And the gap between what its proponents said it was doing and what it was actually doing in the classroom were not communicated at all to the public in any forceful way.
The same orthodoxy that inhibits criticism of language policies also stunts a discussion of other issues linked to the broad subject of cultural difference. Like their counterparts in academia, pro-diversity journalists tend to celebrate the idea of difference, but don't like to look too closely at the actual differences themselves, much less admit that they might prove problematic for American society.
As a result, the reporting on this aspect of immigration is often characterized by journalistic avoidance or tepid cultural relativism. It also ignores or minimizes the extent to which cultural values, attitudes, and customs of new Third World immigrants, in particular, clash with mainstream American norms and with progressive ideals, such as the feminist agenda.
It's not surprising that many journalists who are skittish about acknowledging or addressing the realities of cultural difference, then, would be reluctant to explore the impact that high rates of third-world immigration have on the broad quality of life in the communities that they concentrate.
At the turn of the century, concern over quality of life issues was at the center of the progressive journalistic agenda. But what used to be called cultural upliftment is now seen as cultural arrogance. Those who are part of the dominant culture in today's newsroom — and I say "dominant culture" in quotes — those are very reluctant to inflict white, middle-class values on others in the mosaic, particularly newcomers. And so we have stories about the immigration subtext to housing or to health care or to alien criminality that are very difficult for newsrooms to cope with.
On the subject of immigration reform, as David Bennett, the nation's top authority on nativist movements in the 19th century, has explained, most advocates of reform, most in this room I'd say, are hardly operating in a spirit that springs from the heart of the know-nothings, as Bennett said. Unlike nativists of the past, they don't represent a movement based on racial hate and religious intolerance, as some in the media sometimes suggest.
Indeed, calls for regulating immigration to enhance border control and restrictions on the number of immigrants who might become dependent on the state are very much in keeping with the legacy of progressive reforms from the turn of the century. Historically, they have proved to be one of the key factors in staving off nativist restriction.
Nevertheless, much of the media continues to see campaigns for immigration reform as ghosts from the past, instead of long overdue bids to address serious problems in the here and now. I think we can see this in the unbridled scorn that most of the press, particularly the California press, had for the 1994 California proposition 187 and later in the national congressional reforms of 1996.
Coloring the News went to the printer just before 9/11, so this edition of the book doesn't have material directly relating to the coverage of the immigration dimension of the crisis we now face. But if I did have a chance to incorporate 9/11 in the book, and I hope to in the paperback, I would devote considerable space to the attack and to the events in its train and the immigration dimensions.
I think looking at the issue of immigration largely through ideological rose-colored glasses, the press gave only minimal attention to many of the numerous holes in the state and federal immigration net, which September 11th revealed. This confirms, I think, what terrorism expert Steve Emerson said to a House subcommittee a couple of years ago, that an absence of a vigilant media was at least partly responsible for allowing terrorists to anchor themselves here and to operate.
Although there's been very much — a lot of good catch-up reporting on the dysfunction in the immigration system since 9/11, most news organizations, I think with rare exception, were really just as much asleep at the switch as the intelligence and law enforcement agencies that they are now so quick to criticize for inattention or dereliction. And though September 11th has indeed spurred much of the media to report about immigration more vigilantly, there's still considerable evidence of a politically correct mindset, largely reflected in a new solicitude toward Muslim and Arab immigrants and the place of Islam in a multicultural America.
You'll remember that after the 1993 Trade Center bombing, U.S. officials overseas were supposed to tighten the screening procedures for visas issued to the more than ten million foreigners who apply for them. That didn't happen, and the press didn't report it very well at all.
We were supposed to — we also implemented a much more — supposedly much more stringent system in the monitoring of visitors and doing advance screening on flights, particularly from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, yet — although the federal government for ten years was asking Egypt and Saudi Arabia to implement these advance screening procedures, they did not.
The only piece that I could find in a database search about the advance screening procedure at all was a 1997 -- a very breezy 1997 New York Times travel section piece, aptly titled, "Zipping Through Customs."
Visa overstayers, now estimated at five million by the INS, are another weak spot in press coverage, both in terms of the analysis of policies that are set and the actual implementation. The tracking system, as we know, has not worked. We have more than 300,000 absconders. Yet, you know, before 9/11 we didn't know this. And I think it's really shocking to go back and do the database searching and see that this issue — I mean, 300,000 people who were ordered by courts to leave just went into the wind. I didn't know that, and I've been paying attention to immigration issues for about ten years. And it's very very interesting.
News organizations were also remiss with respect to academic institutions' opposition to a much-needed system for monitoring student visa holders. Many of the universities have objected to tracking for a variety of reasons. And it's a pretty good story. It was a pretty good story before 9/11. Unfortunately, it really wasn't done in any significant way that brought to light just how lax we are in tracking foreign students here.
The story that I found most fascinating post-9/11 to look at was the coverage of problems associated with illegal immigrant access to state drivers' licenses, to federal social security numbers, and other documents, which I guess are best called the breeder documents used to establish false identities. When this was addressed at all, most analysis presented it favorably, as a way for illegals to connect to mainstream society and economic opportunity and as a way for them to feel more personal independence.
A New York Times study done exactly a month before 9/11 cheered these liberal licensing policies in states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida as signs of illegal aliens' increasing acceptance in society. And this New York Times piece closed with an demagogic quote from the much touted emissary of Mexican President Vincente Fox, who scolded American states around the country who did not grant illegal aliens licenses. He said, "These are the people who are building the roads in America, but they're not allowed to drive on them."
