Monday, September 10, 2007

VA-GOP And The Press: Making Joe McCarthy Proud

In Virginia at some point it was decided that illegal immigrants are "the problem.” Maybe it was about the time the GOP started losing in the state so it was thought this was going to be a great campaign to make sure that stopped happening. I know this coordinated with a national movement to make undocumented workers “the problem” so you know this just was spontaneously decided by state party leaders everywhere that in 2006-07 illegal immigrants were suddenly a campaign issue again.

Anyway I bring up Joseph McCarthy because I was thinking about him in relations to Jay Rosen’s post at PressThink about how the Press got caught flat-footed when covering the Bush administration. I asked him in what other periods did the Press learn it had to change its methods. Rosen suggested, perhaps, the post-McCarthy period.

So with in this mind I was reading this story in the Washington Post by Kirstin Downey “A Board Meeting Blitz by the GOP.”

And I realized, not to put Ms. Downey on the spot for a common mistake, but she is allowing a Joe McCarthy problem to be pushed by her story.

That illegal immigrants are “the problem” is the story the GOP want to push. So they staged a confrontation at county board meeting in a heavily Democratic county (mine as it were). But she inadvertently pushes the GOP line in the context of reporting, correctly, what was said, without demonstrating what is factual.

The story is peppered with quotes and assertions by the GOP about illegal immigration. Meanwhile the Democratic county board members are also quoted, but the statements about immigration aren’t challenged directly because this was not a debate club. The Democratic county board members weren’t there to counter every factual statement made in an attempt to push this frame that illegal immigrants are “the problem.”

This is a short story but reading this paragraph is what reminded me of Rosen’s recent post.

Republicans said they are asking not for immediate changes, but for debate over how to handle illegal immigrants, some of whom are creating "public safety" concerns, the speakers said.

About five weeks ago, an illegal immigrant was sentenced to three life terms and 20 years for the rape of a 42-year-old Arlington woman. She was attacked by the man, a Salvadoran, as she walked along the Four Mile Run bike path.

"We just want a review, given the national situation," said [Rafael Bejar, chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee], a Cuban American who said that police officers should be required to report immigrants suspected of felonies or violent crimes to federal immigration officials but that in Arlington it is only a "recommended" action. Atkins said he has been told that the county jailed at least 789 illegal immigrants, including some for felonies, in 2006.

Bejar is making an assertion, (who knows if its even true) that he was told there were 789 illegal immigration jailed, including some for felonies, which implies a level of criminality. (Being jailed of course means nothing in itself. People can be jailed for loitering, for protesting, for driving while Hispanic. It does not automatically imply that all jailed people are “the problem.”)

Moreoever Bejar then used an anecdote, which while true, implies a greater level of menace about all illegal immigrants.

One of the point of history I remember being taught in journalism school about the McCarthy era was that the newspapers strenuously objected to Joe’s assertions. On the editorial page. In the back.

Meanwhile the assertions ran in banner headlines on the front.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the same day as Downey’s story the Washington Post ran an editorial condemning the Virginia GOP’s tactics. That ran on B6.

Downey’s story ran on C1 of the Virginia edition. (Don’t trust the link, which says it ran on C6. I think it ran inside the Metro section in other editions but I have a picture of the dead tree version to prove it.)

Check out my update on the topic which really changes the perspective of the story a LOT.

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