Transcript: 2004 Eugene Katz Award

For Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration

By Mark Krikorian, Lou Dobbs, and Rep. Tom Tancredo on June 10, 2004

University Club, New York City

Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies

Lou Dobbs, CNN

Keynote Speaker:
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO

Mark Krikorian: Presumably most of you have seen Mr. Dobbs’ show, but in the event you hadn’t, I wanted you to make sure you knew what the fuss was about. I just wanted to say welcome to everybody. We want to thank Mr. Dobbs for coming, and Congressman Tancredo, who will be introducing Mr. Dobbs, the Executive Vice President of CNNfn. Mr. Dobbs’ executive producer is also here. I also want to thank one of my Board members, who represents our Board of Directors, Carol Iannone. And I also want to recognize Marti Dinerstein, who’s done so much to help us put this event together.

I thought I’d tell you very briefly a little bit about the Center. The Center for Immigration Studies started in 1985. The point of it was to come up with an organization that looked at this issue through the prism of the national interest rather than various financial or political interests that had driven much of the immigration debate. There are a lot of different aspects to this issue—wages, fiscal costs, citizenship issues, security issues. And we try to deal with as many of those as we can. There are still some issues that need to get addressed that we haven’t been able to touch on but . . . we try to shoot at as many ducks as we can.

And we’ve had some success at this in the sense that we’re far and away the most frequently cited source in the media on this issue. But in dealing with the media on this issue, both in giving “Immigration 101” lessons to reporters and also in a news search that we do—we do something called CISNEWS, a daily news digest of immigration news—it really struck us that we kept seeing the same stories over and over again. You know, the hapless illegal alien who was guilty of only “minor” immigration violations as they say . . . being deported by the nasty INS . . . this kind of thing over and over and over again, without real context. In some sense it was almost like people were taught this in journalism school: here’s the immigration story you have to write every few months and just change the names.

My impression is really that it’s not so much that as hive thinking. In J school these reporters learn a particular way of looking at the immigration issue and that’s then reflected in much of the coverage. But we also noticed that there were reporters and programs that really did stand out for their independence. They actually asked questions that needed to get asked. They actually listened to the answers, rather than interpreting them the way they wanted to. And we wanted to recognize those people—validate the reporting that did a good job of elucidating this issue. We started in 1997 and . . . it’s one of the advantages that was not so much to recognize the reporters or the journalists themselves—I mean, they get a nice clock, and you’ll see what that’s like—the point is not so much the chotsky, it’s the fact that they can then make the case to their producers or editors that this really is an issue that’s important and say “I really want to commit more time to this”. . . more time to this kind of reporting on this issue. And it seems to have done a lot of good. The first winner was Jonathon Tilove of the Newhouse News Service, and he actually made this point that I . . . I actually didn’t get it, we didn’t dream it up for that reason but he specifically said “This is a way for me to argue to my editors that this is the kind of thing we need to do more of.”

Since then we’ve given it to other print reporters—The Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, etc. And it’s still very much needed. If immigration journalism changed such that all newspapers and television and radio programs today did an outstanding job of covering this I guess we might just stop, but we’re not there yet. The fact is the issue itself continues to be important. There are 10 million illegal aliens in our country, you have ongoing legal immigration of a million-plus people a year, there are legislative proposals coming off . . . the President in January made a major speech to get amnesty for illegal immigrants . . . there are various pieces of legislation in Congress with various amusing acronyms: the CLEAR Act, the Dream Act, the AgJobs Act . . . I don’t even know what they stand for . . . I mean I know what’s in the bills but the sponsors of these bills work overtime to come up with these clever acronyms. But the fact is these are real pieces of legislation that deal with significant parts of this issue and yet are not grappled with certainly in the media in a constructive attempt to give the context for the benefits and the costs of these pieces of legislation.

And that’s why we’ve selected Mr. Dobbs’ program and Mr. Dobbs for the award this year. He’s done an outstanding job of this, and rather than my talking about this I’m going to let Congressman Tom Tancredo introduce Mr. Dobbs. Tom is a third-term congressman from Colorado, a Republican. Started out as a teacher, state legislator, now a congressman. Mr. Dobbs joked that Tom should be a little less shy in talking about immigration in the future [laughs]. The reason that’s a joke is that Tom is chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus and has made himself a nuisance to the White House in not letting them get away with a lot of the stuff they’ve tried to get away with on immigration. And so I’m going to pass it over to Tom to introduce Mr. Dobbs. Tom?