I think it could also be said that a similar lack of scrutiny towards the licensing of hazardous material drivers by the press — we found out post 9/11 that there might have been a terrorist cell operating or trying to get access to hazardous material licenses in California. And, you know, these guys spoke no English. They relied on a translator when they were in school. Somehow they passed the state's HAZMAT driving test and written test, which is only given in English.
And you'd think that in a less politically correct newsroom climate, somebody from the Rocky Mountain News or the Denver Post or one of the Colorado papers might have just taken notice or somebody might have tipped them off, and you might have gotten a story done about it. But that wasn't the case.
In the days since the attack, I think almost all major newspapers and networks have played a very fast game of catch-up. They've produced reports showing lapses that I noted above. And they are now calling for much greater protection of the borders, after years of reporting and commentary, shot through with the assumption that illegal immigration was not such a big deal. I think there was a 1997 New York Times magazine cover story that said, "What illegal immigration problem?" By the way, it was written by a British immigrant.
But a reflexive, pro-diversity newsroom climate does survive, especially with respect to post 9/11 coverage of Arab and Muslim Americans, who have become the objects de jour of journalistic piety and skittishness.
I think one issue — I'll just close with one story line that I find most problematic — is this idea that there has been this wave of anti-Muslim fervor in America, which is how the New York Times characterizes it. And I think if we look back to the weeks just after 9/11 — actually, the months after 9/11 — we were told that there was an explosion of hate crimes against scapegoated Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians. Indeed, during this time, not a day passed there was not some kind of major story in the Times and to a lesser extent the Washington Post, as well as the LA Times, highlighting victimized Middle Easterners or those confused for being that. And the networks were very quick to follow. I think it was good that the press was on this story, especially in the cases, few but fiendish, where hate crimes did occur. But a very strong case can be made that the issue got far more attention than the evidence dictated, and that reporters were very lax in verifying the stories of presumed victims. I think that when you look at some of the stories, they actually had a lot of "cry wolf" involved.
And indeed, right now, eight months after the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement authorities say there's very little evidence that many of the killings associated with this wave of hate were part of a post-9/11 backlash. And indeed the notion that there was a rash of retaliatory hate crimes many investigators say is an urban myth, driven by anti-discrimination campaigners, sensational media reports, and traumatized crime victims.
I think that the other aspect, though, I'd also like to cite is just this wave — what is called, you know, a constriction of civil liberties, particularly aimed at noncitizen immigrants. I think the low point of this was a story line that had some prominence in the press in a couple of the months after 9/11, where the tension of terrorist suspects or material witnesses who might have had information about the operation was equated to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. I think that there's absolutely no parity, moral parity, to the two. And I think it shows that -- the fact that this story line did get traction, I think it's kind of scary just for the level of historical inaccuracy that it represents.
You know, I think whether 9/11 should prompt a broad rewriting of immigration policy has been the subject of a fierce ongoing debate and really should be. Unfortunately, that debate is not as robust in the press as I think the facts dictate. And although the outcome is certain, I think another big attack will undoubtedly favor restrictionists. Right now it's very clear, though, and I think it's been clear from that very fateful day that the record shows that a politically correct lack of rigor pre 9/11 undercut the watchdog role that the press should have been playing on immigration. And despite the calamity that's befallen us, too much of that PC sensibility toward immigration and the victimology it encourages still endures.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Bill.
One of the things that occurred to me from both what Bill was saying and what Joe is going to be saying is that in a sense the watchdog role that people like you play has been immensely aided by LEXIS and NEXIS. I mean, it's sort of hard to run away from — when something is, you know, printed, the written word is put down to print, obviously it can't disappear. But it's still difficult to get if you've got to flip through old issues of the New York Times in the library, whereas if you can sit at your desk and just type in — and see just the howlers and the ludicrous coverage that preceded 9/11 in this context, it really — I mean, it's — it seems to me people who do sloppy and bad reporting ought to be terrified of the existence of LEXIS and NEXIS, because they can't escape it; you can't run away from it. So I encourage you to stick it to them.
MR. McGOWAN: I can't tell you how many times I ran that search, zipping through Customs, hoping I was going to get something other than that.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Okay. So our next speaker will be Joe Guzzardi. Joe.
MR. GUZZARDI: Thank you. First of all, thanks very much to Mark and the Center for Immigration Studies for inviting me to participate in this panel. When you live in Lodi, California, as I do, you come to think of a day trip to Fresno as exciting. So needless to say, when you get an invitation to participate among a prestigious group in Washington, D.C., it's quite an honor.
About two years ago, Roy Beck, who's the executive director of Numbers USA asked me if I would be willing to undertake an assignment to read and evaluate for professionalism stories about immigration. And I readily agreed to do that. I think among the reasons that Roy asked me to undertake that particular assignment was because I have a background as a journalist. I've been writing an editorial column for newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley for over a dozen years. I am a schoolteacher for the Lodi Unified School District. And my students are adult English learners. And I'm, therefore, in regular contact with immigrants and immigration policy.
And I have a pretty good hands-on feel for what goes on on a day-to-day basis because of our immigration policy. And, of course, I'm a resident of California, so we are those people who are most impacted by immigration policy.
So what the objective of the project was was to simply get journalists, get reporters to write immigration stories in a fair and balanced fashion. And we used their own standards to determine what fair and balanced would be.
The first thing that I did was I went to the Web sites of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Committee for Concerned Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen and also to different newspaper sites where occasionally they would have their own standards posted. Ganett was one example of a newspaper organization that posted its own standards for fair and balanced reporting.
