Wednesday, March 29, 2006

News Coverage of Recent Protests

by Brian
In Dallas, as in many other US cities, there have been protests this week reacting to new measures being debated by Congress to curb illegal immigration. Basically, the House of Representatives passed a bill back in December that would make being an illegal immigrant a felony, and erect a wall along 700 miles of the US-Mexico border. The Senate is now debating two different proposals, one of which (the so-called McCain-Kennedy bill) provides for a "guest worker" program, and another put forth by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that focuses more law enforcement efforts to stop immigration, and does not provide any way for current undocumented residents to stay.

Anyway, the Dallas protests seem to have mostly taken the form of student walkouts. This morning, while getting ready for work, I saw a local news broadcast (FOX 4) covering the protests, and was appalled at the slant of the coverage.

One of the primary angles of the news report was that most students had no idea what the issues were, and were simply using the protests as a way to skip school. By way of evidence for this, there was video of a two kids providing only vague explanations of what they were protesting, and video of kids swimming in the reflecting pool in front of City Hall. The clear message: nothing to worry about folks, just kids acting up.

It should be noted that if the kids aren't up on the issues, it may be because they watch FOX 4. At no point during the broadcast were any of the "issues" explained in any detail. The one reference to the dueling Senate proposals was that the "tougher" one focused more on "security issues." The clear message: who could possibly be against national security?

The only student who was protrayed as knowing the issues was shown saying that it was time to end the protests. The clear message: See, the responsible kids aren't on board with these protests.

Then we got a special segement of "Tell It to Tim", in which recorded viewer responses are put on the air. Four viewer comments were played; all four were stridently opposed to the protests. Afterwards, the anchor (Tim) said, only a very, very small percentage of calls supported the protests. The clear message: you must be crazy if you support the students.

All in all, every effort was made to marginalize both the protestors and the issues at hand. I know it was a Fox broadcast, but it is a local affiliate and thus doesn't have much to do with national Fox news. And immigration is a local issue here in Dallas, so a local affiliate doesn't get off the hook for failing to cover it adequately like they do with most national news.

Regardless of where one stands on the immigration issue, I think stuff like this really does a disservice to our democracy. It is impossible to make an informed choice if our media doesn't provide necessary information and instead lapses into demagoguery and demonization.

4 Comments:

Blogger Alex Stroup said...

Well, here in the San Francisco Bay Area we seem to be mostly getting coverage slanted in the completely opposite direction.

That is, a seeming sense of complete shock that people could be bothered by illegal immigration and not see it as a boon to society at large.

Personally, I'm in the middle. I think that immigration into this country should be strictly enforced and illegal immigrants (and those who hire them) punished severely.

But I also think it should be very easy to immigrate legally, with the abolition of quotas (both in total and per country of origin) and barring entry only for those unable to show any ability to support themselves once here or have obvious security issues (I think it is fair to say that former members of Al Qaeda or Monty Python shouldn't be welcome).

I'm not stingy with my citizenship (like marriage I don't think mine is somehow diluted if a lot of other people get to partake) but I have no problem with the idea that while it should be easy, the rules should be rigidly enforced.

3/29/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Fox affiliates are just as bad, often worse than the cable channel.

It is their job to downplay and discredit these protests. Personally, I think it's amazing. These kids are actually getting passionate about something and that scares the old people who run the affiliates (and I bet it is scaring the shit our of the politicians that supported these laws).

I can really only be supportive of the protesters. The US wouldn't exist without immigrants, we are all decended from them.

I don't necessarily think that the US should have a completely open border, but good, easy regulation like Alex mentioned would be great. I don't think that immigration should be criminalized, though. If you get caught, you should get deported.

We have overcrowded prisons already. We don't need to fill them up even more with people that are just trying to make better lives for themselves by washing our dishes and building our houses.

I would like to see laws against employers that underpay their undocumented workers. But making it illegal to give food and and water to migrants? That is just mean. And a wall is just preposterous. I couldn't think of anything more unamerican than closing off our borders with a cement wall...oh wait. Discrediting protesters is much more unamerican than that.

3/29/2006 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

When I saw the headline I first thought you were talking about the French protests which seemed to get wall-to-wall coverage on the cable news outlets on Tuesday.

Anyway: it's the job of TV news to entertain. They love protests because there it is--an event happening begging for them to cover it. That's the whole point. The protesters should be happy, as long as they can provide pretty pictures for TV.

My take on immigration: laws aren't enforced, but they should be, though if they were it could cripple certain segments of the country. "Guest workers" are not the solution. I don't know what is. People talk about the underclass illegal immigrants, but I've seen an Indian illegally get a job with a major software company on a student visa, work for years, go home on vacation and find he can't come back because his student visa has expired. What is his punishment for this? Work for the company's Indian division for three months until he qualifies for a special visa intended for foreign employees of foreign divisions of US companies. Then he's welcomed back. He doesn't get fired for lying on his job application, the company isn't fined for illegally employing someone--the laws are all regarded as some kind of nuisance. Is this right?

3/30/2006 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I should maybe make myself a little bit more clear. I'm not really opposed to editorializing on the news - I think it's less problematic for a newscaster to come right out and say they oppose something than to pretend that both sides always have equal weight. So I don't care that these guys were opposed to the protests.

What does bother me is that no effort was made to inform the public. It was a smear campaign, plain and simple. Regardless of one's position on the protests or protestors, there are important issues at stake that will greatly affect a lot of peoples' lives.

That said, my view on immigration is probably different than most. I feel no need to "punish" immigrants for being here illegally. I am not in favor of deportation except in the cases of major criminal convictions. I think we should be giving more rights to illegal immigrants, especially providing them the same access to workplace protections as anyone else.

I think all this because I don't think undocumented immigrants per se are a problem. Rather, I think the employers who exploit them are the problem. As things are now, they have no motivation to pay their workers decent wages, or even at all, because the workers have no means to defend themselves. If they do, they risk deportation. If they complain about safety conditions, they risk deportation. Yet if the employer is caught, pretty much nothing happens.

Indeed, I think this is the human rights struggle of our time. I am generally opposed to "guest worker" programs unless they have very stringent protections of this kind built in, and sadly it doesn't appear to be the case with the Kennedy-McCain bill. The most likely outcome of this bill looks to be the creation of a more-or-less permanent immigrant underclass of the kind found throughout Europe (i.e., the recent French Muslim rioting). It's already happening with the policies we have now.

If we can strip employers of their incentive to hire undocumented workers, the problem will naturally solve itself. At the same time, we need to stop engaging ourselves in trade agreements and practices that only exacerbate poor conditions in other countries.

I simply cannot blame people for wanting and working for a better life. It's sure as hell not their fault that there's no work for them at home and that they're thus driven to extremes to look for work, or that they're desperate to give their children a better chance to succeed where they had none themselves. I think it's extremely misguided to look for ways to "punish" them, but sadly that far often seems to be peoples' first impulses.

3/30/2006 11:29:00 AM  

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