Representative Tancredo: Thank you very much, Mark. I want to commend the Center for Immigration Studies for giving the award. The immigration issue is hard, it’s extremely important, but it’s also complicated and conflicted. There are so many different wrinkles to it, with its effects on the economy or government budgets and homeland security. How do we balance our natural sympathy for parents who are trying to provide a better future for their children and our responsibilities to secure American sovereignty and safety? What kind of resources are needed for federal employees to actually carry out the duties that we assign to them? These are the kinds of questions that a free press is supposed to help us discuss and grapple with. But for the public and even for us in Congress to be able to make informed decisions about immigration, we of course need to be informed.

Unfortunately, the news media hasn’t done a great job of this. I read the newspapers in my own state and notice lots of human-interest stories about illegal aliens who don’t qualify for in-state tuition at state universities but little about the costs to each American taxpayer from illegal immigration. You see stories about farmers saying they can’t continue without hiring cheap, illegal labor . . . little about the chaos endured by ordinary citizens on the border because of Washington’s failure to enforce the law. Reporters puzzled over rapid growth in school enrollment or suburban sprawl or the reappearance of long-forgotten diseases and never include the word “immigration” in their stories about them. That’s why Lou’s show is so important and so deserving of this award. Lou changed the way business journalism is done . . . has expanded its focus beyond what the real name of the show was, “Moneyline,” and what that would suggest, and has begun to focus attention on immigration and even started a reoccurring segment on it called “Broken Borders.”

I’ve been on a lot of TV news shows . . . I should say that as an aside . . . I have with one exception always had a great time on the show. That exception was when did a segment on top of the Channel 7 building outside [when it was] about 30 below zero . . . the wind was blowing, it was so cold my teeth were chattering—I was trying to respond. Other than that segment I have had a great time every time I’ve been on it. And certainly a lot better than other shows I’ve been on. I joke with my staff when I accept the challenge to go on something like “Crossfire.” I would say, “You know, having been raised a Catholic I think back to all those things I had to do as a Catholic—they would give you little things to say in order to take days off of purgatory [laughs] . . . and that’s how I face going on things like “Crossfire” . . . I think, well, that’s gotten some time off of purgatory by doing this.

Anyway, Lou stands out for his success in airing all sides of a complicated issue. I don’t say both sides because immigration isn’t that easy. It’s not just democrats versus republicans, conservative versus liberal, more versus less . . . the only way you can give viewers a good sense of the many facets of immigration policy is to devote time to it every week, get the views of a wide variety of people, congressmen certainly and scholars like those at CIS, but also people in the field like school teachers and social workers and Border Patrol agents. Lou’s reporting on immigration is important not because it’s going to help me get arguments or to help me convert more of my colleagues to my point of view, although it certainly does help . . . Lou is performing a service to our country because this is an issue where all sides wouldn’t otherwise be heard.

CIS did the report a while ago about immigration policy [having] a gap between the views of the elite and the public . . . showing that the elite just didn’t think immigration was that big a deal. Well it is a big deal, and however you think immigration policy should be handled, you just can’t come up with a workable policy if you don’t know what’s going on. A doctor can’t diagnose you without listening to your lungs and whacking your knee with a rubber hammer; a mechanic can’t fix your car without looking under the hood. People seem to think we can manage immigration without honestly looking at how it works and what effects it is having.

Things aren’t hopeless, however. CIS has been giving this award since 1997 and some fine reporters have earned it . . . at The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, and elsewhere. Even television hasn’t been an entire wasteland. “60 Minutes,” for instance, has done some good pieces in reporting on immigration. But over the last couple of years Lou Dobbs has taken immigration reporting on television to a whole new level. And for that he richly deserves CIS’ 2004 Katz Journalism Award. Lou Dobbs. [Applause] [Presentation of award]

Lou Dobbs: Thank you, Congressman, very much for that nice introduction. And I remember vividly the cold atop that building. We appreciate your commitment, and as you would expect from Congressman Tancredo, he did so without flinching, great courage . . . looking for the next encounter. I do think we need to pay our respects to Congressman Tancredo. As I have worked in this business for three decades now I have great respect for those, even with whom I disagree, in public service who are willing to take on an issue, to take a position that is unpopular. And to be passionate and committed to that position with facts on their side, and to drive ahead, irrespective, if you will, of the impact or the influence that’s arrayed against you. So Congressman Tancredo I just want to compliment you, you should be very proud of that. [Applause]

Reporting on immigration is, as everybody here knows, extremely difficult, for some of the reasons that Congressman Tancredo suggested. And there are other reasons: one, because, as Mark pointed out, information . . . hard facts . . . empirical evidence . . . are often hard to come by. And I don’t mean just in the sense that the United States government does not maintain and report accurate numbers about the number of illegal aliens who cross our borders because obviously if they had that count, we probably wouldn’t have quite the problem that we do. But it goes to the issue of the economics, the social impact, and the ad hoc studies that spring up in various forms as to the impact or the benefit of illegal immigration. We continue to strive, daily, weekly, to put it together. Independent organizations such as yours, news organizations, special interest groups on both sides of the issue or all sides of the issue . . . but in fact that’s the first challenge.