I also used a column by E. R. Shipp, who was then the ombudsman of the Washington Post. The title of that — and I'd refer anybody to it; it was an outstanding piece — the title of that was "On Fairness," and it detailed exactly how to construct a fair and balanced story. She wasn't referring to immigration stories. She was referring to all stories. But it was specific and succinct and excellent in every way. We also relied on Katharine Graham's biography, Personal History. She had a detailed section in there where she talked about the lessons that she had learned about journalism from her father. And finally, we used the basic textbook for reporting that is used at the Columbia School for Journalism. The name of the book is News Reporting and Writing, by Marvin Melcher (sic) I believe it is.
So from all of that we came away with what we thought was a fair representation of what journalists consider to be fair and balanced reporting. And having defined what that is, I then set about to read immigration stories, and relying heavily on the Center for Immigration's daily bulletin, a summary of stories about immigration, and also my own personal reading and also stories that were forwarded to me from others, in about a year and a half's time I read close to 1500 stories about immigration
And my finding was that there were very few, very, very few stories that met the reporters and journalists own definition of fair and balanced. I found that the vast majority of them were — would have three or possibly four quotes that favored additional immigration and perhaps one quote that would tell the opposite side of the story, a quote, for example, from Mark. And usually that quote would be buried somewhere in the second half of the story.
I found that I was constantly disappointed by the coverage, because the issues that the reporters were writing about were critically important issues, issues that affect all of us in all of our daily lives. And they were complex stories that deserve intelligent thoughtful coverage. And time and again they didn't get that type of coverage.
Among the subjects that were covered were amnesty, which was a big hot issue about a year or so ago and is still a hot issue, although in a different way; whether or not there should be drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants; whether or not there should be in-state tuition granted to illegal aliens; whether or not the United States could survive without the benefit of low-cost immigrant labor. So, you know, those are really important issues that deserve, as I say, thoughtful in-depth treatment, but time and time again they were glossed over with the most superficial kind of coverage.
And it became disappointing, as I say, to read on every day and to read basically the same types of stories day after day. My disappointment deepened when I would read front page stories on a major dailies. I mean the most prestigious daily newspapers in America would run front page stories wherein literally there would be six, seven, and sometimes as may as eight quotes on the pro-immigration side of the argument without a single solitary quote on the opposing side. And again, those were topics that covered really important issues like amnesty and borders and other things that have a major impact on all of us.
Anecdotal stories were also — it became tiring to read them. It was just — they were so predictable in almost every way. And I think everybody acknowledges that there are many people who have come to the United States and made major contributions and have succeeded. But I think everybody would also acknowledge that there have been many people who have come to the United States and made bad choices, but invariably we only read in anecdotal stories about those people who come and succeed and then some crisis befalls them and they are improperly deported or deported or, you know, some other catastrophe in their life.
I found also that there were phrases and ideas that were repeated ad nauseam without ever really being challenged in any way. The most frequently was "These are jobs that Americans won't do," quote, "jobs that Americans won't do," without any historical context being offered whatsoever.
Construction workers, meat packers; these are all jobs that Americans once did and did proudly and had union benefits and union salaries. The Rolling Stone magazine about two or three months ago wrote a huge three-part article about illegal Mexicans coming into the United States and working in the construction industry. And the observation was made by the reporter that they were being paid a wage of $10 an hour.
Well, all you have to do is check the site of the carpentry union, and you'll find out that the going wage, that the going union wage, is $33 an hour for sheetrock work. So it's incorrect to say -- and extremely misleading to say that Americans won't do construction jobs, when the true statement is that Americans won't do construction jobs at $11 an hour, when they're used to being paid $25 to $30 an hour for those jobs.
As an educator, I was also particularly drawn to stories about education and about whether or not high school kids should be entitled to in-state tuition rates. As you may know, that is now the rule in Texas and it's just passed in California, at least at the University of California system, that illegal aliens can qualify for in-state tuition rates. Extremely difficult and emotional topic. These are for the most part I'm sure good kids, who have worked hard and studied hard and done all of the right things.
The stories, though, were very similar in their pattern in that the only people cited were the teachers and the counselors and all of the people who were in support of the argument to grant in-state tuition fees to these kids.
I also noticed about a year or so ago there were dozens of stories across the country about how the teacher shortage was going to be solved by importing teachers from Austria and the Philippines and Pakistan and places outside of the United States, overseas locations, to come to the United States and fill these vacant jobs. And as a teacher, I have a pretty good idea of what goes on in the classroom in today's public school system. And I kept looking for the quote — or I kept looking for the interview wherein the reporter would go to a parent and say, for example, "Well, how do you feel about your child, who will now be taught by somebody who is not credentialed in the United States, who has never worked in a United States classroom, how do you feel about that?" And, of course, that was never forthcoming. It was just automatically assumed that since these were teachers who had taught somewhere at some place at some level, that their presence in the classroom would be a glorious addition to the school system.
Much less reported were stories that appeared in several newspapers this spring where a lot of those teachers, a high percentage of those teachers, have chosen to return to their native countries, because they simply can't cope with conditions in today's classroom. That came as no surprise to me, believe me.
Well, after reading my 1500-odd stories and after making efforts, and some of them successful along the way, to speaking with reporters or e-mailing reporters or their editors or the ombudsmen, I came to a few conclusions about the interest level of those same individuals, that is, reporters, editors, and ombudsmen, about writing a professional story about the complex story of immigration. And my conclusion was that there wasn't a whole heck of a lot of interest in learning how to craft or construct a more complete story about immigration.
