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On immigration issues, the media are incomplete, biased

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Posted: Friday, June 28, 2002 10:00 pm

To accuse the media of suppressing facts is a strong charge. But when it comes to immigration reporting, few can deny that most stories heavily emphasize immigration positives while ignoring negatives.

By consistently presenting only one side of a difficult and complex issue, journalists forsake their professional obligation to be fair and balanced.

On May 31, I participated in a panel discussion that analyzed professionalism in immigration reporting. The event was hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies and held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The transcript is available online.Joe Guzzardi

Other participants were William McGowan, author of the well-received "Coloring of the News," and recently retired Washington Times reporter August Gribbon.

Since June 2000, I have read more than 1,500 immigration stories. I weighed them against standards set by journalists themselves and posted at the Society for Professional Journalism, the Committee for Concerned Journalists, the American Society for Newspaper Editors and the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen.

More than 98 percent of the stories were lacking.

Among those who read the identical stories, most agreed with my conclusions. I hoped that 9/11 would raise standards. I anticipated that the post-tragedy immigration coverage would reflect at least a smattering of professionalism. Reality dashed my hopes.

The journalistic failure continues on two fronts. The stories published are shallow and sophomoric; those not written fail to ask vital, difficult questions. As far as I can tell, the mainstream print media will defend beyond reason any consequence of unchecked immigration.

Consider open-borders advocate extraordinaire, the New York Times. On June 19, columnist David Plotz, in his article "A Suburb All Grown Up and Paved Over," concluded that it is perfectly acceptable for some residents of Fairfax County, Va., to pave over their front yards and covert them into five or six parking spaces. Plotz considers this to be a minor inconvenience in exchange for rapid immigrant-fueled growth.

The extended immigrant families who live in single-resident dwellings in Fairfax's Groveton section need more parking. What could be more logical than to pour cement over the front lawn and paint a few lines?

Now I ask you: How many people in this vast land would find it just dandy if their neighbors converted their lawns into parking lots? Although the New York Times favors converting residential neighborhoods into open-air garages, the Times considers it inappropriate to use the term "illegal alien."

According to the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, "illegal alien" is "sinister-sounding." Even criminals get the soft-glove treatment.

In her June 5 column, Michelle Malkin wrote that she did a Lexis-Nexis database search of 115 news stories filed about the questioning of Ingmar Guandique in connection with the discovery of Chandra Levy's body. Not one referred to him as an illegal alien.

The New York Times called Guandique "a Washington man" omitting that Guandique is a violent Salvadoran national serving a 10-year sentence for assault on two female joggers. The failure to report Guandique's immigration status is, concludes Malkin, "a newsworthy act of negligence as the nation grapples with lax borders and national (in)security."

(Author's note: Readers can safely substitute "illegal alien" anytime the word "immigrant" appears in a story unless the reporter specifically refers to individuals as legally in the U.S. or naturalized citizens.)

Fellow panelist McGowan charged journalists with "overly romantic" immigration reporting.

Reporters caught up in the feel-good aspects of immigration leave important stories untold. Here's a sampling: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote Sen. Orin Hatch's (R-Utah) bill that would allow all 50 states to subsidize tuition for illegal aliens at state universities.

The bill carries with it a so-called "status adjustment" that would give amnesty to the students.

The "Dream Act," as Hatch calls it, is temporarily blocked but is poised to re-emerge at any moment.

Sen. John McCain introduced the "Federal Responsibility for Immigrant Health Act of 2002." State and health care providers will receive Medicaid reimbursement for dialysis, chemotherapy, prenatal care and the testing and treatment of communicable diseases for illegal aliens. Since state health centers are going broke providing these services, McCain wants to shift the burden to the federal government.

A visas-for-sale scandal at the American Consulate in Juarez, Mexico, was first reported by National Public Radio correspondent John Burnett and followed up by Michelle Malkin in her May 17 column. Not a word about this outrageous misconduct has been read since.

Journalists are responsible to their readers and their profession. In her autobiography, "Personal History," Katherine Graham recalled the lessons taught to her by her father about publishing. High on the list was his insistence that "newspaper tell all of the truth concerning the important affairs of America and the world."

Graham placed the emphasis on all. Let that advice now be adopted by every journalist.

Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly opinion column since 1988. He can be reached via e-mail.

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