The second challenge is breaking through what our little group of intrepid journalists refers to as the orthodoxy. There is a mindset in this country that first does not understand the perspective that they hold, and secondly don’t understand the values that they are adhering to, in both their view and analysis and judgement of social issues, important social issues, like immigration. And let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Among the first responses we had when we started to talk about illegal immigration was—and I don’t know how many email responses we had, hundreds, maybe thousands—basically accusing me of being a racist. Because I’m talking about immigration. My God. Now that’s quite a judgment to make on the basis of a few weeks of venture into immigration issues on the air.

The second thing that happened is [the reaction] “obviously you don’t understand the importance of immigration to this country” . . . we are, quote/un-quote ‘a land of immigrants.’” Well, yes, but we’re also a land of legal immigrants . . . we’re also a land of laws. We’re a land of many things and many facets. But the answer “we’re a land of immigrants” is not the answer to any question that I’ve ever posed or considered.

It goes beyond that . . . to then you are “xenophobic” and simply want no contact with the outer world. Because you want to control your borders. There is no nation, on the face of the earth, of any industrialized nation, whose borders are any more open as ours. Despite all that’s occurred in security since September 11 . . . we were just discussing one truism that exists: if one million illegal aliens, estimated, can cross our borders, each year, without being caught, what can a terrorist do? It is a remarkable situation . . . where people will not look with clear eyes at a very simple situation and problem. So our reporters try to bring that clarity, that adherence to values and to facts to the national interest each night. And I think they’ve done a pretty doggone good job of it. And we’re going to continue to work, obviously, very rigorously, on this story. But I think one of the mistakes that various interest groups in this country make on the issue of immigration, whether they’re for immigration—illegal immigration, that is—or against illegal immigration, they allow the argument to be brought down to one issue: illegal immigration. When in fact illegal immigration spans a broad range of fundamental issues that should be of concern to all Americans who are worried about the direction of this country.

Amongst those issues, without question, is first and foremost homeland security. If we cannot maintain the security of our borders and our ports, we are in deep, deep difficulty. If we continue to accept the answer that we can allow illegal aliens to cross our borders and into our ports, we’re not considering the possibility that terrorists can do the same, we’re in extraordinary difficulty.

If we look at our population growth over the course of the past 40 years and do not understand that it has doubled and that based on current trends and that after childbirth and immigration and illegal immigration that this country could reach a population by the end of this century of one billion people. If you don’t understand that, we have further difficulties. Secondly, if we don’t understand that we are importing the population growth of other countries, whether it’s China or Mexico or any country in the world then we have a difficult time addressing the issue of illegal immigration . . . because all of these impacts are fundamental, all of these issues are fundamental, and they’re all interrelated.

What kind of economy will we have? It depends upon growth. To hear both the head of the Chamber of Commerce and the head of the AFL-CIO support amnesty, because they believe it’s important to have that low-cost labor force, not only for organization or employment but to support the Baby Boomer generation, who will be retiring, so that they can pay into the Social Security system. This is the kind of reasoning that is going on in individual issues and too many of us are failing to look at the broad relationship amongst these issues. That’s what we’re trying to do on our broadcast, that we will remain committed to doing. In a time when we are in great contests for natural resources and for capital, globally, the impact of illegal immigration will be profound over the course of the next decade.

For example in the western states, reservoirs—the principal water source, the Colorado River, is running at 50 percent of its historic levels. Yet population growth continues, and demand continues to climb—with no sight of any kind of abatement.

Anyone who wants to argue about the terms of race . . . this is the most diverse society on the face of the earth. There is no country that can claim a more diverse society. Period. And for people addressing the issue of immigration on racist terms, because you would have the temerity to think about it, is a suggestion of a social ill that we’re going to have to deal with, and understand that special interest politics, no matter what the issue, no matter what the interest group, will be insufficient . . . is entirely wrong, we’ve got to turn that around, rise above partisanship, republicanism, democratism, conservatism, liberalism to address the issues of national interest. Because these issues are so fundamental that we have to rise above that level of thinking. That kind of reflex. We have to be thinking in terms of the national interest first and foremost. And it’s certainly a great way to begin that to understand that we must enforce our laws, we must protect the national interest, we must protect this country. And whatever decision we make about future immigration policy should not be made through a backdoor policy . . . it should be a national dialogue in which the American people speak to the kind of country they want for themselves and for their children.

It’s a great honor to receive this award, and I thank you all for sharing this moment of privilege.