There were some good exchanges that I had with reporters, wherein there was an acknowledgment that professional standards had not been met on that particular occasion. And there were also some good exchanges with editors and ombudsmen.
But for the most part I would have to say that the reaction to my perfectly polite inquiry as to their own approach to the story was dismissive or oftentimes simply ignored. And that was very, very disappointing.
After I got to the point at which I thought the conclusion of the report was beyond question, I went to the different organizations whose standards we had used — the Committee for Concerned Journalists and the ASNE and the Organization for Newspaper Ombudsmen — and I said, "Well, I've been working on this project here for the last year and a half or so. And I have some findings that I'd like to share with you."
So I sent it on ahead to them and called to follow up and said, "Well, it so happens that I'm going to be in Washington, D.C. next week, and I thought maybe if you had the time, I'd come by to visit you and we could talk about the findings of my research." "Well, not such a good idea." They were not available to have any follow-up conversations.
Interestingly, nobody refuted what the findings were. I mean, it wasn't as though anybody said, "Well, we've read the same stories that you have, and we disagree with your conclusions." There was no disagreement with the conclusions. But there was a keen unwillingness, a refusal in the cases of those that I just mentioned, to have a conversation.
I did go to the Society of Professional Journalists and had several conversations with the editor of their in-house magazine, Quill. And there was some talk back and forth about possibly writing a story for the magazine. That did not come to fruition. I also went to the Columbia School of Journalism and asked about writing something for their magazine. That was not deemed to be a good idea.
I asked the CCJ and the ASNE if I could just write something for their Web site. And I said, "Look, you don't have to endorse it. You don't have to acknowledge it any way. Just throw it up there. Just put it up there without mention, without comments, and let it stand on its own merits." That was not considered to be a good idea either.
So in various exchanges with especially editors and ombudsmen and especially the watchdog organizations that I've mentioned, it was said to me many times that, "Well, you have an agenda." "So we can't really take you seriously" is I think what they were saying.
And I said, "Well, first of all, we acknowledged early on, right up front, that Numbers USA, which is the organization that provided the funds for me to do this, has an agenda. We are in favor of immigration reduction, and that is indeed our agenda. But this particular project is only asking you to meet your own well-defined standards. We're not asking you to write the same types of stories from an immigration reduction point of view. We're not asking you to come over to our side in any way. We're just saying, 'Hey, if you've got six quotes in your story, give us three and give them three. Write a fair and balanced story, which is what you are dedicated to doing professionally.'"
Bill talked a little bit about post-9/11 immigration coverage. And I agree that coverage of certain aspects of immigration has been improved, slightly improved at least. Topics like the border and visa fraud and things like that have been covered I would say on the whole in a more professional way.
On the other hand, sort of the grassroots issues of immigration really, in my judgment, have not been covered significantly differently. Stories about tuition, which I have mentioned; drivers' licenses for illegal aliens, which is an issue that simply will not go away -- at least in California it won't go away; the matricula consular card, I'm waiting for a good story on the overall impact of what might happen if those are accepted nationwide.
So on balance I would say that it's been disappointing on several levels. It's been disappointing in that there's just been a consistent failure to meet standards. And it's been disappointing because I think that in large part reporters by not writing the professional stories that they have committed to write when they signed up to be journalists have failed their readers in large part. You know, the readers are consistently only getting one side of the story.
And for those of you in the audience who are reporters and who are editors or journalists, I would encourage you to get out there and dig a little bit deeper, because there are really good and compelling stories to be written. And I guarantee you that your readers are waiting to read them. Thank you very much.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Joe.
We'll take questions from anybody who has any questions. Please identify yourself when you -- when I pick on you — when I select you.
MR. SIMCOX: I'm Dave Simcox —
MR. KRIKORIAN: Speak up, please.
MR. SIMCOX: My question is how much of this attitude on the part of the American press is due to what I see as the fact that most of the American newspapers, outside of a very few, are deeply committed to the growth machine that dominates the local communities throughout the United States; that their whole outlook is to be a cheerleader for anything that the business community feels s in its long-range interests?
Often it sees its long-range interest as being identical with that of the -- community interests. So you have such things as population growth, plenty of labor, the cheaper the better. All of these things become sort of an unwritten but very persuasive canon for most American newspapers.
MR. GUZZARDI: Well, I'll just give you my perspective on that. Every time somebody from a newspaper, whether it was a reporter or an editor or whoever it might have been, said to me, "Well, we can't take you seriously because you have an agenda," I thought to myself, "Well, you also have an agenda, and your agenda, the newspaper's agenda, is just what you outlined." I didn't say that out loud, because I wanted to keep the conversation going, you know, but my feeling is that you're correct.
MR. McGOWAN: I actually think you have to break that down. You have to subdivide it a little bit. I think the publishers and to a certain extent the editors are interested in what they call the business case for diversity, which is essentially bringing new communities an board reading the newspaper. And so you probably get an encouragement of bending journalistic professionalism towards favoring immigration from that end, because it is a way to build new markets.
But I think that the average journalist in the newsroom itself, sort of the problems with honesty, candor, and completeness that characterize immigration reporting, come from a much more leftish tilt and a leftish kind of skew and attitudes and values and experiences that — you know, I think that they're more interested in the kind of romantic notions. They look at immigration as a way of diluting the white power structure and these kind of things.
So I don't think you can automatically, you know, just hook it to that one — you know, the business case for expanding or growth. I don't think that the two necessarily go together. But to the extent that publishers are interested in cultivating new readers in minority communities, there's a somewhat parallel there, but not altogether one-to-one correspondence.
MR. GRIBBIN: Well, that complaint that was just raised is one that I've heard — I've been in this business since I was 17 years old as a writer and an editor. And throughout those decades, I've repeatedly heard that the business interests of the newspaper override the editorial interest, and that the news is continually slanted. And I think that that's a bunch of baloney, because I never in my career nor have I ever met anyone in the newsroom who was approached by anyone on the business side and told to slant the story in a certain way because of this business agenda.
I think that part of the problem does exist. And I agree with what you're saying. It has to be approached in a different way. There are a lot of publishers who would give their right arm to be able to dictate what appears in the paper. And there's a constant resistance to doing that. I don't think that you're going to find that it's quite so cynical an approach on the part of the news business.
Part of the problem that you have in covering immigration is it's an article of faith. It's a very ingrained belief in most people that immigration is good. In the last four years — and I have never met anyone, although I've dealt with this issue on an almost daily basis, who said that they were not in favor of immigration, even including those persons who really want to see reform take place and to take place immediately. It's just not there.
We understand that we are a nation of immigrants. And it's very difficult if you would consider the visceral impact that people have to these stories of immigrants coming across our border and working hard and striving and then saying, "Well, these are evil people" or "This is a bad thing." Most stories that are written on a daily and hurried basis are not issue stories. They are event stories. And there is no justification for a violation of professional standards and ethics that most journalists know about. But they are devoted to telling one thing.
We want to talk about — say, in a given instance, we want to talk about the incursion of illegal immigrants across the Arizona border. Now, the tale itself is really gripping. The accounts of the people what have come across that border and the terrible threats and challenges that they have met and the very fact that they survived getting over there are quite compelling. To tell that story and at the same time say, "And, boy, they're ruining our economy" or "They're tearing up all the ranches" is difficult. It's not until you are given the time and you have the resources to talk to the people who own those ranches in California, you get to see the other side of the story.
That doesn't happen in a day. It doesn't happen when you come in and you find out that something has happened on the border, and you're going to produce a story in three hours, because generally that's the time you have to write on a daily paper these days.
MR. McGOWAN: Could I —
MR. GRIBBIN: Yeah.
MR. McGOWAN: Just to cut in, though, I can give you a dozen examples off the top of my head of reporters who were given the time and the leisure to spend, you know, going across the border, getting to know coyotes, taking the buses from the border towns up to the chicken processing plants in Iowa and Indiana or out in the Midwest, and yet, you know, they don't seem to find the time to do the story from the point of view of the communities, the impact on social services or police or he tax base or anything like that.
So I think there's a total double standard in terms of the time allotment that editors will give their writers. And I think that clearly reflects the agenda that — although most news organizations won't admit they have them — the implicit agenda, which is a pro-immigration agenda that really doesn't want to look at the consequences and the impact, because they're just too romantically infatuated with it or ideologically committed to it.
MR. GRIBBIN: Well, I can't argue with that. I mean, I can't argue with the fact that we do have — the facts out there, the stories as were just shown. These stories do exist. And I can't really tell you why. We'd all like to know why this happens, why these people get hooked on this idea.
I know in my own case I was able to look at these issues, because I was given the time, because my situation was that I was both an editor and a writer, and I could make a plea for having the time to research this before I wrote it and know the issue before I write it.
And so what I was doing was issue-oriented pieces. And I was learning as I went along. Whereas I know that some of my colleagues who had to pick up a day that I'm not covering a given story did not have this background.
And I was constantly getting — well, I'd have people come and stop me in the aisle and say, "Well, why do you say this? How do you reason to this? How do you — why do you think these people shouldn't be given licenses? Why do you think that we should have more patrols on the border?" And I would have — you know, I would explain his, because it takes a while to develop the background.
What I'm saying is that for the most part that's one of the reasons. I can't explain why someone who is given the time and given the resources hasn't done a better job. I mean, that's something I can't explain. That's an individual fault.
MR. GUZZARDI: I'll just add briefly that one of the things that I did hear repeatedly in conversations with reporters was — when I asked them about balancing their story — when I would ask them, "Well, where's the other side of the consequences of illegal border crossing?" they would say to me, "Well, that's not the story that I wrote."
And, you know, at first it left me a little bit speechless. But the follow up is "Well, then, tomorrow there will be a story that deals with that?" But, of course, that tomorrow never came.
MR. McGOWAN: Well, George Orwell is very famous for saying that the nature of propaganda is in as much as what's said as what's not said.
MR. GUZZARDI: Right.
MR. McGOWAN: And I think that applies very strikingly here.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Next?
MR. BURNS: One of the things I've heard. I've keyed very much on what August said there, because I've heard this also, sort of this intimation there's something afoot, there's something different going on.
The newspaper business is not very different from direct mail. What it does is it sells goods. And it has often been said that it's the copy around which — fits around the ads. In an increasingly competitive mark, in which a newspaper is in competition with "Survivor" and, you know, "The Weakest Link" on television and basic cable and the Internet, you have to be entertaining.
And one of the things that we know in the world of direct mail — it's written; it's the first line — that the heart outpolls the head. And it outpolls the head every single time in direct mail.
Now, the problem that we have in the immigration reform side is that we're pitching numbers, we're pitching demographics, we're pitching quantitative analysis, if you will. And I think it's always important that they tend to be very literate. But they failed math. And all the guys who did well in English failed math. So as a consequence the numbers kind of numb them. They don't get it.
And so I think sometimes we suggest that there's something there that's more, that's deeper than that. In other words, culturally this is the bias, the story against numbers, and heart outpolls the head. And one of the problems we have in telling our part of the story, the story of the American worker at the bottom of the economic ladder, is that it's very hard for an American to say, "You know, I understand that what they are offering drops to $11 an hour, but the prevailing wage in my industry is $30 an hour. Boy, you know, $11 an hour."
The truth when you actually sit down and calculate it out is that you can't really support a family on it. But Joe and Jane Six-Pack out there goes, "Eleven dollars an hour. I remember when I mowed the lawns for $1.10." And it's — $11 an hour sounds like a lot. And Americans come off as the whiners, people who are born on third base that can't make it to home plate, while the immigrant was born with broken legs and has gotten to second base. And it's therefore a paradigm of virtue while we Americans are whiners.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anybody want to comment on that?
MR. McGOWAN: In my immigration chapter in Coloring the News I have an analysis case study of the encroachment of illegal immigrant Bangladeshis in the construction business in New York City. And the articles that were written by Somini Sengupta, who is now a foreign correspondent covering South Asia for the Times.
It was really interesting how somehow she was able to do this story about Bangladeshis finding their niche in the New York economy without ever asking the question of who they displaced and how they came to dominate it. It was almost like some magical little wand struck Dacha and brought these guys here and set them up in business.
And, you know, it was just such an easy story to do. All you'd have to do is to go to the stonemason and the brownstone facade finisher, the Italian guy in Bensonhurst, who's been doing it for 50 years, and his sons were basically tossed out of that business because they couldn't compete with $11 an hour, and even less actually in this industry.
And it just struck me as — that this was breathtaking in its myopia and one-sidedness. Yet here was a newspaper, the Times, which you — you know, I think one would safely assume that is not a pro-union-busting newspaper. Yet they just didn't even acknowledge it. It was truly striking. And the only thing I can chalk it up to is just profound cultural myopia on the part of the reporter.
I think this gets to the point — and it's a very controversial point that I make in the book — is that I find it really distressing how many reporters of those new organizations that have an immigration beat, how many of them are immigrants themselves or have to be ethnically correct in order to get that beat. It's basically an ethnic protectorate inside a lot of news organizations. And I think this detracts from the objectivity and the professionalism and the professional ideal of disinterestedness that journalism really should have.
MR. GUZZARDI: Well, there was no story that I read that ever asked that question either, whether it was a story about construction workers or H1-B workers; there was no story that I read that asked the question, "Who are these incoming workers replacing?"
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: On that same question, I'd like to ask any member of the panel if in your research you found evidence one way or another to support the notion that there is really an identifiable shortage of skilled personnel in the scientific community, in the high tech industry, and whatnot, which the press seems to have accepted as laughable. I haven't really seen it questioned. And that has led to an increase in the number of visas waivers.
Is the market here not working? If you didn't let these people in, would the salary offered rise to a market theory level so that there would be enough, or is there really a shortage?
MR. GRIBBIN: Well, it's interesting that you raise that question, because I had seen figures that indicate that the request for these visa waivers and whatnot have been exaggerated, and that businesses are continually exaggerating the number of people it needs.
And I have gotten information from sources — friends and others — who work in the business community, for instance from Verizon and from AT&T — of the methodology they use in recruiting foreign workers and how advantageous it is for them to bring a bunch of people from various countries who are contract workers, which they can then dismiss when they have — rather quickly and don't have to pay benefits to.
I have seen these numbers, but I was unable to do anything with them, because the business community strikes back immediately with these. It's very confusing to get into the vortex as you get this crush of numbers and then this side saying, "Well, these are not accurate figures."
I personally, like one of those who flunked math, do not — was not able to shake it out yet. It takes a while. In addition to that, you have the political community, those congressmen and representatives who see this as an advantage, you know, who want to favor the business community.
So it's an issue and it's a story that should be dealt with. I personally couldn't get to it in the time I was doing this. But it's out there. There is this countermovement, but it's not very strong.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm a graduate student enrolled at —
MR. KRIKORIAN: Could you speak up a little?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Sure. Sure. I was wondering -- I just have one question. Do you think that local newspapers in communities that are directly affected by immigration cover the news better or worse than their counterparts at the national level?
MR. McGOWAN: I actually will answer by passing the buck. I studied national level news organizations. However, reading the metro sections of those newspapers, you know, say the ten largest ones in the country, you do get a sense that there is a great disconnect between what's actually happening on the street and what happens in the news columns. And I guess, you know, we could go through various examples of that if — Joe, do you have any —
MR. GUZZARDI: Well, I was going to comment that the newspaper where my column appears is the Lodi News Sentinel. And that's a town of 55,000 people, with a circulation of about 20,000. And I would say on the whole that the coverage of immigration issues at the Lodi News Sentinel and other small newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley is pretty much the same as it is on a national level, both from a news story aspect and from an editorial aspect.
MR. GRIBBIN: I was just going to say congratulations to getting into McGill. As you know, Marquette is up the street from Chicago, and we lose students to McGill, so that's the way to go.
My impression from — you know, I was ten years assistant professor — I mean, associate professor of journalism at Marquette. And I'd see some of our students go to the local papers. And they would continually be sending me back their clips so I could see what they're doing and how nice a job. And I had the impression that much of the coverage was not really up to the standards of the national press. But these are learners.
As I'm sure you're aware from your colleagues before you, you get a job — it's like baseball, you know — you get a job in the minor leagues and then you strive to get up to the big leagues, where you get a little more money and a little more time. These people who are slaving away at $12,000, $13,000 a year on some of these small papers, you know, they're churning out three and four stories a day. So they don't have a lot of time to do quality work.
MR. KRIKORIAN: As somebody who worked at — was an editor at a paper of the size of Joe's, sort of the bottom of the — the start of the ladder, if you will, for new "J" school graduates or maybe the second job after they worked at weekly papers — it was daily, six-day a week paper.
And I'd actually be more charitable than Gus. I think the — I mean, it's true. The reporters there were just out of "J" school and were still learning. But the stories weren't, in my opinion — at least those that related to immigration, and there wasn't that much where I was in the Shenandoah Valley, but there was some — they weren't all that inferior to the stories in the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Miami Herald, to be perfectly honest, except for maybe ambitious series or big packages.
So I'd have to say that it's not better at the local level, but it's, you know, I didn't — in my experience, it's not really all that much worse either.
MR. GRIBBIN: I don't know that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is one of the papers I was thinking about.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Bob.
MR. REASONS: Bob Reasons from the Nixon Center. I want to ask you about what would happen to a journalist who chose to write the wrong story and who chose to cover the kinds of issues that you say are not being covered? What are the constraints?
I've just finished a book that's being published this year on —
FEMALE VOICE: Could you speak up a little bit, please?
MR. REASONS: Sorry. Should I repeat the whole thing?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Sure.
MR. REASONS: My question is what would happen to a journalist who wrote the wrong story, who wrote the kind of story they were recommending? Would he get pressure from his editors, his peers, from outside groups, from his friends, from advertisers?
I've just finished writing a book, which is being published this year, on the coverage of the secular America report, the revolution there, and I found that the reporters were quite independent of not just business and advertisers, but also even editors. And the kind of assumptions they brought to it were their own and came from their own minds and from the universities that they went to. So there the kinds of constraints they were under would be their friends or perhaps some of their protest groups and others.
But I wonder in the case of immigration writers, what would prevent them from writing the kind of stories you guys would like to see them write?
MR. McGOWAN: Well, I'd say first of all their editors would be the first obstacle, because I think that, you know, there are just certain signals editors send to reporters, what stories they want to go with and what stories they don't.
I think if you are an enterprising immigration reporter and you want to challenge liberal orthodoxy and to a certain degree free-market orthodoxy on this, you're going to wind up having a hard time getting the green light to do these stories.
Secondly, if you write a story that's critical of a particular ethnic or immigrant group, you're going to get heat from the representatives of those groups.
You know, I'm thinking back to some of the instances in New York City, when we had — in the early '90s had the riots in Washington Heights that got started when a police officer killed a Dominican drug dealer. And the Dominic — the Hispanic Latino advocacy groups in New York City just were furious at the mayor. The police commissioner was releasing reports showing that this guy was a drug dealer. And the Times and New York Newsday, the liberal papers, wouldn't go near that information for a couple of days, even as Washington Heights was burning, 'cause everybody thought that the guy that was killed was an innocent.
You also, I think, don't do your career any good by — even though journalism is a profession that likes to pride itself on being a bunch of mavericks and iconoclasts — there is a party line. And I think moving up the career chain is very difficult to do if you're a young person moving up and are writing these articles that take on liberal orthodoxy, newsroom orthodoxy, on immigration — I think those clips are not going to get you the interview to the next rung, to the news organization that represents the next rung on the ladder. And that has a tremendously discouraging effect.
MR. GUZZARDI: I agree. I think it — based on the conversations that I had with reporters, it's very difficult to imagine that story even being drafted. In the conversations between the reporters and myself, I would oftentimes say to them, "Well, there are reports" or "there are statistics" or "are you aware of certain facts and figures?"
And there was never even so much as an inquiry to send it along or to refer them to the proper Web site where they could access that information. There just really wasn't the interest in doing it. And I think it's because the mindset of the newsroom is so strongly on the other sides of the issue.
MR. GRIBBIN: Well, I think that is true. I think there is this mindset, this article of faith that immigration is entirely good and there's a reluctance to deal with the other side.
But as to the question of what would happen with a story, it depends on who you are. If you are a young reporter in the newsroom, your story is not going to come out the way you wrote it if the editor doesn't like the way you wrote it. Copy is highly edited. It takes a long time in a newsroom to get to the point where you have so won the confidence of your editors that when you finish a story they're going to be reluctant to touch it.
In the best newsrooms, the editor — say, if I was editing a story from someone on the national desk, where I edited and was assigned, and that story had flaws, in my view, I would go to the writer and then I would discuss this with him.
Now, this is a technique which we would all assume is so logical that you're going to do it. But that's not the old kind of editing. Typically, an editor who doesn't like something, he changes it. And you may or may not find out about it until the next morning or the next afternoon, when you see that story.
There's another aspect of this business that a lot of people aren't aware of. No matter who you are and what your status is in the newsroom — and there's quite a hierarchy of confidence and of acceptance and of knowledgeability — but if — when you decide to propose a story, you have to sell it. You have to sell it to your editor just like you're selling a pair of shoes to somebody in a department store. You have to tell them, "I like this story. This is the reason I like it. This is my justification." A lot of reporters resent that.
And a lot of them who are very good at writing words are very poor at presenting the rationale for the story they want to do. They think it's kind of a hindrance and they don't like to do it. They feel intimidated at having to explain themselves. There's a kind of resentment there. And they all consider themselves — everybody in this business consider themselves to be pretty good and to be professionals. "So why should I have to explain why I want to do the story? Isn't it obvious? I mean, good God," you know.
So there are all these things that happen. But if that story comes through, and even after editing the editor doesn't like it, it dies. It's dead right there. So a person who's covering something so amorphous as immigration has to be able to make the case to his editor. And then when his editor confronts the next level and is challenged, "Why are you doing the story? Why are saying that these people in Arizona should be given guards around their ranches?" that editor has to defend it.
So there is this kind of antagonism against these kinds of stories. It's not — covering immigration is not like covering a fire. And it's not a continuing event. It's not like the war in Afghanistan. We're going to throw everything we have into it and we want to get every detail and we're going to see how the government's screwing up. I'm going to see how our soldiers are doing well. There's not that kind of energy expended.
An editor can say, "Oh, screw it. We don't want to bother. It's too much work. I'm not going to edit that. It's going to take too much time." So the person who wants to get this adversarial story through has to be pretty persuasive.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Take a couple more. Don?
MR. COLLINS: Don Collins. I'm on the board of FAIR. You've all been through this issue. And I remember my first contact with this issue was talking to General Chaplin when he was head of the INS. And that was a hell f a long time ago.
You've followed a lot of issues, not just this issue. Where in the process do you see this issue now? Where are we? Are we going to get to the top of the temple? Do you think it's to the top of the temple yet? Do you think it's going to get there? Do you think the American people are going to react? Where are we?
MR. McGOWAN: Well, as somebody who saw both trade towers collapse from my apartment rooftop and then spent all of that day at Ground Zero itself, I have to say that my professional detachment on this issue may not be as high as I'd like it to be or some might like it to be.
But I think I do share with the American public in general a sense that 9/11 does represent a watershed. However, there is a disturbing strength to the pre-9/11 piety and romanticization of immigration that I think — it will be tense for a while.
I think that as this war on terror sort of deepens and lengthens, more people are going to see that immigration is an issue that we haven't attended to with the depth and honesty that we need to. I don't know where it's going to go. But I do think that post 9/11 there a couple million more people in this country that have kind of woken up and said, "We need to look at this."
And this doesn't mean that — I mean, I don't endorse your organization's agenda in a lot of ways. But I still think it's worthy of intellectual debate and inquiry. And that's what most of the news coverage of immigration has lacked. So I think there are a lot more people willing to ask the unaskable questions than before.
MR. GUZZARDI: I was just going to say that I think the best prospects are that readers in general are dissatisfied with the coverage on immigration and all of the issues related to immigration. And I think that by insisting on higher professional standards of covering immigration is probably the best opportunity to get better coverage on the topic.
MR. GRIBBIN: Your boss is a great one to call for quotes and he's always — he always has something to say and he says it in a really striking way. So —
MR. KRIKORIAN: He's the boss.
MR. GRIBBIN: Oh, I'm sorry. I was thinking —
MR. McGOWAN: I don't know anything. My boss is the —
MR. GRIBBIN: Dan.
MR. McGOWAN: — our president, right?
MR. GRIBBIN: Yeah.
MR. McGOWAN: He does have a good sense of how to say it.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let's take one last question, and then you can pigeonhole the panelists up front if they are willing to do that.
MS. ANDERSON: My name is Erin Anderson, and my family and I are from Cochise County in Arizona. And Mr. Gribbon has made a couple of references to Arizona. And some of the discussion in here was the matter of the journalists not speaking more honestly about what's occurring.
One of the other challenges for being accurate information may be their sources of information. In my county specifically a lot of what's going on with regards to the number of illegal immigrants that are coming across isn't being reported. The ranchers and the farmers initially would speak rather freely, but they are being less inclined to do so, because now their lives are at stake or they're being threatened.
There is — the country to the south of us, Mexico, has a strong interest, specifically monetarily, in the success of the illegal immigrants making it across the border. It's not just — you know, it's a second road here so we're going to form — but also the drugs that are coming across. And for the coyotes, who are the people smugglers, they're just not smuggling people across; they're smuggling terrorists across.
Back home — I was in Arizona earlier this month, and getting on my family land right there at the border, the Border Patrol legions speaking to me — and they will speak more freely to me or to other people individually one on one, because there they don't have to worry about their names ending up in the newspaper or having to face retaliatory effects from their offices because they spoke to me.
MR. KRIKORIAN: What's the question, because we need to wrap it up.
MS. ANDERSON: There is now the concern for our ranchers and farmers there because of the problem there. They are no longer speaking out because if they speak out to you or to another journalist or in a town hall meeting, there are illegal aliens in that room, there are coyotes in that room, there are drug dealers in that room that will take their pictures and their names, and they make sure that rancher gets hurt one night when he's out taking care of his cattle or walking along the lines.
So the other concern also is —
MR. KRIKORIAN: We can't have another concern. We've got to stop. You can ask them later. Anybody has any comments on that?
MR. McGOWAN: Well, I think that's a fascinating story to do, and I'd love to do it. I was in Cochise County last summer. I think any journalist who gets presented with that as a story and doesn't follow it is really remiss.
I mean, this is an example of how certain parts of the United States are slowly sliding into the Third World level of the rule of law. It's a very important story to do. And intimidation in any form of free speech rights and opinion and speaking out on really important issues, like ranchers who are being intimidated, is just at the heart of what journalism should be doing.
So I mean, if you're in this building and you can't come out with somebody who doesn't want to do that story, then we're all in bad shape.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks. Let me wrap it up here. And like I said, if the — unless the panelists want to escape through the front door, you can pigeonhole them and talk to them somewhat further.
I would like to congratulate Gus and thank him for his good work.
And thank the other panelists as well. And thank all of you for coming and participating. The whole discussion, for those of you who didn't get enough of it, will be — a transcript of it will be on the Web for those who just can't get enough. And I hope to see all of you at future events of ours.